Research and teaching

Olav Sorenson and Jesper B. Sørensen

Franchising provides an increasingly important vehicle for entrepreneurial wealth creation and accounts for a large and growing share of business in the retail and service sectors. Chains—which operate in dispersed markets—most frequently use this form of governance. These firms must balance the centralization and standardization required for efficiency with the adaptation needed for success in varied local markets. By adopting an organizational learning perspective, we argue that the mix of company-owned and franchised units affects this balance, thereby influencing chain performance. In particular, the different incentives facing company managers and the entrepreneurs that manage franchises encourage distinct patterns of organizational learning. Franchised establishments provide better opportunities for the firm to learn through experimentation; however, companies find it easier to diffuse this information and enforce standards through their company-owned units. Analyses of franchised restaurant chains in the United States provide empirical evidence of this trade-off.

Strategic Management Journal, 22 (2001): 713-724

Olav Sorenson and Toby E. Stuart

Sociological investigations of economic exchange reveal how institutions and social structures shape transaction patterns among economic actors. This article explores how interfirm networks in the U.S. venture capital (VC) market affect spatial patterns of exchange. Evidence suggests that information about potential investment opportunities generally circulates within geographic and industry spaces. In turn, the circumscribed flow of information within these spaces contributes to the geographic- and industry-localization of VC investments. Empirical analyses demonstrate that the social networks in the VC community—built up through the industry’s extensive use of syndicated investing—diffuse information across boundaries and therefore expand the spatial radius of exchange. Venture capitalists that build axial positions in the industry’s coinvestment network invest more frequently in spatially distant companies. Thus, variation in actors’ positioning within the structure of the market appears to differentiate market participants’ ability to overcome boundaries that otherwise would curtail exchange.

American Journal of Sociology, 106 (2001): 1546-1588

Olav Sorenson and Pino G. Audia

Nearly all industries exhibit geographic concentration. Most theories of the location of industry explain the persistence of these production centers as the result of economic efficiency. This article argues instead that heterogeneity in entrepreneurial opportunities, rather than differential performance, maintains geographic concentration. Entrepreneurs need exposure to existing organizations in the industry to acquire tacit knowledge, obtain important social ties, and build self-confidence. Thus, the current geographic distribution of production places important constraints on entrepreneurial activity. Due to these constraints, new foundings tend to reify the existing geographic distribution of production. Empirical evidence from the shoe industry supports this thesis.

American Journal of Sociology, 106 (2000): 424-462

Olav Sorenson

Is starting a new business more difficult in an emerging industry or in a mature industry? The density dependent model of organizational ecology maintains that the industry’s age is irrelevant; the number of firms currently occupying the market niche determines the industry’s competitive structure. Nevertheless, population-level learning predicts historical asymmetry in entry barriers. Over time, the average fitness of the surviving population members increases, making market entry more difficult. At the same time, surviving organizations become increasingly spread out across the resource space, providing niches that new firms can exploit. Thus, industry-level evolution systematically alters the environment that both existing organizations and new firms face. I offer a new specification for the founding rate model that synthesizes ecological and evolutionary perspectives. Tests of this model in the American automobile industry support its merit.

Social Science Research, 29 (2000): 307-326

Olav Sorenson

Managers must choose to allocate scarce resources either to the maintenance of a range of products tailored to heterogeneous consumer preferences or to the efficient production of a small number of products. In addition, managers must choose the degree to which they periodically cull the product line. Vigorous selection removes poor performers from the product line, but this action simultaneously impairs the firm’s ability to monitor changes in consumer preferences. Empirical evidence from the computer workstation industry reveals that the ideal choice of product variety depends on the competitive ecology of the industry. Product variety becomes less valuable as the total number of products on the market increases, but it increases in value as uncertainty makes the accurate prediction of demand difficult.

Strategic Management Journal, 21 (2000): 577-592

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