About Robert

Robert Vesco

I'm a doctoral student at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

My research interests include understanding (a) why some areas are more entrepreneurial than others, (b) what drives people to pursue entrepreneurship, and (c) collaboration and innovation processes.

You can find my CV here

Topic Models and Academy of Management 2014

In preparation for a workshop at this year's Academy of Management conference my colleague Tim Hannigan and I gathered data on all the sessions and workshops. We then processed them using R's topic models package to extract "themes" from the abstracts.The purpose was to identify what the divisions at Academy were discussing and to look at the overlap between them. The image below is one result from this work (click on it to see a larger version).

Screenshot from 2014 07 29 215955 289x300 Topic Models and Academy of Management 2014What you see is a bipartite graph which is essentially a network graph with two types of entities. In this case our entities are AOM divisions (in black text encased in the red blob) and topics (in blue text). The theme for this year's conference is the "Power of Words". Thus, it's fortunate that the "Power Words" topic we identified from abstracts is squarely in the center of the red blob. This means it's a central theme relative to the divisions. Thus, the divisions have done a good job of incorporating the theme. Another interesting feature is that there are divisions, such as HR/OB, TIM, OMT, that are central to topics. That means that they are diverse with respect to themes.

Outliers are located in complement of the intersection of the colored blobs. Thus, divisions such OM (Operations Management) could be considered outlying, and among topics,  supply chain would be as well. In this case, supply chain is the theme most linked to OM.  In contrast, there are outlying themes, such as FirmPerformance, that are strongly tied to central divisions. In this case, those divisions are TIM, OMT and BPS -- but not much else.

Anyway, topic analysis is a cool way to identify themes in text and opens up a lot of exciting possibilities. For instance, one neat thing to do would be to look at how themes within Academy have changed over the years.

I'll be presenting this and more at the Content Analysis PDW . Stop by if you're around. http://program.aom.org/2014/submission.asp?mode=showsession&SessionID=412

Does the media affect entrepreneurial intentions and entry?

Note: This analysis is not peer-reviewed or cross-checked so caution is needed in drawing any conclusions, but I put this out there in hopes that it might spark conversation. Moreover, this study is correlational in design. I use no fancy natural or quasi-experiments to get at the causality of media (which is a very hard problem!).

So there has been a lot talk about how the media hype machine is setting wannabe entrepreneurs up for failure. That is, it's encouraging folks who may not be serious to try their hand at starting a business when they probably shouldn't. Below are some charts on the relationship between media, legitimacy and entrepreneurship that attempt to understand media's impact. I look forward to hearing any thoughts or ideas you might have. 

On the Data:

The data come from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor's individual level surveys for years 2006-2008 where they survey folks from over 100 countries. Prior years did not have questions about media. There are about 250,000 individual level observations from nearly 50 countries in this particular analysis.

Intentions = Folks who are thinking about starting a business (i.e. business plan phase, talking about it)
Entry = Not just talk. They have either made some profits in the last 12 months or paid employees for at least 3.
Media = Have you seen success stories of new ventures in the public media?
Legitimacy = Is entrepreneurship a desirable career choice in your country?

Below are some descriptive statistics at the the country-level. The countries are sorted by the percentage of individuals (using a random sample) who saw success stories of new ventures in the public media. I break it down by high and middle income countries as defined by the World Bank. Eyeballing it, it appears there might be some sort of relationship between media and intentions in middle income countries. Again, this is just descriptive and it doesn't control for any other factors.

CountryEntrybyMedia 300x219 Does the media affect entrepreneurial intentions and entry?

Please click on image to see a larger version

Below is the interaction effect between the level of legitimacy of entrepreneurship in a country and the media success stories of entrepreneurship. I look at their joint impact on an individual's likelihood to have entrepreneurial intentions and entry into the market. In this analysis, I control for as many relevant individual and country-level factors as I can such as: age, education, wealth, GDP, competitive pressure, property rights, and much more. The red and blue colored symbols show where the effects are significant at the 95% level.

In effect I am asking this question:

If we increase media by 1 standard deviation from the mean, how might this affect an individuals' intentions and entry contingent on how cool entrepreneurship already is in their country?

One possible interpretation is that in countries where entrepreneurship is not cool, media boosts entry more than intentions on a relative basis. I say relative because in absolute terms the number of people with entrepreneurial intentions is always greater than those who actually succeed in entering the market and this analysis looks at % not absolute numbers. Obviously, many people drop out of entrepreneurship once reality hits them.

In contrast, in countries where entrepreneurship is already cool, or at least very acceptable, increasing media probably contributes to the hype machine so intentions will increase more relative to entry.

So again, it may be that the media success stories of entrepreneurs helps entrepreneurs in countries where entrepreneurship is not very accepted, but less so in countries where it is already accepted.

