Most “Small Firms Do Not Innovate”

(p. A11) The neglect of small businesses stems in part from the sense that they aren’t very dynamic–that in contrast with startups, they don’t really grow or change from year to year. In a 2011 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Erik Hurst and Benjamin Wild Pugsley of the University of Chicago found that most of the people running these companies are content to stay small and continue offering the same kinds of products or services as competitors.
“Most firms start small and stay small throughout their entire lifecycle,” they write. “Also, most surviving small firms do not innovate along any observable margin.”
Profs. Ruback and Yudkoff are challenging that attitude. Their argument is that well-trained and energetic new managers can bring process innovations to these businesses that can fundamentally alter their trajectories. In many cases, the firms purchased by Harvard Business School graduates have begun hiring and growing. The alumni who are running them can make a good living today–and potentially see very good returns in the future, if and when they sell their better-run, more-profitable firm at a premium.

For the full commentary, see:
NITIN NOHRIA. “Appreciating the Big Role of Small Businesses.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 3, 2016): A11.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 2, 2016,)

The published version of the Hurst and Pugsley paper mentioned above, is:
Hurst, Erik, and Benjamin Wild Pugsley. “What Do Small Businesses Do?” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Issue 2 (Fall 2011): 73-118.

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