Communication skill development is what entrepreneurs who participate in university accelerators most need in the early stages of their growth.
That’s the finding of a team of researchers from UConn’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI), led by Associate Director of Entrepreneurial Communication and Research Rory McGloin, who is also an associate professor in both the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the School of Business.
Their research was recently published in the journal Entrepreneurship Education and Pedagogy.
University accelerators – which provide coaching, mentoring, and funding – have long measured success by long-term business stability and revenue generation.
“We started to ask some different questions to entrepreneurs about what they really need in their early stages that will allow them to be successful over time,” says McGloin. “We learned that what they want and need is more communication skill development, whether it is internal with their employees and partners, or external with customers, vendors, and investors. If they can’t tell their story in a compelling fashion, it really limits what they can do.”
McGloin and his team interviewed self-identified entrepreneurs who had previously participated in a multi-week CCEI program and asked questions about which skills they wish they had developed earlier and sooner to help them achieve their goals more quickly.
“In the paper, we made recommendations for what university accelerators should be considering and how they should go about implementing a pedagogy around developing those skills,” says McGloin.
Many university accelerators focus on pitching the business. However, the researchers learned that early training on managing team and partners was equally important to entrepreneurs.
“This is quite compelling for UConn, as we have so many engineers and life scientists whose research is often at their bench,” says McGloin. “They are saying that they need to become much more adept at managing people and keeping them excited and engaged in the long process, which does not come naturally.
“We’ve already adjusted some of our programming at CCEI to allow us to integrate small group communication and team development. We are no longer just training entrepreneurs to pitch to investors, but also to employees and partners on what the mission is. That was a breakthrough for us – because if you look at the literature, this isn’t something that people have really been talking about.”
McGloin’s research team had a wide range of experience from UConn undergraduates to full-time faculty members.
“This project started in its infancy about two and a half years ago and we decided to go with a qualitative approach,” says McGloin. “That meant I had to pull in experts from a number of different areas.”
The second author of the paper was Arianna Saxton ’23 (CLAS), which is an example of UConn’s priority of undergraduates performing research. Associate professor of communication Elizabeth Hintz, a new member of the UConn faculty, organized the manuscript and synthesized the quantitative data.
“We had an awesome team – and it included everyone from tenured faculty and doctoral students to undergraduate and master’s students. The opportunity to bring so many great people together was the best part,” says McGloin. “It was an interdisciplinary effort and is a great example of our UConn research community.”
McGloin says CCEI is evolving on “an almost daily basis,” much like a start-up company. The team was rounded out by our CCEI executive director Jennifer Mathieu who McGloin credits for creating a culture that celebrates entrepreneurship in all of its forms.
“We ask questions to make sure our programs are effective” says McGloin. “We want to make sure we are not just delivering programming; but we are also asking questions about what the entrepreneurs are learning and what skills they feel they need to develop. We turn that information around and publish those findings so others in the field can learn and grow with us.”
McGloin says that CCEI has made a particular choice to develop entrepreneurial skills first and, as a byproduct, the entrepreneur increases their start-up and business acumen.
“Market conditions for businesses can have huge influences on whether something is successful or not – But, we believe that if CEEI does a great job in our programming, providing the entrepreneur an opportunity to develop critical skills, self-efficacy, competence, and of course, communication skills, it will empower them for a lifetime of success whether they take those skills to build their own business or take them to an existing organization.”