How to accelerate learning: entrepreneurial ventures participating in accelerator programs Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 21, 2019
  • Cohen, Susan Lee
    • Affiliation: Kenan-Flagler Business School
  • This study uses theory building and theory elaboration methods to suggest how firms accelerate learning. Although prior research establishes that firms learn at different rates, less is known about how some firms, especially those in knowledge-based industries, accelerate learning. The research setting is nine accelerators--entrepreneurship education programs that accelerate learning during venture gestation. Since 2005, these modern incubators have offered cohorts of nascent firms seed financing, education, and mentorship during intensive three-month programs that culminate in high-stakes pitch presentations. Today, there are approximately 300 accelerators across five continents that have collectively helped 2500 firms raise $1.8 billion in funding. Thus, accelerators are an important phenomena and an ideal setting to observe accelerated learning. There are several findings. First, learning is accelerated by mentor overload--time-compressed interactions with external advisors that delay implementation. Mentors expand strategic options. Second, learning is accelerated by director experts who rapidly accumulate and transfer expertise to nascent ventures. Directors narrow strategic options. Third, learning is accelerated by divided teams--founding team members who split up rather than band together during experience accumulation. Finally, learning is accelerated by cohort peers--peer ventures who are concurrently rivals and helpers. More broadly, this study contributes to organizational theory by bringing to light the central but heretofore hidden role of learning-coordination costs. This study also contributes to strategy by challenging the widely held assumption of time-compression diseconomies and to entrepreneurship by shifting the emphasis from changing strategic direction, often referred to as pivoting, to making strategic commitments. Finally this study contributes to entrepreneurship by pioneering academic research on the purpose and effectiveness of accelerators, explaining what they do and comparing them to incubators and angel investors.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Bingham, Christopher B.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2013

This work has no parents.