Professor Thomas Hellmann is a faculty member at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, where he is also the Academic Director of the Entrepreneurship Centre, and the Academic Advisor to the Oxford Foundry. He is a leading international expert on entrepreneurial finance and high-growth entrepreneurship. His research studies the numerous challenges of financing innovative entrepreneurs. It examines the strategies used by entrepreneurs to gather resources for high-growth ventures, and the approaches takes by investors who fund and support them. His research emphasises the interplay between financial resources, strategic objectives, and the governance structure of entrepreneurial ventures. It also examines how legal rules affect the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and how governments play a role in fostering entrepreneurship.
Thomas’ vision for teaching entrepreneurship is to give students a thorough understanding of the entrepreneurial process, with a seamless integration of conceptual foundations and practical applicable tools. He has developed courses in the areas of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial finance for students at all levels. In addition to Oxford University he has taught in a wide variety of places, including Stanford Graduate School of Business, Harvard Business School, Wharton, University of British Columbia, and the Indian School of Business. He is passionate about teaching entrepreneurship not only to business students, but more broadly to students across the entire university. He believes in bringing together students from all walks of life, and encouraging them to think outside the box.
Prior to joining Oxford University, Thomas was a professor at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, where he was also the Director of the W. Maurice Young Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Research Centre. Prior to that, Thomas was an Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, where he was deeply immersed in researching Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. He also held visiting positions at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton), the Hoover Institution, INSEAD, the University of New South Wales, and the University of Auckland. He holds a BA in Mathematical Economics from the London School of Economics. His PhD in Economics at Stanford University was under the supervision of Professor Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Laureate 2001). He is fluent in English, German and French.
Some of his recent work assess the current state of the UK financing ecosystem for scale-up companies. He was one of the principal authors of a report convened by Barclays titled Scale-up UK: Growing Businesses, Growing our Economy. His research often looks at the international dimensions of venture investing, such as his work on trust among nations and venture capital, found here. Thomas has been working with Prof. Noam Wasserman researching the process of how founder teams allocate their founder equity, the insights of which are summarized in 'The very first mistake most startup founders make'.
Thomas is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). He was the founder of the NBER Entrepreneurship Research Boot Camp, which provides an intensive learning experience for PhD students who work at the research frontiers of entrepreneurship economics and entrepreneurial finance.
Thomas recommends the best books on entrepreneurship and explains what potential entrepreneurs and other curious minds can learn from them.
Thomas’ research perspective spans a variety of academic areas, including entrepreneurial finance, corporate finance, economic theory, empirical data analysis, innovation, and strategic management. The unifying theme is a quest to gain deeper understanding of the entrepreneurial process, thereby generating new insights that are both rigorous and relevant. His academic writings have been published in a variety of leading finance, economics, and management journals, including the Journal of Finance, the American Economic Review, and Management Science.
Thomas’ main areas of expertise are:
Thomas’ research focuses on the financing of entrepreneurial ventures. One recurring theme is the value-adding impact that venture investors can have on their portfolio companies. His research shows how the level of investor support is affected by the structure of the investment contract, both in terms of the allocation of control rights, and the type of financial securities used. Using both theoretical modelling and empirical data analysis, Thomas shows how the value-added component differs across different types of venture capitalists. Beyond venture capital, his research looks at alternative methods for financing start-ups, such as the relationship between angel financing and venture capital, or the determinants of fundraising in crowdfunding campaigns.
Thomas’ research provides a new perspective on the entrepreneurial process highlighting the microeconomic conditions under which new ventures are formed. Initially all start-ups are a combination of two key resources: ideas and people. Thomas’ work argues that matching the right people to the right ideas is far from trivial, not only because of search costs, but also because of legal and contractual constraints. For example, employees in established companies can be potential entrepreneurs. However, they may not own their inventions, and they may not be allowed to start a new venture because of non-compete covenants. Thomas’ work shows how contractual constraints explain differences in the way that established and entrepreneurial firms develop new ideas, and how intellectual property rights can influence new venture formation. In his most recent work Thomas also looks inside founder teams, to understand when and how founders structure their original founding agreements, and what the implications are for their companies’ future.
In recent years governments around the world have dramatically increased their efforts to foster entrepreneurial activity. Thomas has been arguing that there is a need for a more systematic economic understanding and empirical evaluation of such government policies. In his own work he has focused on the effectiveness of government venture capital programmes. In a study for the World Economic Forum he provides a nuanced assessment of programmes across the globe, showing that such programmes work best when government venture capitalists co-invest alongside private venture capitalists. He is currently interested in exploring the role of government in supporting angel investment, in helping start-ups to succeed at the ‘scale-up’ stage, and in helping universities foster a better entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Thomas is deeply engaged in the interface between academia and practice. He frequently advises entrepreneurs and venture investors, especially his former students. Some of the recent companies that he enjoyed working with include Gyana and Brill Power.
