Previous entrepreneurial experience doesn’t equate to more success when it comes to social entrepreneurs, according to new research.
A business school professor at Emory University analyzed three different data sets regarding new ventures launched by social entrepreneurs—some with previous start-up experience and some with none. The professor, Peter W. Roberts, found that not only did social start-ups with veteran entrepreneurs make less of an impact—online, financially or in the community—but they were actually outperformed by social neophytes.
“We just don’t know yet what produces social value in the for-benefit enterprise,” said Roberts, the director of social enterprise at Goizueta Business School. Start-ups from social entrepreneurs often focus on large-scale issues in society and social change.
“I don’t think the usual categories are going to be helpful: that they founded before, worked in a for-profit before, worked for a non-profit before,” he added.
He noted in his blog post for the Harvard Business Review that the results could have serious implications for impact investors and others who try to support promising social projects.
Specifically, Roberts’ research found that ventures from experienced entrepreneurs drummed up fewer Facebook likes—980 versus 1,600 for inexperienced entrepreneurs—as well as 100 fewer Twitter followers. Ventures that had experienced entrepreneurs on board accumulated about $66,000 less in revenue and nearly $100,000 less capital than the novices. And finally, whether a team had experienced or inexperienced entrepreneurs, they had almost the same overall community impact.
Roberts’ research may also have inadvertently advanced the battle of the sexes: he recorded that female social entrepreneurs tend to have better outcomes than men. Enterprises with women on board draw significantly more Facebook likes and Twitter followers and have an enhanced social performance overall.
“Most of the time when we talk gender, we talk about the disadvantages and biases against women,” Roberts said. “We want people to see that there are really good things that are coming out of ventures with women.”