Establishing a Journal, Building a Field


e+i March 2012

In 1994, soon after becoming the associate editor of the Journal of Business Venturing,S. Venkataraman (Venkat) called on fellow members of the “invisible college” of entrepreneurship researchers to clarify what they could offer the larger world of business scholarship. Their young field would survive only if they defined its boundaries, he wrote. And the JBV would play a crucial role, serving as “the voice of a field with a distinctive and useful world view rather than as a mere outpost for the more established of our siblings in the field of business management.”

The history of the JBV is inextricably linked to that of entrepreneurship scholarship. At the center of both narratives is Venkat, the MasterCard Professor of Business Administration at the Darden School, who became involved with the journal in 1989, just three years after its founding, and served as editor-in-chief from 1995 to 2009. Throughout, he oversaw a publication that helped to transform an invisible college into a robust global community and simultaneously delineated and broadened the field’s domain.

Today the JBV, which was supported by the Batten Institute from 1998 (when the Institute was still the Batten Center) to 2009, is considered the premier academic journal in the now vibrant field and ranks in the top 15 for overall management impact. The bimonthly journal, supported since its founding by the publisher Elsevier, has a diverse base of subscribers and contributors, and lists on its masthead section editors in ten fields. The multiplicity of disciplines and methodologies that now fall under the umbrella of entrepreneurship scholarship, and are represented in the pages of the JBV, is a large part of Venkat’s legacy. “Entrepreneurship is about variety,” he said. “Entrepreneurship introduces variation into society. The journal needed to reflect that.”


The Start-Up Years

The first issue of the JBV was published in the winter of 1985. The editor-in-chief, Ian C. MacMillan, a professor at the Wharton School, was assisted by a small cohort of scholars united by their desire to create a vibrant peer-reviewed journal to serve their very young academic field. The inaugural issue included an invited column by President Ronald Reagan, who wrote of the nation’s talent for “inventing the future” and recounted the impressive list of late-nineteenth-century inventions—telephones, electricity, photography, automobiles, pneumatic bicycle tires—which by the 1920s had found a huge market in America’s middle class. “I hope the essays in this new journal,” he wrote, “serve to help readers understand the risk-takers, the inventors, the computer pioneers, the builders of all those ‘better mousetraps.’”

But even at this very early stage, JBV editors wanted to cast their net beyond individual entrepreneurs and their discrete venture-building activities. As MacMillan and managing editors Lauriann Zemann and Denise Amoroso wrote in their first “Comments from the Editors,” “Any article which expands our knowledge of the process by which new wealth is or can be created is a desirable candidate for publication in this Journal.”

Venkat thinks of the JBV’s first ten years as its start-up phase. Like many new ventures, the journal struggled initially, in particular to attract subscribers and submissions. But like a successful start-up, the journal filled a gap in the market: “The scholars who were doing entrepreneurship research needed an outlet for their work,” Venkat said. “The mainstream journals at the time were not necessarily sympathetic to them—those journals had standards of theoretical sophistication and methodological rigor that were difficult for the young field to meet.” As a result, the JBV in its early years experienced a steady increase both in subscribers and in the number and quality of submissions.


A Support System for Scholars

When Venkat arrived at the Wharton School as an assistant professor, in 1989, he immediately began to work closely with MacMillan on the journal. In 1992, he became the associate editor.

 Two years into that role, he published the “Associate Editor’s Note” in which he not only issued the challenge to his entrepreneurship colleagues but also laid out his view of what could legitimately be considered within the field’s domain. This short article was a precursor to his highly influential 1997 paper, “The Distinctive Domain of Entrepreneurship Research,” which in 2008 was awarded the IDEA Award for Foundational Research by the Academy of Management, in recognition of a paper that “serves as a legacy for scholarly work in the field.” His aim was not to set editorial policy, he wrote, but to offer a direction that would qualify the earlier editors’ emphasis on wealth creation: a focus on the intersection of private and social wealth. “Questions such as how, why, and under what conditions private wealth seeking translates into societal wealth form the very foundations of this field,” he wrote. “In my opinion, they are the so what questions of entrepreneurship study.” The JBV would strongly encourage research that addressed those questions as well as the more traditional new-business creation.

