Combining management with neuroscience

| Michaela Nesvarova

What do cognitive neuroscience and social entrepreneurship have in common? At the very least, they are both important parts of Raja Singaram’s PhD research. ‘How to support social entrepreneurs that start new business ventures?’ That was the question Singaram asked himself before moving from Silicon Valley to the University of Twente.

Photo by: Gijs van Ouwerkerk

Now he is nearly finished with his thesis focused on entrepreneurial activities of social ventures. ‘The broad topic of my thesis is building of new ventures in the social entrepreneurship context, but I also look at how I could apply cognitive science to entrepreneurship’, describes Singaram.

Social entrepreneurship

The combination of management and neuroscience might sound strange at first, but it is actually the perfect fit for Singaram, who trained in Applied Cognition and Neuroscience at the University of Texas, where he also acquired a Master’s degree in strategic management. In the end, that landed him a job in a large software company in Silicon Valley and later a PhD position at NIKOS, where he chose to focus on social enterprises.

‘I was inspired by social entrepreneurs who use very low-tech innovations to effectively combat social needs in the developing world. I wanted to know: how do these people start their ventures and what do they do to attract investments, scale-up growth and eventually exit?’, explains Singaram. To answer these questions, he analyzed how successful social entrepreneurs write texts, such as funding applications or incorporation documents to acquire resources. He also conducted case studies on companies that produce low-cost sanitary pads. This involved companies all over the world, including one from Singaram´s hometown in India, where a local man with no education started a company to offer a more hygienic option for women’s health needs. The results from these studies provide useful tips to social entrepreneurs on how to effectively manage entrepreneurial activities.

PhD researcher, as well as a docent

With Singaram’s thesis near the end, he is starting to invest more time into applying cognitive neuroscience-based methods to entrepreneurship. He is currently supervising Master students working on thesis projects such as neuromarketing for start-ups and combating entrepreneurial stress.

Besides research, Singaram spends a lot of time teaching and will become a full-time docent at the UT after he is officially finished with his PhD studies. As he says, it is gratifying to see that some of his students are inspired by the ideas behind social entrepreneurship: ‘Generally there seems to be a lot of interest among young people to start a social business, as opposed to the traditional business purely for profits.’

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