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Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and Creation of High Tech Unicorn Start-ups (REF: SF18/BAM/WHALLEY1)

  • Full or part time

    Dr J Cunningham
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Entrepreneurial ecosystem research to date has identified a range of actors that contribute to the vibrancy, sustainability, and viability of such ecosystems. Each actor within entrepreneurial ecosystems play a distinct role in supporting, nuturing and developing new venture creation as well as supporting collective value creation for the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Well-developed entrepreneurial ecosystems have public, private, and philanthropy expertise and resources to support value creation for economic and societal benefits. Thus, not only the technological and social but also the economic environment constitutes an essential determinant in shaping and influencing entrepreneurial activities within these ecosystems. More recently there has been a growth in virtual ecosystems driven by the Internet of Things that are changing industry and blurring ecosystem boundaries. Some of these virtual ecosystems are open and others are closed and provide opportunities for new venture creation that can dominant existing industries or create new ones. Such virtual ecosystems change how economic value is distributed.

Against this background one of the challenges for entrepreneurial ecosystems is the creation of high tech ‘unicorn’ start-ups with a valuation of at least $1 billion. The purpose of this RDF studentship project is to explore how entrepreneurial ecosystems support the creation and scaling of high tech unicorn start-ups. This challenge is particularly acute in the European Union, where entrepreneurs are able to create new innovative products and services but often sell the resulting companies to US or Asian-based rivals at a relatively early age. This has resulted in very few ‘unicorns’ emerging, exacerbating the reliance of European consumers on US software and Asian equipment. Thus, the studentship project will there address a range of interactig policy, IPR (intellectual policy right) and commercial issues that collectively and dynamically shape the business models developed by unicorns.

Eligibility and How to Apply:
Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. SF18/…) will not be considered.

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality and is a member of the Euraxess network, which delivers information and support to professional researchers.

Funding Notes

Please note this is a self-funded project and does not include fees


Recent publications by supervisors relevant to this project

• James A. Cunningham, Matthias Menter and Katherine Wirsching,(2018) Entrepreneurial ecosystem governance: A Principal Investigator centered governance framework, paper accepted for Small Business Economics. DOI: 10.1007/s11187-017-9959-2
• James A. Cunningham and Al Link (2016) Exploring the Effectiveness of Research and Innovation Policies Among European Union Countries, International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 12(2): 415-425.
• James A Cunningham and Conor O’Kane (2017) Nascent Technology Based Entrepreneurship: Implications for Economic Policymaking, Palgrave Advances in the Economics of Innovation and Technology Series
• Peter Curwen and Jason Whalley (2013) Fourth generation mobile communication – the path to superfast connectivity, Springer, Heidelberg, Germany
• Peter Curwen, Bert Sadowski and Jason Whalley (2015) Where are the Europeans? info, Vol17 (5), pages 1-19
• Bert Sadowski, Whalley, Jason. and Onder. Nomaler (2017) Technological diversification into 'Blue Oceans'? A patent-based analysis of patent profiles of ICT firms, The 45th Research Conference on Communications, Information and Internet Policy, 8th-9th September, Arlington, USA

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