By Ed Brennen
Thanks to a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award, Michael Ciuchta, an associate professor of marketing, entrepreneurship and innovation in the Manning School of Business, found himself in Madrid, Spain, earlier this year, surveying the country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
One thing he noticed is that some entrepreneurs would launch a venture in Spain, then take it to the United States to raise funding before eventually returning home. Ciuchta wanted to know more about these “returnee entrepreneurs,” so he made them the focus of his Fulbright project, “Social Exchange in a Spanish Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.”
“I had been to Spain a couple of times before, and I've always had an affinity for Spanish and Latin American culture, so I knew if there was ever the opportunity to come back, I would jump on it,” says Ciuchta, who spent six months in Madrid conducting research and teaching a business elective course at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.
“It’s basically an engineering school, but they have a master’s-level program that’s part of a European Union initiative called European Information Technology Digital where students specialize in tracks like fintech, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and machine learning,” he says. “Innovation and technology is what I’m interested in researching and teaching, so that really appealed to me.”
Recipients of Fulbright U.S. Scholar Awards are selected by the Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. The awards support international research by faculty with exemplary records of academic and professional achievement, service and leadership potential.
While his Fulbright award and sabbatical were delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ciuchta is thankful he was able to follow through with the program.
“It was incredibly rewarding and reinvigorating, both culturally and intellectually,” says Ciuchta, who recently sat down to talk about the research, which is still in the early stages, and his Fulbright experience as a whole.
Q: How did you land on your research topic?
A: When I put in my proposal, I wanted to study the Madrid entrepreneurial ecosystem, which is a fairly broad topic. I really didn’t know what I didn’t know. Once I got there and started talking to potential collaboration partners, I developed a more refined idea of studying returnee entrepreneurs. These are people who launch a venture in Spain that is successful but needs additional funding. So they move it over to the U.S., maybe Silicon Valley, before eventually going back to Spain. I wanted to know why those people would return to Spain and what kind of obstacles they faced. How did they build up their social and human capital while they were abroad? What new challenges did they face when they came back? It could be really compelling to investigate that further. I probably need to work with faculty members over there, and some of them expressed interest and said it’s a tough topic that they’d be interested in pursuing.
Q: How does Spain’s entrepreneurial ecosystem compare to ours in the U.S.?
A: It’s similar but different. In the U.S., you have venture capital activity throughout the country. Granted, it’s concentrated in California, New York and Boston, but every state has venture capitalists. Whereas in Spain, it is definitely concentrated in Madrid and Barcelona. It’s just a much smaller country. The U.S. also has a widespread network of angel investors who were either former entrepreneurs themselves or professionals. They do have angel investors in Spain, but they're not at that level. Spain also doesn’t have the big manufacturing base that a country like Germany does, so Spain is really interested in digital technologies, software and service-oriented companies. A lot of their success stories have been from those types of sectors. As a member of the European Union, they also have to balance EU-wide initiatives with initiatives specific to their country, which is something else that’s very different than we’d see here in the U.S.
Q: As part of your Fulbright, you also taught a course. What was it, and how was the experience?
A: I originally planned to take the shell of my Managing Innovation course that I teach at the undergraduate level at UML and tailor it for the master’s level, with more of a European context. But I wanted to use my sabbatical as an opportunity to rethink my interests and investigate questions I don't necessarily get to examine in the courses I've been teaching. So I developed a class called Technology, Organizations and Society. The first part was about human interactions with technology at the individual level. Then I moved up a level to look at more organizational interactions with technology, which basically covered a lot of what I teach in my UML course. And the last component was more at a societal level: I examined ethical and moral implications and questions around emerging technologies — which I have now incorporated into my Managing Innovation course here.
Of the 20 students in the class, half were from Spain, and the rest were from Poland, Germany, Romania, Iceland, France and the Netherlands. I taught the class in English, which wasn’t too much of an issue. However, I decided to change the reading load once a student called it to my attention that English wasn’t their first language.
Q: What else were you able to accomplish during your time in Spain?
A: I attended a fantastic three-day conference called Crossing the Strait in Córdoba for Fulbright Scholars from Spain and Morocco. And I was able to network with scholars from Instituto de Empresa, a well-known Spanish business school. They invited me to some of their brown bag sessions where faculty presented papers.
I also used the opportunity to work on existing research projects. I had a research article called “Transactive Memory Systems, Temporary Teams, and Conflict: Innovativeness During a Hackathon” that was published in the Journal of Management. The leader author is Jay O’Toole at Old Dominion University. We were interested in uncovering some of the team dynamics at a hackathon called the Global Game Jam, where teams have the weekend to come up with the prototype for a game. I also worked on a theory paper on entrepreneurial finance decision-making and a book chapter on improvisation and entrepreneurship with two Manning School Ph.D. students.
Q: You have been involved with UML’s Global Entrepreneurship Exchange (GE2) program, traveling with students to India. Would you like to bring students to Spain?
A: I am interested in potential study abroad opportunities in Spain. We have the infrastructure in place around GE2, and UMass Lowell has fairly extensive study abroad programs in Spain, including some through the Honors College. I’d like to increase the Manning School footprint in Spain, if possible. Maybe that’s having students go to Spain, or having students from Spain come here. Or maybe some type of faculty exchange. There’s also a big entrepreneurship and innovation conference in Madrid every summer called the South Summit. I met with one of the organizers, and they said they have students come in all the time to learn about it and volunteer. I’m going to explore the possibility of bringing UML students. I’d welcome any chance to return to Spain.