Project Team

Darren Halpin (Australian National University), Anthony Nownes (University of Tennessee) and Kurt Sandholtz (Brigham Young University)

Project Summary

The project team (Darren Halpin, Anthony Nownes and Kurt Sandholtz) met in Utah for a workshop 28-29th August, 2014. It had taken us quote a while to get together, mostly owing to the relocation of Darren to a new post in Australia. Ably organised by our ‘local’ team member Kurt Sandholtz, our meeting was held in the congenial surroundings of the Bluebird ski area (minus the snow). The meeting was very informal, allowing for a free flow of ideas and issues, and consequently very productive.

As is perhaps fitting for an event held under the auspices of SCANCOR, the team is an exciting mix of disciplinary backgrounds – combining sociology, political science and organizational studies. Our substantive research focus is on how individual entrepreneurs from the world of business take these experiences into the world of political advocacy. Our approach engages with a central question in organisation studies: How do organizations develop in nascent settings – how do they institutionalise? This weaves nicely with a central question in political science: how do political entrepreneurs decide on the design of their fledgling organisations? And what impact does design choice have on longevity and success? 

At the meeting, we decided to concentrate our study on the activities of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. This will provide a needed focus for our empirical work. But it also reflects the fact that this cadre of individuals has attracted significant attention in the past few years. The role of this set of business elites deserves specific attention, and we believe our contribution will be an important one. 

After much discussion, the team decided on a two-fold research strategy. Firstly, we will generate a database of business entrepreneurs who are associated with the founding of tech firms in Silicon Valley Ca. We will then develop additional measures of their political activism (for instance, donations to parties, PACs, and other political entities) based on information in publically available databases. This first phase will generate a unique data set on the political ‘non-market’ strategies of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. This process is underway, and will be complete by early 2015. Secondly, we will identify a set of new advocacy organizations that have been founded with the direct support or input of these Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. This database has already been started, and is based on the outputs of phase 1, and additional web and media-searches using key words (‘new’ ‘advocacy’ ‘silicon valley’, etc.). We expect to have a clear set of case studies in mid 2015, after which we intend to collect all publically available background information, before running interviews with key founders. 

In terms of outputs, our plans are for 1-2 articles in organisational studies journals and possibly a research monograph (we are currently in discussions with the Cambridge University Press ‘Business and Politics’ series editor about our ideas).

The team is exceedingly grateful to Scancor for their support in seeding this collaboration and their patience in waiting for us to finally meet up. We are looking forward to seeing where this takes us.