It Takes a Village to Raise a Start-Up

Venture advocates are a necessary component in entrepreneurial success.
It Takes a Village to Raise a Start-Up
WHEN IT COMES TO STARTUPS, entrepreneurial founders often get all the glory, but a recent study looks more closely at what it calls “venture advocates”—those key players who work together behind the scenes to make startups successful. More specifically, the study explores the elements that promote positive venture advocate behaviors (VABs) and ways to identify advocates in entrepreneurial ecosystems.

The study was conducted by associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship Todd Saxton and clinical associate professor of marketing Kim Saxton, both of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in Bloomington, and associate professor of management Curtis Wesley II of the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business in Texas. They examined past scholarship on helping behaviors to determine how to best identify, encourage, and build on VABs. They also looked at the characteristics of dynamic entrepreneurial communities, such as clubs for venture advocates and founders, angel investor networks, and regional champions of entrepreneurship.

The researchers identified one VAB that is especially crucial to startup success: a shared belief in reciprocity. In many cases, they note, venture advocates do not expect a payoff from their contributions. Rather, they might want to give back in exchange for help they received early in their careers, or pay it forward in ways that encourage young entrepreneurs to help others in the future. “It is almost like karmic credit,” says Todd Saxton. “We invest effort in each other to help the whole ecosystem survive and thrive. But these exchanges are not accompanied by dollars or equity.”

He adds that because entrepreneurs face so many obstacles in the early stages of their startups, they must know how, and where, to seek guidance from entrepreneurial veterans. Similarly, cities that want to promote entrepreneurship should sponsor startup programs and networking events that enable venture advocacy efforts. “Venture advocates could be the ‘X factor’ in why some regions—and cultures internationally—successfully establish and sustain their venture ecosystems, leading to new companies, jobs and wealth.”

“Venture Advocate Behaviors and the Emerging Enterprise” was published online March 21, 2016, by the Strategic Management Journal. The study is available at A video abstract of the research is available at