Thomas has collaborated with a variety of entrepreneurs and investors on writing business case studies that have been published at Harvard, Stanford and elsewhere. They cover a wide variety of topics and companies, ranging from the early days of a university spin-out, to the financing by angels and venture capitalists, all the way to how established companies such as Apple Computers or Symantec strategically invest in start-ups.
Going all the way back to a student internship at the World Bank, Thomas has been actively engaged in public policy. He is the founding organizer of the Oxford Entrepreneurship Policy Roundtable, which convenes every year a small group of high-level policy makers, practitioners, and academics that discuss a cutting edge entrepreneurship policy issue, such as the scaling of start-up companies, the regulation of crowdfunding, or the role of universities in fostering entrepreneurship. Thomas is a regular speaker at policy conferences. In 2010 he wrote a report about the role of government in venture capital for the World Economic Forum. In British Columbia he led the evaluation of the provincial equity capital programme that provides tax credits to venture capitalists and angel investors. Thomas is also frequently asked by the press to comment on a wide variety of entrepreneurship-related topics.
On the academic side, Thomas has taken on a variety of leadership roles. He demonstrated his commitment to multiple academic audiences by serving on the editorial boards of highly regarded journals in finance (Journal of Financial Intermediation), economics (Journal of Economics and Management Strategy), strategic management (Management Science), as well as a practitioner-oriented journal (Journal of Private Equity). He is a member of numerous programme committees (EFA, ISB, WFA) and a regular referee for all major finance and economics journal. He has received major research grants from SSHRC (Canada) and NSF (US), and has given a large number of seminars all over the world.
Having taught entrepreneurship for over two decades, Thomas believes that teaching entrepreneurship is the best thing on earth, and that learning about entrepreneurship is one of the greatest challenge any student could wish for. What makes entrepreneurship uniquely challenging is that it requires an integration of a large variety of skills (business, technical, organizational, interpersonal etc.), as well as the blending of logical reason with intuition and pattern recognition. Most certainly it requires an entrepreneurial mind-set that is both focused and flexible at the same time. And just before anyone gets too excited, it also requires a lot of hard work.
Thomas’ teaching philosophy is to provide a seamless integration of academic conceptual foundations and applied experiences. The purpose of taking an entrepreneurship course is not to make progress on a specific business plan, but rather to leverage the classroom experience as a learning platform for discovering and refining one’s own entrepreneurial skills. And once you are engaged with a specific business venture, you never stop learning and experimenting with an open mind set.
At Oxford SBS, Thomas is leading the teaching team for the ‘Entrepreneurship Project’, an experiential project where teams of MBA students develop their own business proposal, test it through extensive market research, and present it in front of a panel of experienced investors and entrepreneurs. In addition he is teaching an elective on Entrepreneurial Finance, a topic that he is deeply passionate about (and that he is writing a text book about). For undergraduates Thomas introduced a new option called “Entrepreneurship & Innovation” that is joint between the “management” and the “engineering” students. Thomas is also involved in a variety of executive programs.
Thomas strongly believes in bringing entrepreneurship teaching to students across the entire university. Under his leadership the ‘Entrepreneurship Project’ opened up to allow other Oxford students to collaborate with the MBAs. With the Entrepreneurship Centre he also launched VIEW (Venture Idea Exploration Workshop), a pre-accelerator program for students from across the entire University of Oxford wanting to explore their entrepreneurial ideas. He continues to be eager to contribute to the University’s broader efforts of promoting entrepreneurial thinking through a variety of cross-disciplinary initiatives.
The challenge of teaching entrepreneurship is that it requires both a broad understanding of the many relevant academic foundations, as well as practical knowledge of the entrepreneurial process. No individual can possibly cover the entire spectrum, which is why Thomas believes in team teaching, and likes to work with other academics, as well as practitioners from all walks of life.
At UBC Thomas pioneered a technology entrepreneurship class that requires MBA students to work on a business idea with students from other parts of the university. He also designed a variety of foundational (undergraduate and graduate) courses in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial finance. He is proud to have won the Sauder “Talking Stick Award” which is awarded for significant pedagogical innovations.
Thomas talks about what it takes to build financial projections as well as the rold of various financial statements in the context of entrepreneurial ventures
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