One other thing to note is that media increases both intentions and entry no matter what. So one might argue that who cares if media creates hype that causes more people to have intentions than they should. It also increases entry. So maybe that gal who was going to join a hedge fund or consulting firm instead started her own business and was successful... though success in this case is NOT in performance, but simply in entry so I can't say much about how successful they truly were - only that they reached one particularly important milestone. This is a limitation of the data.

I look forward to hearing other interpretations and again, this is purely correlational so it is likely to be wrong in many ways icon smile Does the media affect entrepreneurial intentions and entry?

intgph intention entry MediaXLegit 1SD final 300x218 Does the media affect entrepreneurial intentions and entry?

Please click on link to see larger version

Separating commodity manufacturing from its innovation base is a bad idea in the long-run. Was David Teece prescient?

Teece's 1986 piece on profiting from innovation makes the following claim:

"The trend in international business towards what Miles and Snow [7] call "dynamic networks" - characterized by vertical disintegration and contracting - ought thus be viewed with concern. (Business Week, March 3, 1986, has referred to the same phenomenon as the Hollow Corporation.) "Dynamic networks" may not so much reflect innovative organizational forms, but the disassembly of the modern corporation because of deterioration in national capacities, manufacturing in particular, which are complementary to technological innovation.

Dynamic networks may therefore signal not so much the rejuvenation of American enterprise, but its piecemeal demise.

Over 20 years later, Andy Grove, co-founder and former Intel CEO, makes the following claim in a piece about how to bring jobs back to America.

"I believe the answer has to do with a general undervaluing of manufacturing—the idea that as long as "knowledge work" stays in the U.S., it doesn't matter what happens to factory jobs. It's not just newspaper commentators who spread this idea. Consider this passage by Princeton University economist Alan S. Blinder: "The TV manufacturing industry really started here, and at one point employed many workers. But as TV sets became 'just a commodity,' their production moved offshore to locations with much lower wages. And nowadays the number of television sets manufactured in the U.S. is zero. A failure? No, a success."

I disagree. Not only did we lose an untold number of jobs, we broke the chain of experience that is so important in technological evolution. As happened with batteries, abandoning today's "commodity" manufacturing can lock you out of tomorrow's emerging industry."


Teece, D. J. (1986). Profiting from Technological Innovation: Implications for Integration, Collaboration, Licensing and Public Policy. Research Policy, 15(6), 285–305. doi:16/0048-7333(86)90027-2
Grove, A. (2010, July 1). Andy Grove: How America Can Create Jobs. BusinessWeek: Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_28/b4186048358596.htm
Dwoskin, E. (2012, October 18). How to Sell an Airplane in China. BusinessWeek: Politics_and_policy. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-10-18/how-to-sell-an-airplane-in-china
Fishman, C. (2012, December). The Insourcing Boom. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2012/12/the-insourcing-boom/309166/

A Startup Visa That Works, But Loan Programs For MBAs That Don't

A lot has been said about the proposed start up visa legislation that would grant immigrants visas in exchange for starting certain types of businesses here in the US.

This is long overdue and a great development.  Let's hope this legislation passes.

That said, there is another source of entrepreneurship that the US is also preventing and that source is MBA students who are saddled with enormous debt. A common comment heard in the hallways of MBA schools is "Yes, I would love to join or start a business, but my hundred plus grand in debt makes this impossible."

So what could be done about this problem?

  1. Nothing, it's not a problem. Those who chose to get an MBA should have known the costs and constraints that it would impose. No need to encourage more moral hazard from MBA students....
  2. Create loan forgiveness programs/scholarships like those offered by both schools and governments specifically for those MBAs (or undergrads) who decide to start  or join a startup.
  3. Create loan deferment programs.

While there are a few schools that are offering to repay part of the loan MBA students incur there could be more. And as far as I know, there is no government program that offers loan forgiveness for MBA students who decide to go the start up route. That said, I'm not too sure that would be such a good idea.

Alternatively, perhaps allowing MBA students to defer their MBA loans for a certain number of years would be a better idea. This would allow them to pursue their dream and see if it works out without the immediate fear of having to pay back their massive loans. If their venture doesn't work out, then it's back to the corporate world. They would still be accountable. Now, the government already offers deferment for economic hardships but it is a complicated process to get approval for (and maintain) and it lasts only up to three years. More importantly, it only covers, as far as I know, certain types of loans. Many of the private, non-federal loans, may not be covered. Thus, ideally there would a loan deferment program for anyone who decides to create a qualified startup regardless of where their loans come from.

Right now, there are many MBA students who would love to pursue their startup dreams but who feel their only choice is to work with established companies in order to pay off their loans. This is one more source of constraint to entrepreneurship that is holding this country back. While allowing immigrants to start businesses in this country in exchange for visas is a hugely important policy goal, I would argue that helping our MBAs start businesses would be a close second.

Webscraping with R

I'll be giving a talk at the DC Meetup group on "Webscraping with R" on June 24.

If you're interested in learning more about R or webscraping in general come join us.