Discover more from The New PPT
Can Social Capital Drive Entrepreneurship and Innovation?
Dr. Saurabh Lall sheds light on his new research in this exclusive interview
A world-leading researcher on the intersection of entrepreneurship and society, Dr. Saurabh Lall is an Expert Affiliate at StateUp and Associate Professor at the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School where he leads the International Business and Research cluster. He was previously Research Director at the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (a global network of over 300 organisations supporting entrepreneurship in emerging markets), and Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon. Saurabh serves on the UNDP Impact Measurement and Management Advisory Group.
Subscribe to the New PPT
In this exclusive interview, Saurabh A. Lall discusses his recent research on social capital and the successes and challenges of mentorship for entrepreneurs - particularly women - and what this means for driving and scaling innovation and collaboration in entrepreneurial communities.
Q:What first sparked your interest in the area of social capital and entrepreneurship?
SL: Prior to coming to the University of Glasgow, I worked as Research Director of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), a policy programme of the Aspen Institute, where I co-founded the Global Accelerator Learning Initiative. This initiative centred around the intersection of entrepreneurship and society and helped connect entrepreneurs to over 370 accelerator programmes around the world. Working on this project, and from my other experience, I was able to gain insight into what is useful and necessary for success in academia and entrepreneurship, as well as the challenges faced by entrepreneurs.
While resources such as financing and funding are vital for academia and research & development, so too are the softer resources of mentorship and advice. So often these social resources are overlooked. There is also a disparity in the accessibility of such resources for entrepreneurs from minority backgrounds, which further hinders their success in the ecosystem.
Q: What is the importance of collaboration in academia and entrepreneurship?
SL: When it comes to innovation, it is vital to look at challenges from multiple angles to be able to create a more coordinated vision change and develop strategies that meet the needs of all, not just one demographic. Without collaboration and diversity this is impossible.
There seems to be a culture of ‘money first’ in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, undervaluing the benefits of guidance and mentorship. A study on the effects of social capital demonstrated that the strength of an individual’s social network and community can have significant positive impact on their financial network and access to resources.
Fostering collaboration in entrepreneurship also allows the sharing of knowledge and experience, which can only help further success across the board. What makes partnerships and collaboration so attractive is that it allows players to take a fresh look at challenges and come up with innovative ideas that would otherwise never have seen the light of day.
“A study on the effects of social capital demonstrated that the strength of an individual’s social network and community can have significant positive impact on their financial network and access to resources.”
Q: And your research study was exploring how to promote collaboration through mentorship programmes?
SL: Yes. I worked with the MicroMentor programme exploring how entrepreneurs build and access mentorship and found it interesting that, despite the clear benefits of having such a resource, we still weren’t openly discussing the need for entrepreneurs to have greater access to social capital.
Many people don’t realise just how powerful a mentor can be for an individual. People don’t fully understand what a mentor is or the remit of the relationship. Clarifying that relationship, establishing exactly what is expected and what each can offer the other, can go a long way in both encouraging more entrepreneurs to seek a mentor and improving the success of mentor relationships.
The research programme focused on discerning the difficulties faced by entrepreneurs accessing and building mentor-mentee relationships, and how to help improve this.
We researched a diverse range of entrepreneurs from across the globe through the MicroMentor programme and offered support and training on both ends of the mentor/mentee relationship. This included support in reaching out to mentors, advice for mentors in how to manage and build successful relationships, and what to expect from the relationship for both parties.
Read more about Lall’s research project here.
Q: What did you find to be the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in accessing this social capital of mentorship?
SL: There are challenges at all levels. At the first stage, many entrepreneurs find it difficult to access mentors, both in terms of networking and in making the initial approach.
In particular, entrepreneurs from traditionally overlooked backgrounds lacked the network connections that gave them access to potential mentors. If you do not already have those connections, how do you find someone who could be your mentor? Similarly, some lacked the confidence to reach out in the first place.
Forming a mentor–mentee relationship is challenging for nascent entrepreneurs. While mentoring relationships may emerge over shared identities and interests, it can be intimidating for a new entrepreneur to reach out and ask for advice when they are unsure of their capabilities or their business.
Secondly, striking up that initial conversation doesn’t always translate into a successful mentoring relationship.
Female entrepreneurs find it much harder to connect with mentors.
“Establishing a new connection can be costly, in terms of time, effort, and patience (Dimitriadis & Koning, 2020), and entrepreneurs may lack the confidence to approach a potential mentor. This lack of confidence is even more pronounced for entrepreneurs that are traditionally marginalised, such as women entrepreneurs.” - ‘Digital platforms and entrepreneurial support’.
Our research showed that providing hands-on practice for mentees in making the initial step and showing examples of what a successful relationship looks like encouraged more women to reach out and make the first step towards finding a mentor. Our results demonstrated a 57% increase in the likelihood of a female entrepreneur reaching out following this initial training.
Q: What does this mean for the future of entrepreneurship and how can we continue to drive collaboration through healthy mentoring?
SL: The findings from the initial research project are promising. In general, we found that those who had engaged in the resources provided, such as support for making that initial approach, resources to help nurture the relationship, and advice on what the relationship should entail, were more likely to have a successful experience across the board.
With greater support and improved education surrounding mentoring relationships, how they work, and what to expect from both parties, more successful relationships were built.
That said, there is still a lot of work to be done, and more research is needed to further explore the experience of minority founders when building mentoring relationships. For example, we want to look at how gender and ethnicity affects who an entrepreneur may reach out to and how their social connection develops.
Q: Do you think the digital age helps or hinders relationship building for entrepreneurs?
SL: Certainly with the digital age there is greater access to resources that foster mentorship. The MicroMentor scheme is just one, connecting entrepreneurs from all over the world to mentors, regardless of location.
However, building authentic relationships digitally is challenging, and both parties need the support and resources to enable them to build relationships and ensure that they are used to their full potential.
At the end of the day, a mentor relationship is a social connection, so the value of that personal relationship should not be overlooked. This is harder to build and sustain digitally, but not impossible if provided with the right resources.
“However, building authentic relationships digitally is challenging, and both parties need the support and resources to enable them to build relationships and ensure that they are used to their full potential.”
Moving forward, we want to conduct further research and incorporate how different digital tools can help improve the initial connection and relationship dynamic.
Thanks for reading The New PPT! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and publications.
Lall’s research paper ‘Digital platforms and entrepreneurial support: a field experiment in online mentoring’ is available here. You can find his full list of published works, articles, and research papers on his website.
Tell us what you think about our interview with Saurabh Lall here.