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Mixed Signals: Why investors may misjudge first time high technology founders

Levie, J.D. and Gimmon, E. (2008) Mixed Signals: Why investors may misjudge first time high technology founders. Venture Capital, 10 (3). pp. 233-256. ISSN 1369-1066

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Abstract

This paper seeks to explain an unexpected result of a previous quantitative study which suggested sub-optimal evaluation by investors of the human capital of first time high tech venture founders. A literature review revealed two possible reasons for this finding: biases/heuristics and signaling. Six investors across three countries (one venture capitalist and one business angel each from the US, UK and Israel) with experience in investing in early stage high technology ventures were interviewed using an identical semi-structured interview protocol. This research design is appropriate for research that seeks to reflect back unexpected findings of previous quantitative research on the subjects of research. Interviewees were first asked to state their own investment criteria, and then presented with the results of the quantitative study and asked for their views. Previous research suggesting a gap between in-use and espoused criteria, and extensive use of gut feeling in decision-making, was supported. Interviewees focused on harvest potential and de-emphasised measures of founder technology capability that predicted early survival and growth in the earlier study. The paper concludes by suggesting how investors might improve funding decisions in high tech ventures led by first-time entrepreneurs, noting the study's limitations and making recommendations for further research.