Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2014

Entrepreneurship as Experimentation

by William R. Kerr, Ramana Nanda and Matthew Rhodes-Kropf


Entrepreneurship research is on the rise but many questions about its fundamental nature still exist. We argue that entrepreneurship is about experimentation: the probabilities of success are low, extremely skewed and unknowable until an investment is made. At a macro level experimentation by new firms underlies the Schumpeterian notion of creative destruction. However, at a micro level investment and continuation decisions are not always made in a competitive Darwinian contest. Instead, a few investors make decisions that are impacted by incentive, agency and coordination problems, often before a new idea even has a chance to compete in a market. We contend that costs and constraints on the ability to experiment alter the type of organizational form surrounding innovation and influence when innovation is more likely to occur. These factors not only govern how much experimentation is undertaken in the economy, but also the trajectory of experimentation, with potentially very deep economic consequences.

Keywords: entrepreneurship; experiments; innovation; Entrepreneurship; Innovation and Invention;


Kerr, William R., Ramana Nanda, and Matthew Rhodes-Kropf. "Entrepreneurship as Experimentation." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-005, July 2014.