Teaching Innovation: Rice Professor Reviews Accelerator Programs

Houston — Entrepreneurship is considered the fuel that drives economic growth. But what are the best ways to help entrepreneurs be more successful—and what are best practices for startup accelerator programs?

Those are questions, among others, that Rice University professor Yael Hochberg wants to try to narrow down. She is investigating which parts of the educational programming offered by the nation’s myriad accelerators and incubators actually have a material effect on successful startups. To help her do so, she has received a $1.5 million grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

“We’re thinking about questions around how you do effective entrepreneurship education—especially at the level of accelerators that claim to take entrepreneurs and, in the course of three or four months, mentor and teach them skills to make them better entrepreneurs.”

Certainly, she’s not questioning the value of the networks of business contacts that such programs can offer to young entrepreneurs. Her questions are about the educational content. “What is the best way to teach those skills that doesn’t require two years to an MBA?” she asks. “We don’t know whether these short-term programs can be effective, and what parts of them are the most effective.”

Her plan is to assess these programs in a way that’s similar to how drug candidates are evaluated for efficacy. Hochberg plans to lead a five-year randomized control trial, starting with a pilot program this summer at 1871, a tech hub based in Chicago. (Hochberg formerly taught at Northwestern University.) The complete trial should include 15 locations nationally in which about 400 startups would be tracked for three years, during which time founders would be asked to complete a detailed survey about hiring decisions and how they are measuring success.

“Half of them are going to be randomly offered a set of workshops that represent the training,” Hochberg says. “Then we’ll see where the outcomes diverge.”

Hochberg is still working out details of her study, but generally speaking, a closer look at the phenomenon makes sense. In the last decade, … Next Page »

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