Professor Aaron Chatterji Studies India’s Tech Startup Culture

Aaron ChatterjiAaron Chatterji is an associate professor of strategy at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, where his work focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship. His experience includes stints as a senior economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisors and a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs & in New York. Chatterji is currently studying entrepreneurship in the explosive growth of the Indian tech sector and in January, ran a huge field study with almost 200 startup founders in Bengaluru. Chatterji expands on his research in this Fuqua Q&A.

What drew you to the tech sector in India as a topic of research?

Several things. Firstly, there’s been a couple of high profile companies that have reached over $1 billion valuation, such as Flipkart, that are becoming household names. Also, India has a large domestic market, like China. Some of the startups that launch in India might be similar to the ones we have here in the U.S., but they can get huge domestic market share and become so valuable that they don’t necessarily need to leave India, so we need to go there to study them. Plus India has a high concentration of high-tech talent, some educated at home and some who came home after emigrating abroad. That gives Indian startups a talent pool to draw from. Finally, the government is working hard to promote entrepreneurship and has talked a lot about it, which can potentially create a nurturing environment for startups.

What was the goal with this research?

The objective is to understand what catalyzes high growth entrepreneurship in India and around the world. We know that Silicon Valley, for example, is a hub for entrepreneurs, but it’s hard to know why people are working on one thing or another. Basically we want to understand something more about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India as it relates to tech and startups. There’s been all this great work on technology startups in clusters all around the world, but we don’t know all that much about India and it’s clearly a major center.

How did you go about studying entrepreneurs?

Along with iSPIRT, a software products association, we co-sponsored a three-day boot camp for entrepreneurs on the corporate campus of the Indian tech giant Infosys in Mysuru.  We hosted about 180 startup founders. For them, it was an educational program for three days on strategies to grow their businesses. It was a successful event and we got a lot of good feedback. But for us, it was also a laboratory to study entrepreneurship. It’s very cutting-edge research because usually you don’t have 180 startups in one place, and it’s very expensive to run these conferences. We wanted to use this entrepreneurial boot camp for one of the largest-ever laboratories to study high-tech entrepreneurship.

What were you looking for?

The idea is that your peers can affect you, how you think about your own company and what strategies you pursue. We collected lots of data and we’re now following companies with post-surveys, trying to find out whether they change their practices, whether they raised money or spent more time on different activities, and we’re going to translate that to who they met. We’re interested in who they talked to and how what they learned impacts their business. We want to know how important these boot camps are for their dissemination of knowledge, and once you create these networks in an ecosystem, how knowledge diffuses across those in a way that might affect entrepreneurial performance.

What’s next?

We’re examining the data and plan to have preliminary results to present this fall. The direction we go will be shaped by what we find, but I hope the findings will be useful to entrepreneurs and innovators and anyone interested in the dynamic entrepreneurial landscape in India.

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