Are Startups More Innovative than Incumbent Counterparts? Evidence from AI Companies

Jaeho Kim, PhD Candidate at the Wharton School

Abstract: I plan to study whether AI startups are more innovative than their incumbent counterparts. Although the extant literature highlights startups’ initial innovation capacities that help them identify and leverage market and technology opportunities, startups’ innovation competency at the founding stage no longer properly explains differences in competitive advantages in the digital era. Compared to traditional industries, companies in the digital era, such as AI firms leveraging big data, do not require capital-intensive manufacturing facilities to commercialize their ideas because the end products and services are digitized. Hence, the source of entrepreneurial innovation built upon the foundation-based explanation becomes obscure in the digital era, while it remains unclear what types of innovation startups vs. incumbents are better at during the post-foundation stages of startups. I argue that AI startups have competitive advantages in innovation against their incumbent counterparts based on different types of tech-based strategies for algorithm innovation.