6 Dec 2013

What do we gain from long publishing processes?

Publication patterns are not linear. They are pretty difficult to predict though. Some articles got accepted fast after one or two iterations with the journal, while in some other occasions the dialogue with the editors and referees takes very long. This is the story of my last paper entitled “University spin-offs Vs. other NTBFs: Productivity differences at the outset and evolution” published in Technovation, an outstanding outlet with massive impact factor. It took me five years in getting the paper published from the first submission back in 2008. Was that an advantage or a disadvantage?
When I was working in the last chapter of my PhD with Pedro Ortin, my former supervisor, we found an interesting insight when analysing university spin-off productivity evolution. Using a sample of 104 university spin-offs and 73 new technology based firms we discovered that university spin-offs are 17.5% less productive than their counterparts at the outset, but they could recover this disadvantage at the second year in life. In fact, we observed that university spin-offs are significantly more productive than non-academic technological firms at the fifth year of life.
We considered it was a relevant result that deserved to be published in an outstanding journal. In fact our first interpretation of the results was that academic entrepreneurs learn faster than non-academic ones, as long as they are familiar with the scientific method.
But we experienced hard times when submitting to top journals. It took four journal submissions (Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, Research Policy, Journal of Economics and Management Strategy and Technovation) and ten review iterations to finally get the paper published. Why did the process take so long?
A first requirement was the robustness of the comparison sample. We needed to construct a subsample of 39 university spin-offs and new technology based firms that were perfectly matched. But the empirical requirements were just the tip of the iceberg. We struggled to demonstrate the theoretical implications and contributions of the results. We needed to explore further theoretical underpinnings and ended up using the dynamic capabilities theory. We also introduced other possible explanations of the results like the technological specificities of university innovations and perform several tests to partially reject this explanation. We worked hard in the motivation of the article being very precise about the relevance of evaluating university spin-offs. Indeed, it is still unclear if they deserve more attention from public institutions than other technological companies. The paper also benefited from comments of outstanding academics such as Massimo G. Colombo, Matthew Ellman, Vicente Salas-Fumás and James Wilson.
Altogether the article gained in strength and robustness and obviously I was very pleased when it got finally accepted. But I achieved other indirect benefits from this long process. I become an expert in the field of total factor productivity, panel data, construction of matching samples, and last but not least writing responding letters to reviewers. Altogether it allowed me to publish in other prestigious outlets like Small Business Economics and Regional Studies.
But those indirect benefits go beyond to the academic world. This experience was very instructive in learning how to deal with failure, or in words of Nelson Mandela: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall”.  

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