Science for Successful Startups

Alfonso Gambardella, professor of management and head of the Department of Management and Technology at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, shares the findings of his research on entrepreneurial success. Born and raised in Italy, Gambardella came to the U.S. to attain higher education. He received a PhD in economics from Stanford University and returned to his homeland where he pursued a career in academia as a professor of innovation strategy and technology. After working at universities in Udine and Pisa, Gambardella was hired at Bocconi University where he studies innovation and its effects on businesses and society. Gambardella is now one of the world’s leading researchers in the innovation and strategy space.

Applying the Scientific Method to Entrepreneurship

Humans have the power to think deeply, but they don’t use it very often. However, if humans think before they do something, from starting a business to playing the flute, performance improves significantly. Gambardella proved this in a recent randomized, controlled test. A control group of entrepreneurs was given standard entrepreneurial teaching and training. The test group was taught to develop theories and test them via the scientific method. What Gambardella and his team learned was that those entrepreneurs who applied the scientific method were more likely to close their business because they understood it was a bad idea, or they were more likely to succeed in their business because they knew how to refine and improve their product. Essentially, thinking deeply helps increase predictive power. Or more succinctly according to Gambardella, “If you think, you do better.”

“More imaginative entrepreneurs think of more issues and problems”, Gambardella says. A perfect example of this is MiMoto, a motorbike sharing service in Milan. MiMoto’s target market was university students, and the products were large motorcycles. However, product testing revealed that the key target was young professionals, not students, and young professional women were unlikely to ride larger motorcycles. MiMoto changed its business model accordingly and has enjoyed resounding success.

Galilean Entrepreneurs

Galileo is a pioneer of the scientific method. His idea was to think and test. Gambardella believes that the world needs more Galilean entrepreneurs. Startups have a famously low success rate due to too many people simply taking their ideas to market before thinking deeply about them and performing experiments to understand if their idea holds water. Gambardella’s advice to budding entrepreneurs is to incorporate the scientific method into their business. He says: “Science is one way in which… you can predict the future.” It may mean the difference between success and failure.

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