By Lauren Wallace
When asked how he first heard of Darden, Kristian Nielsen answered, “Well, that’s a funny story….” Kristian Nielsen is an associate professor at Aalborg University in Denmark, where he earned his MSc. in Macroeconomics and Economic Policy in 2007. While working towards his doctorate, Kristian was a little surprised when one of his Ph.D. professors encouraged him to go to a workshop on Effectuation and Entrepreneurship in Denmark. With his background in economics, he admits, “At first I was skeptical,” but ultimately he decided to attend the workshop. There he heard Darden faculty member Saras Sarasvathy speak on effectuation, entrepreneurial learning and decision making under uncertainty, and he was “so motivated and inspired” by her that he embarked into the world of business research soon thereafter.
By chance, Kristian was awarded a research grant that he did not apply for. At the time he didn’t know much about Darden, but he remembered the exciting conversations on entrepreneurial learning that he had with Professor Sarasvathy in Denmark and so he decided to reach out to her directly. He sent her an email detailing how he had been awarded a grant to do research, that he had been at the effectuation workshop and had had a brief conversation with her while there, and that he wanted to work with her on exploring entrepreneurial learning. Kristian knew the email was a long shot and that he might be “a big opportunity cost for her”, especially since he had just started his Ph.D. program, so he was really excited when her short response in an email was “‘Sure!’” Thus began Kristian’s affiliation with Darden.
Kristian moved to Charlottesville with his wife and six-month old daughter for the first six months of 2010 as a Visiting Scholar at Darden. Though inspired by Saras’ qualitative and people-focused research on entrepreneurship, he had always taken a quantitative approach to research and “wanted to do numbers” on entrepreneurial learning based on the highly detailed longitudinal register data managed by Statistics Denmark. Together, they researched entrepreneurial learning and what they later labelled Type 1 and Type 2 errors in the restart decision of entrepreneurs. That is, who makes the wrong decision not to re-enter entrepreneurship after failure (Type I error), and who makes the wrong decision to re-enter entrepreneurship after failure (Type II) given their probability of failure with a second venture. Their co-authored research paper on the topic titled “A Market for Lemons in Serial Entrepreneurship? Exploring Type I and Type II Errors in the Restart Decision” was accepted for publication in Academy of Management Discoveries this year. “You can’t help but be motivated by [Saras] both when it comes to her exiting research and insights but also her charming personality,” Kristian raved; “It was the best six months working with Saras at Darden.”
After “A Market for Lemons…” was published, Kristian returned to Darden to continue his research and be featured in some media interviews about the article. “We fell in love with the city,” he explained of Charlottesville, so returning to Darden in summer 2016 was an easy decision to make. Back in 2010 on his first venture to Darden, Kristian and his wife didn’t know what to expect of the city when driving through the farmlands from D.C. to Charlottesville. “It was in the middle of nowhere” and they had arrived in the snowy month of January, but they were soon charmed by the small town vibe and beauty of the city. The rich history, charisma, and community of Charlottesville pleasantly surprised Kristian, and he “was so inspired by all the student outdoor activities (running, football, soccer, etc.) on university grounds, even in the early morning and late evening”. He often enjoyed the walk or bike trip to Darden every morning in the warm sun— “That doesn’t happen here in Denmark!”
Kristian loved the open and welcoming community of Darden, where he would just sit in the library and work alongside students and chat with faculty. The “being in such and inspiring environment and the informality of it all allows you to get a lot more work done”, Kristian explained. He also became very inspired by the manner of case method teaching at Darden and is interested in utilizing a case method approach to teaching his macro- and microeconomics classes at Aalborg.
Kristian defended his Ph.D. thesis “Bringing the Person and Environment together in Explaining Successful Entrepreneurship: A Multidisciplinary and Quantitative Study” in January 2012 and now serves on the management team of the Danish Center for Entrepreneurship Research (DCER). Kristian hopes to continue returning to Darden on a regular basis and recommends that aspiring scholars and students run with opportunities that arise from chance. “This is still one of my main takeaways from the effectuation workshop in Denmark: careful planning and predicting the future might not be the best strategy when the future is uncertain”. Expanding on his chance encounter with Saras in Denmark six years ago, Kristian remarks, “You can plan a lot of things…but it was the best choice I made to go to Darden at that time.”