DeSantola wins Industry Studies Association Dissertation Award for work on new venture growth

Alicia DeSantola, an assistant professor of management and organization at the UW Foster School of business, has received the Industry Studies Association Dissertation Award for her impactful doctoral work on new venture growth.

She also was a finalist for this year’s Heizer Dissertation Award in New Enterprise Development and on the shortlist for the Grigor McClelland Doctoral Dissertation Award.

DeSantola joined the Foster School faculty in 2019 after completing her PhD studies in organizational behavior at Harvard University.

There, she identified several factors behind the ability of startups to successfully scale up.

“This dissertation seeks to enhance our understanding of entrepreneurial ventures as dynamic social organizations, focusing on topics related to scaling and entrepreneurial teams,” she wrote, adding that it addresses two gaps in the research: systematic exploration of how startup teams evolve over time and how teams are as central to entrepreneurial processes as their founders.

The first essay of DeSantola’s dissertation, now published in the Academy of Management Annals, charts the endurance and evolution of internal factors—organizational design, team composition and culture—within entrepreneurial ventures as they grow.

The second essay, drawing from close study of nearly 1,500 ventures, explores how early joiners with prior entrepreneurial work experience influence the likelihood that startups will be able to scale up. The data suggest that ventures’ founding and growth stages are less distinct than most people realize, and advises startup founders to anticipate their more structured future configurations—even while they are still assembling their early-stage teams or “inner circles.”

The final essay, examining the boards of directors of 2,100 U.S.-based ventures, explores longitudinal changes in entrepreneurial board composition through the lens of gender. It finds that the presence and visibility of women on initial startup teams increases the likelihood that women will also be appointed to leadership groups—such as the board—as a new venture progresses.

“The essays are united by their common focus on boundary expansion,” DeSantola wrote. “Through growth, the boundaries of a venture expand, exposing it to increased complexity which becomes mirrored in how it organizes. Growth also pushes the boundaries of the circle of actors in a position to shape the venture beyond its founders to encompass multiple groups of constituent actors such as joiners and board members.

“Finally, the study of entrepreneurial ventures raises questions about implicit societal boundaries that limit who participates in entrepreneurial processes, asking us to consider ways such boundaries may be overcome.”

The Industry Studies Association is dedicated to advancing academic research that is grounded in a deep knowledge of a particular industry or industries.