For Their Own Good and For the Good of Others: Identity Duality in New Venture Evaluation and Investor Decision-Making

Organizing is a managerial process which demands a sense of purpose. When stories about "who we are" and "what we do" are salient and coherent (Voss, Cable & Voss, 2006), organizations can better plan, explain and justify collective action (Whetten & Mackey, 2002). This explains why research links identity duality--when firms consider themselves to be two types of organizations (Albert & Whetten, 1985)--to organizational conflict, loss of duality or firm failure. Yet studies also suggest that dual identities can be sustainable, complementary and synergistic. Intrigued by this divide, this thesis investigates duality in the context of new venture evaluation and investor decision-making. It focuses on a type of duality found in social-commercial hybrids: organizations that combine a social welfare identity and a commercial profit identity. Study One examines how identity duality translates into the investment selection criteria of a social venture capital firm (SVC), a social-commercial hybrid that makes equity investments into early-stage social-commercial hybrids (social ventures). The study applies inductive analysis to five years of archival data on investment decisions made by the SVC, producing the first taxonomy of SVC criteria drawn from a large, varied sample of actual investment outcomes: accepted (19 cases), failed (1,574) and still under review (40). Results reveal a set of social-mission-related venture attributes and a set of commercial venture attributes used by the SVC to decide a ventures' social and commercial potential--and show that the two attribute sets overlap. Moreover, variance in the length of the evaluation periods suggest the SVC's differentiated approach extends beyond its criteria, into its evaluation process. Study Two builds on a 25-month in-depth case study at the same SVC to understand its venture engagement activities over the evaluation process. Interviews and non-participant observation (including seven consecutive months onsite) reveal five emergent strategies used by the SVC to understand and shape the plausibility of social-commercial duality in new ventures (Cautious Pursuit, Tinkering, Rapprochement, Helping, and Filtering Out). Though these strategies are costly and resource-dependent, they help the SVC to evaluate ventures' emerging duality and to avoid investing in those with a high risk of trading-off commercial outcomes at the cost of social outcomes or vice versa (Trade-off Hazard). Moreover, when successful, these strategies can increase the plausibility of evaluated ventures' identity claims and co-create access to attractive investment opportunities previously unavailable to the SVC. Study Three uses an experimental method called conjoint analysis to test and quantify the effect of individual funder mindsets on the relationship between investment proposal duality and its perceived attractiveness. 154 individual funders with different social and commercial orientations were asked to assess the same set of 22 different venture proposals, producing 3,388 investment evaluations. Statistical analyses of these nested data partially confirm past research on social and commercial dominance in mindsets, implying that evaluations of duality in investment proposals depend on venture-fund fit as determined, in part, by individuals. In sum, these studies shed light on how firms and individuals relate to duality, revealing the complexities and benefits of tackling social issues through business.

Gruber, Marc
Lausanne, EPFL

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 Record created 2018-10-15, last modified 2020-10-27

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