 Venkat also used his associate editor’s note to explain how the JBV would provide the infrastructure the young field needed. The journal would not be just a gatekeeper of articles, as most academic journals are, but a support system for the developing field and for the scholars in it, helping them to turn a “viable idea into a publishable one.” One crucial step was shortening turnaround times so that scholars would receive timely and constructive feedback on their submissions—even those that were rejected. The turnaround time at many academic journals was 18 months. The JBV shortened that to around two months.

 Another important step was to reach out to other disciplines. Whereas MacMillan had filled the editorial board with members of the Entrepreneurship Division of the Academy of Management, Venkat included scholars in such as fields as technology management, organization theory, and strategy—a move that expanded the base of contributors and broadened the group of scholars who participated in the field of entrepreneurship by, for instance, writing tenure letters for young academics. This was a critical piece of infrastructure.


Into the Mainstream

If the first ten years of the JBV were its start-up period, the next ten were its coming of age, a time when both the field of entrepreneurship research and the journal began to move from the fringes of academia to the mainstream.

 An important factor was the JBV’s geographic reach: MacMillan had increased international awareness by publishing special issues devoted to international entrepreneurship, with a separate review board and editorial process. Global awareness of the JBV was also boosted by the trend for universities around the world to model themselves after the U.S. academic system by tying promotion to publication in academic journals.

 In 1995, Venkat moved to the Lally School at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and took the journal with him, becoming the editor-in-chief. He hoped to make the JBV an even stronger support system for scholars and continue to extend its disciplinary and geographic reach. Venkat brought in as associate editor Phillip Phan, who ultimately succeeded Venkat at Lally. Phan helped handle the large volume of submissions and reached out to Asian scholars, which brought new contributions and subscribers.

 The annual Lally Retreat, a gathering of entrepreneurship researchers, played a crucial role both for the journal and for the field. (The event went on to become the Lally-Darden and then the Carey-Darden Retreat.) Participants became editorial board members and contributors. And those at the first retreat, in 1997, heard Venkat present his “Distinctive Domain of Entrepreneurship” paper, in which he offered a definition of the field that elaborated on the focus he had suggested several years earlier. As a scholarly field, he wrote, entrepreneurship “seeks to understand how opportunities to bring into existence ‘future’ goods and services are discovered, created, and exploited, by whom, and with what consequences.”

 By the time Venkat arrived at the Darden School, in 1998, the JBV had nearly 60 board members and three associate editors. Helping to oversee the steadily increasing volume of submissions was Sarasa Subramony, the managing editor, who assumed the role in 1993 and still works behind the scenes to make sure the journal runs smoothly and efficiently.

 During the early 2000s, Venkat noted, “entrepreneurship was in the air.” The field was becoming truly pluralistic, attracting scholars from across the business academy—especially from strategy—and beyond. The membership of the Academy of Management’s Entrepreneurship Division was growing. The journal both reflected and shaped that trend. The impact of the JBV, as measured by number of citations, was increasing as the journal solidified its position in the academic mainstream.

 The JBV is now under the editorship of Dean Shepherd, a professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Venkat’s legacy is apparent in Shepherd’s description of the field and the publication as “multi-disciplinary, multi-functional, and multi-contextual.” The journal welcomes submissions related to accounting & finance, marketing, strategy, sustainability, international business, social entrepreneurship, anthropology, economics, sociology, psychology, and more.

 Shepherd notes that the editors do not insist on a single definition of entrepreneurship—instead, authors must make the case that their papers contribute to the understanding of entrepreneurial phenomena. Such an approach ensures the continued pluralism and evolution of the field. It also ensures that the conversation about the field of entrepreneurship scholarship will continue to take place in the pages of the JBV, drawing in an ever widening circle of stakeholders.

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