Essays on the evaluation of entrepreneurship programs

Abstract

This dissertation consists of three essays studying the impact of a relatively recent type of entrepreneurship program (startup accelerators) on the performance of firms, regions, and the selection of early-stage projects in the economy. The first essay explores the impact of startup accelerators on early-stage entrepreneurial activity in their region by exploring the effects of accelerators on the availability and provision of seed and early stage venture capital funding in the local region. The second essay explores the relationship between a startup's founding region, accelerator admission and startup performance. Using data from a leading startup accelerator, I use a fuzzy regression discontinuity framework to evaluate both the overall impact of the program on its portfolio of startups and its heterogeneity based on a startup's founding region characteristics. Startups birthed in neighborhoods with higher levels of entrepreneurial resources derive a larger benefit from admission to MassChallenge, suggesting that founding regions shape a startup's performance and that accelerators change the way in which startup founders are able to access and leverage resources in their home region. The third essay explores the selection mechanisms inside an accelerator program, measuring how variation in the institutional arrangements used in the selection of ideas and ventures impacts how a fixed set of judges evaluate a fixed set of businesses opportunities. We find strong differences in how ideas are evaluated depending on the evaluation scheme. Taken together these essays demonstrate that startup programs impact the growth of new firms through the performance of individual portfolio firms, fostering stronger ecosystems, and shifting which firms are encouraged to grow through their selection procedures.

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