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Entrepreneurship plays an integral role in the global economy. To debate the most challenging issues and share best practices in the field, the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise convenes leading researchers, practitioners and policymakers at the Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Conference.

Vickie Gibbs of UNC Kenan-Flagler Speaks On Stage at Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Conference 2020

Vickie Gibbs of The Entrepreneurship Center

The first-ever Trends in Entrepreneurship Report from the Kenan Institute and the Entrepreneurship Center at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School was unveiled.

Combining data with expert analysis, the report gives timely insights into the topics that significantly affect entrepreneurs, funders, ecosystem partners, policymakers and others in the innovation economy. The report also translates rigorous academic research to ensure findings are accessible and actionable for the broader entrepreneurial community, aiming to inform practitioners’ decisions and encourage further exploration of research ideas by scholars.

The report focuses on five areas: funding, diversity and inclusion, emerging technologies, teams and talent, and ecosystems. Here are some of the major trends they identified:

Defining entrepreneurship is tricky.

One challenge in examining entrepreneurship broadly is defining what and who to include in the analysis. The word “entrepreneur” conjures up different meanings in different contexts, and the types of businesses started by entrepreneurs are just as diverse. From Silicon Valley tech startups to mom-and-pop shops across the U.S., entrepreneurship is a wide-ranging and complex field, which affects how entrepreneurship is measured.

Quantity might be down, but quality appears to be up.

There has been a steady decline in the rate of new startups. The decline in firm entry is most pronounced among fast-growing, young firms, which is they traditionally have been a large source of economic growth and innovation. However, academic research and practitioners’ anecdotal evidence points to increased quality of high-growth firms. There has been an increasing trend of venture capital funding of growth-oriented firms since the Great Recession.

For high-growth firms, the path to success may no longer lead to IPO.

Traditionally, a successful exit for a growing company was an IPO. However, this might no longer hold true, as the path to success is less linear and options to stay private have become more attractive over time. Firms are taking advantage of cost options potentially lower than the public markets to secure capital. Smaller firms might prefer to be acquired rather than hold an IPO because of the high cost of listing, compliance costs and market demands. There has been a significant increase in commitments to private equity/growth equity firms that can provide the capital to stay private.

Co-founder teams might not perform better than solo-founded teams.

Long-standing logic has held that having more co-founders in a startup should equate to better firm success, since multiple owners can bring more resources. Recent research challenges that idea. In fact, co-founder dynamics can be a central cause of startup failure, with research showing that up to 65 percent of startup failures are tied to conflicts among co-founders.

The aim of the Trends in Entrepreneurship Report is to spark more conversations about what is driving entrepreneurship and how to encourage more successful firm starts, firm value creation and exits. It also seeks to drive more research in the unexplored areas of entrepreneurship. To spur such research, the Kenan Institute will release a request for proposal for its annual Frontiers of Entrepreneurship research grant in April.

To read the full analysis and insights, visit