Making an ecosystem flourish

What I’m trying to do is to put students in a context that they can still control, but where the solutions are not very straightforward.”

Name: Roxana Turturea
Title: Assistant Professor at the Department of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology at SSE.

Hey Roxana! We’d love to hear more about you.
I’m Roxana Turturea. I’m from Romania, and I moved to Sweden about half a year ago when I started as an assistant professor at the Stockholm School of Economics. Before that, I did my Ph.D. in the Netherlands and my postdoc in Finland. I’m doing research broadly on entrepreneurship, particularly issues related to financing and scaling up startups.

Why are you interested in entrepreneurship education?
I think it can serve a broad range of purposes. Entrepreneurship education can help students that want to start a company, and it can also provide a nice foundation for students that may not want to start a company right now but may consider it later on in life.

Would you say it’s about teaching them tools or principles?
Being an entrepreneur is a quite complex occupation, but the idea is to provide them with tools that will support them when they encounter certain problems with their startups or strategies for figuring out what type of financing they need. If they want external finance, how to interact with investors, how to present themselves in a favorable way, maybe insights about how to assess potential business partners and co-founders. These are practical aspects that relate to key decisions entrepreneurs make.

What’s your view of entrepreneurship?
I think entrepreneurship is about creating value, creating something new that other stakeholders find valuable. That’s the difference between an entrepreneur and, for example, an inventor. An inventor invents something that presents value to the person inventing it. It is not a commercial product, at least not yet. But if you take that to a group of stakeholders that find it useful, the inventor becomes an entrepreneur.

How do you regard other fields of entrepreneurship, like social entrepreneurship or artistic entrepreneurship?
That’s why I am using a simplified definition of entrepreneurship. Because it can incorporate different variations of it. I think that is part of the beauty, that it can incorporate these multiple approaches to creating value in society. The more specific you are in defining something, indirectly you’re excluding some type of activities from the label of entrepreneurship.

Has your view of entrepreneurship changed over time?
Not my general view of entrepreneurship, as being interesting and creating real value for society. But it became nuanced, in a sense. I think it’s great that programs like SSES provide students with tools that potentially can help them in an entrepreneurial career. I’m also aware that it’s a path that doesn’t fit everyone. It involves quite high risk-taking and tolerance for ambiguity. 

But I think it’s good for people that consider an entrepreneurial path but are unsure if it really suits them. I think entrepreneurship can be fun, and a lot of entrepreneurs start out of a desire to create something, to be independent. But at the same time, not everyone is equally motivated and skilled in pulling through. I think it is important to promote entrepreneurship in a nuanced way.

What would you say differentiates you from most of your peers, whether they are educators or researchers?
I work on entrepreneurship research quite a lot, but and I also do some research on strategic management that usually concerns larger companies. I think that can inform my approach to entrepreneurship because I know what larger companies do well. In my entrepreneurship research I seek to investigate research questions that matter for entrepreneurs or investors. Before starting the Ph.D. I was in a student NGO that was focused on startups, training students that wanted to become entrepreneurs, organizing conferences for such students with quite famous entrepreneurs in my country. I was early on exposed to the more applied side of things, and I think there’s high value in it.

You focus on helping entrepreneurs to make better decisions?
Yes. But I’m also interested in the investor’s side as well. How investors evaluate startups. What do they look for? By understanding the decision-making process of investors, you also figure out how to help entrepreneurs because you can go to them and say, “this is what investors look at” “this is an area you have to improve”.

What part of your professional journey do you think was atypical, uncommon or rare?
I decided to apply for a Ph.D. a couple of days before the deadline for applications. My master thesis supervisor was trying to persuade me to do a Ph.D. because she enjoyed my master thesis, but I said no. When I saw the opportunity, I instantly knew that it is what I want to do. My thesis was about financial bootstrapping; entrepreneurs growing their businesses without accessing external capital. I was interested in what strategies they used to save costs. For instance, sharing resources with other companies in order to go for a more lean approach. Overall, I focus on growth in my work. Financing is interesting because it is a necessary condition for growth.

In what ways are you an outlier?
Academia is full of misfits 🙂 I’m more of a novelty-seeker. I think I work on topics more diverse than many of my colleagues. Apart from my work on financing start-ups, I also did work on public companies getting listed on the stock exchange. What drives their performance when they get listed? I also have a study on attention deficit disorder and entrepreneurial intentions. In that sense, I guess I’m quite versatile in the broad area of entrepreneurship. I’m looking for topics that are theoretically interesting but also have meaningful practical implications as well.

What’s your opinion on interdisciplinarity? What’s the importance of it in the classroom?
I think entrepreneurship as a field is very interdisciplinary to begin with. Attracting academics that also have a background in psychology, economics, marketing and many others. In the class, it also contributes a lot because not all startups have to be the same. Not all startups have to be started by someone with a Bachelor and a Master in business. And I think a trap that many startup founder teams fall into is starting a company with people that are too similar to them rather than being complementary. If you look at a lot of successful, fast-growing firms, they often have this complementarity aspect covered. Maybe one person is from tech. One is more business-focused, and so on.

Is diversity important in the classroom?
Yes, definitely! The diversity in backgrounds among students is one of the things I really like about SSES courses.

So what is your best practice for teaching entrepreneurship in the classroom?
I am a firm believer that students learn best when they struggle a bit. What I’m trying to do is to put students in a context that they can still control, but where the solutions are not very straightforward. That sometimes causes a bit of panic. But almost in all cases, the students deliver an interesting project in the end. I think sometimes you need to take them out of their comfort zone. I think that for those that have an interest in becoming entrepreneurs it’s even more important because in their career they will be often out of their comfort zone. It’s practical for them to get a bit of experience in the safety of a course, where the consequences will not be a business failure.

If you could conduct an experiment in the classroom in entrepreneurship, what would that be?
I think a valuable lesson for students as we talked about earlier is about teamwork and interaction. I would put students deliberately to work with other students that might not fit them very well and see how they react and how the interaction develops. Whether there is actually learning during the course and if the team interacts better in the end than in the beginning. Then maybe put them with similar students  and see how they perform then. Because students and people in general have a tendency to like other people that are similar to them. My desired goal for such an experiment would also be to make them aware that working with people you like, it’s fun and it can be enjoyable. Very often you also have good outcomes. However, you might learn different things from working with dissimilar people. 

What are your hopes for the future?
I think entrepreneurship has an important role. On many levels. If you think about all the large technological developments in the last year, they were launched by startups, not by incumbent firms. We think now of Facebook as a corporation, but it was a startup 14 years ago. Incumbent firms, of course, can innovate a lot, but a lot of the radical innovation came from startups. I think that if you look at how the world was 15 years ago, the way we socialize, our lifestyles, are so greatly influenced by firms that are relatively young. A lot of novelty in sustainability-related solutions comes from startups as well.

An ideal scenario for entrepreneurship in Sweden, or in the EU, would be a more independent and generous financial market. That would make it more feasible for European startups to remain in Europe when they reach a high level of growth, rather than having them move overseas. The EU is consistently putting effort into that, but the truth is that a lot of startups moved to the US after they reached a certain size, and that is because their funding comes from the US. I think an important way to make the startup ecosystem flourish is to finance it well, in both the amount of money but also in how this money is allocated among start-ups.