Elena Obukhova
Fred Kayne (1960) Career Development Professor of Entrepreneurship
Assistant Professor of Global Economics and Management
MIT Sloan School of Management
I am an Assistant Professor in the Global Economics and Management group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where I study the role of social drivers of global entrepreneurship, including how educational and work experiences abroad affect entrepreneurial opportunities and new business venture success. Prior to joining MIT, I completed a PhD in Sociology at the University of Chicago. A native of Russia, I am also professionally fluent in Mandarin and have been intensively conducting research in China since 1995. At Sloan, I teach MBA and Ph.D. course in international management.

The first stream of my research investigates how and when returnee entrepreneurs are able to benefit from their experiences abroad. When highly skilled workers from developing economies work in developed countries and then return to their home countries, common wisdom dictates that their experiences abroad would help them upon their return. Assuming that returnee-entrepreneurs can tap into resources from the developed economy where they had worked, this access should help them overcome some of the resource constraints they face at home. However, the evidence on the performance of returnee firms is mixed. The objective of my research is to identify conditions under which returnee-entrepreneurs can derive the most benefit from their experiences abroad. My second related stream explores the value of social networks in job search. Lastly, I have also been involved in a research project that investigates endogenous mechanisms of cultural change using data on first names.

Most of my studies require collection of original qualitative and quantitative data. Because publicly available data on China is limited, my research on returnees involves extensive fieldwork, including following firms over significant periods of time. For example, for my dissertation I spent 20 months in China collecting data on its semiconductor industry, conducting more than 100 interviews with industry participants and a surveying nearly all semiconductor design firms in Shanghai. In the summer of 2008, I collected a second panel of data on these firms. This longitudinal study provides unique insight into the effect of returnees on firm survival. My new research project on returnees uses a unique hand-coded data on China’s small and medium size high-technology firms, supplemented with interviews. Similarly, because traditional data collection techniques suffer from important methodological shortcomings, my research on job search is based on original survey data.