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My research is focused on understanding industry emergence and entrepreneurship as engines for social and economic change, particularly in developing countries. It underscores the importance of experimentation by both market and non-market actors for sustained innovative solutions to thorny societal problems. My current work focuses on three main areas:

  1. How have firms created industries to improve financial inclusion globally?

    • Research study: industry emergence and evolution of the global mobile money industry that caters to the unbanked

    • Abductive, historical methods

  2. How can non-profits encourage enterprise and markets to reduce post-harvest loss, food waste and hunger?

    • Research study: technology adoption & innovation with smallholder mango farmers in Kenya

    • Inductive, grounded theory building

  3. How can entrepreneurship training enable decision-making under extreme uncertainty encountered in developing regions?

    • Research study: challenges and decision-making amongst Tanzanian entrepreneurs in the agri-business sector

    • Field experiment

Industry Emergence & Evolution: Mobile Money

Wormald, A., Agarwal, R., Braguinsky, S., Shah, S., (2021). David Overshadows Goliath: Specializing in Generality for Internationalization in the Global Mobile Money Industry. Strategic Management Journal, 42(8): 1459-1489.

We investigate the emergence of a global industry based on digital innovation by studying how the international expansion of pioneering firms relates to their characteristics and strategies for capability development and deployment. Using detailed archival data on mobile money, we classify pioneers that internationalize based on whether they were multinational diversifying entrants, developed country startups, or developing country startups. Our quantitative evidence suggests developing country startups that internationalize have the highest impact on the industry through subsequent platform launches. Digging deeper into the business histories of each firm, we uncover why: these startups “specialize in generality” by developing and deploying “bundled knowledge” capital consisting of technology, problem solving and alliance management capabilities, thereby offsetting their physical capital scale and scope disadvantages relative to multinational diversifying entrants.

Wormald, A., Shah, S., Braguinsky, S., Agarwal, R. (2022). Pioneering Digital Platform Ecosystems: The Role of Aligned Capabilities and Motives in Shaping Key Choices and Performance Outcomes. Strategic Management Journal, 44(7): 1653-1697. 

We inductively analyze rich qualitative and quantitative data on the global census of pioneering mobile money firms to examine how firm characteristics shape digital platform ecosystem configuration choices regarding (a) internal vs. external integration and (b) the creation of network externalities through open vs. closed end user access. In contrast to received wisdom, we find pioneering firms were equally likely to engage in external and internal integration; moreover, diversifying entrants were less likely to internally integrate than startups. We uncover the important role of motives, in addition to capabilities, for creating alignment between pioneering firms and their partners. Such alignment was key for addressing path-dependent implementation challenges through experimentation and navigating nascent industry uncertainty for success.

Wormald, A. Money Matters: Institutional Uncertainty and Emergence of the African Mobile Money Industry. Preparing to submit.

This study asks: What is the process by which regulations evolve in a nascent industry? And with what consequences? As an industry emerges, the endogenous dynamics between firms and nonmarket actors are not yet well understood. In a born-global industry, I contend that regulator heterogeneity matters as much as firm heterogeneity for industry emergence. This study explores how variation in regulatory regimes influenced firm entry, how regulations evolved over time, and implications for new industries that represent sustained value propositions for critical unmet needs. I examine these issues through an abductive analysis of the emergence of the mobile money industry using historical methods. I rely on a unique, hand-collected, comprehensive quantitative and qualitative dataset that includes regulators of 43 African countries and 180 firms that introduced 201 mobile money platforms between 2001 and 2017. The findings suggest that regulators needed to experiment to build their knowledge bases, and shortchanging the experimentation process resulted in delays for firms and acutely needed solutions for disadvantaged populations.

Technology Adoption & Innovation: Post-Harvest Loss in Sub-Saharan Africa

The Fruits of One's Labor: Uncovering the Factors that Shape Post-Technology Adoption Behaviors. Data Analysis Stage (with Sonali Shah)

This study seeks to illuminate the individual-level factors that shape post-adoption behaviors by analyzing over 70 narratives from smallholder mango farmers in Kenya participating in a program through which they received training and support in the use of several growing and harvesting technologies. Our inductive, grounded theory building approach reveals several consistent behavioral patterns that result from the confluence of an individual's motives and prior knowledge. Our findings suggest that these individual characteristics will shape several important post adoption behaviors such as innovation and improvement, appropriate and effective use, and word-of-mouth support for the technology, as well as continued application of the focal technology.  

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Webinar on analyzing post-harvest loss in Kenya 
Systematic Approaches to Entrepreneurial Decision Making

Does a Theory-of-Value Add Value? Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial with Tanzanian Entrepreneurs. Under review. (with Rajshree Agarwal, Francesca Bacco, Andrea Coali, Arnaldo Camuffo, Alfonso Gambardella, Haji Msangi, Steve Sonka, Anna Temu, and Betty Waized)

Entrepreneurs making decisions under uncertainty are encouraged to evaluate their initial ideas through hypothesis testing, but entrepreneurial approaches vary in their emphasis on ex-ante theory development prior to collecting evidence. In this paper, we examine whether and how entrepreneurs benefit from adopting an evidence-based approach or a theory-and-evidence-based approach to decision making. We conducted a field experiment with Tanzanian agribusiness entrepreneurs by randomly assigning entrepreneurs to two different training conditions. We find that entrepreneurs in the theory-and-evidence-based condition have higher revenue and profits during the observation period following the intervention. Such higher performance metrics stem from differences in the types of changes enacted: entrepreneurs in the theory-and-evidence-based training make more coordinated changes that encompass both core and operational elements of their business models.

How Entrepreneurship Training Shapes Founders' Perception of Challenges to Entrepreneurship: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Tanzania. Under review. (with Andrea Coali & Francesca Bacco)

Research on entrepreneurship in emerging economies has highlighted two major challenges entrepreneurs face: external challenges related to inefficient institutions or voids and internal challenges such as targeting the right customers or developing a business strategy. Entrepreneurship training has been shown to help entrepreneurs in these contexts overcome some of these issues; however, these studies have largely focused on how training mitigates these types of challenges in isolation from each other. We conduct a RCT with Tanzanian entrepreneurs in the agri-business sector to empirically test two questions. First, whether exposure to entrepreneurship training shapes founders’ perception of both types of challenges in relation to each other. Second, whether entrepreneurship training influences entrepreneurs’ perceived ability to respond to both internal and external challenges. 

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