Anderson Center Research Fund Announces Grant Awards

The Anderson Center Research Fund awarded $12,500 each to three UT research projects related to entrepreneurship and innovation.

May 31, 2023

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) — through the Anderson Center Research Fund — awarded three University of Tennessee, Knoxville, research projects $12,500 each in funding to pursue academic/scholarly research on entrepreneurship and innovation.

The Anderson Center Research Fund was formed to advance the quality and quantity of UT-generated entrepreneurship and innovation academic research. Ultimately, this work should inform the research community and help promote entrepreneurial success and community investment in appropriate entrepreneurship-oriented support, infrastructure and startups.

In May 2023, a review committee — consisting of ACEI Executive Director Lynn Youngs, Research Director Melissa Cardon, Operations Director Robyn Geron and Faculty Research Fellow Don Bruce — reviewed research grant applications. Each project was made anonymous and scored based on the extent to which the project 1) focused on evidence-based academic research involving entrepreneurship and/or innovation, 2) was aligned with the research goals of ACEI, 3) had potential for academic contribution and publication in a high-quality peer-reviewed journal, 4) was practically relevant and/or important to entrepreneurs, in terms of helping promote entrepreneurial success and community investment in appropriate entrepreneurship-oriented support, infrastructure and startups and 5) had realistic projections for the timeline for completion.

Three Projects Awarded Funding

The ACEI awarded funding to the following three research projects:

“Mouths to feed: How and why do entrepreneurs protect their employees’ financial security?” by Gavin Williamson and Tim Munyon

In this project, Williamson and Munyon wrote, “Entrepreneurs that grow their businesses by hiring employees often describe a psychological burden that accompanies these new hires — a feeling that they have ‘mouths to feed’ (David & Watts, 2008) and a ‘responsibility for all my employees, to take care of them, to give them jobs’ (Leung, 2003). The purpose of this project is to understand why some entrepreneurs feel a stronger responsibility to the financial security of their employees than others and how a strong felt responsibility changes the decisions they make.”

One ACEI reviewer said, “The project described is a ‘bullseye’ with regard to a very common startup dilemma. Being able to attract some of the best talent with the startup’s mission and value proposition often runs directly into the prospective employee(s)’ need for financial consideration that exceeds the startup’s ability to provide compensation. It’s more than coincidence that the early-stage business lacks the cash or cash-equivalents to compensate key individuals adequately, and even the use of common types of incentive non-cash compensation (e.g., stock options) often cannot overcome the financial ‘needs’ (not necessarily ‘wants’) of key employees who can make the difference between success and failure.”

“Short-Term Gain or Long-Term Benefit? Entrepreneur and Stakeholder Interactions in the Early Stakeholder Enrollment Process” by Ashley Roccapriore and Jessica Jones

In this research, Roccapriore and Jones wrote, “A critical step for new ventures is soliciting and obtaining buy-in from different stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers and investors. We are interested in understanding how entrepreneurs participating in two accelerators — one with deep local ties and the other with deep global ties — get connected to and enroll different stakeholders. Specifically, we seek to determine if being embedded locally makes a difference in whether, and how, entrepreneurs choose their stakeholders. This is important because many have assumed global accelerators carry a brand name that allows them to broker relationships with stakeholders, incurring a spillover effect to those entrepreneurs participating in the accelerator; however, this may also result in a challenge brokering relationships with local partners relative to local accelerators with deeper relationships in the local community.”

A member of the review committee commented, This project could provide a very interesting perspective on something (local versus regional/national accelerators) that’s caught some buzz lately. Of particular interest in the community, however, is why local institutional resources should be applied to startups from elsewhere in the country when they attend regional/national accelerators here, then go elsewhere to provide the potential ‘economic development’ boost. An example is the substantial economic funding provided to the TechStars program occurring locally, only to see the majority of the clients transition to other parts of the country after completion.”

“Founder Identity Evolution: Workspaces as Accelerators of Identity Work” by Becca Arwine and Dave Williams

In their research, Arwine and Williams wrote, “In the early stages of entrepreneurship, founders are tasked with not only developing viable business models, but also with developing a sense of who they are as founders, or their founder identity, and incorporating that sense of self with other important sources of meaning (e.g., being a software developer, a parent). Given the increasing attention given to the mental health and well-being of founders, we need to better understand how entrepreneurial support organizations (e.g., coworking spaces, incubators, accelerators, educational institutions and ecosystems generally) may provide physical and psychological space for individuals to cognitively identify as, or psychologically ‘become,’ an entrepreneur. This study investigates one such space, an entrepreneurial accelerator program — which is known to help launch new ventures by supporting business development — to see what personal and identity support is or can be offered by such spaces.”

One committee member commented, “This project could provide important information about how entrepreneurs are created, and what we can do to help them in this process.”

Congratulations to the grant award recipients! Haslam faculty, staff and students look forward to learning more about the results of their studies in the coming academic year.

About the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Its Research Goals

The ACEI is a university-based resource for entrepreneurship across Tennessee and the region. Its mission is to foster an entrepreneurial culture at UT and across the state by developing student skills, providing experiential learning opportunities, conducting meaningful entrepreneurial research and connecting students with mentors and resources that enable them to successfully start and grow new businesses.

The ACEI’s research goals are to facilitate and disseminate cutting-edge academic research on issues concerning entrepreneurship and innovation to inform the research community, as well as help promote entrepreneurial success and community investment in appropriate entrepreneurship-oriented support, infrastructure and startups.


Brennan Galbraith,