Lab, Gig or Enterprise? How scientist-inventors form nascent startup teams

Mary E. Zellmer-Bruhn, Daniel P. Forbes, Harry J Sapienza, Patricia S. Borchert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The entrepreneurial teams that form around university-based technologies influence whether and how those technologies are commercialized. Past research has emphasized the roles of external actors, such as technology transfer officers or investors, in managing the evolution of academic startup teams. But less is known about how individual scientist-inventors form their initial teams. To explore that process, we conducted longitudinal interviews with nine scientist-inventors leading nascent startups at major U.S. universities. Our analyses revealed that these scientists were working with a more extensive set of commercially-relevant knowledge and network connections than past research has accounted for. In fact, the scientists had their own “lay theories” of academic entrepreneurship that encompassed team-specific ideas as well as broader ideas about how their technologies ought to be commercialized. We identified four “design principles” capturing key variations in what the scientists hoped to achieve through their teams: control, scope, entitativity, and dynamism. We further found these principles clustered into three distinct commercialization models, which we called Lab, Gig, and Enterprise. Finally, we elaborated the models' implications for the scientists' team formation strategies, the sources through which they identified new members, and their approaches to dealing with administrators and investors. Our findings change what we know about nascent academic startups by showing how scientists play a critical internal role alongside, prior to, and sometimes instead of the external drivers of team formation whose roles have been more extensively documented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106074
JournalJournal of Business Venturing
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation , Program on Innovation & Organizational Change , Grant # SES-0322-512 and by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors


  • Academic entrepreneurship
  • Cognition
  • Entrepreneurial teams
  • Founders
  • Knowledge
  • New ventures
  • Team design


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