Are Foreign STEM PhDs More Entrepreneurial? Entrepreneurial Characteristics, Preferences, and Employment Outcomes of Native and Foreign Science and Engineering PhD Students
Prior research has shown that immigrants to the US make important contributions to innovation and are more likely than natives to become startup founders. These differences may partly reflect labor market conditions and constraints related to visa regulations, as well as individual attributes such as ability or preferences for risk. Although progress has been made in understanding immigrant entrepreneurs, little attention has been paid to another important part of the entrepreneurial workforce—startup employees who “join” founders in their entrepreneurial efforts. In this paper, we draw on unique longitudinal data from over 5,600 foreign and native STEM PhD students at US research universities to examine entrepreneurial characteristics and career preferences prior to graduation, as well as founding and employment outcomes after graduation. First, we find that foreign PhD students differ from native PhD students with respect to individual characteristics typically associated with entrepreneurship such as risk tolerance, a preference for autonomy, and interest in commercialization. Second, foreign PhD students are more likely to express intentions to become a founder or a startup employee prior to graduation. Third, despite their entrepreneurial career interests, foreign PhDs are less likely to become founders or startup employees in their first industry job after graduation. More nuanced analyses reveal that these patterns hold primarily for foreign PhDs from China and India, while foreign PhDs from Western countries are similar to native PhDs with respect to both career interests and employment outcomes. These empirical patterns call for future research on the drivers of entrepreneurial career preferences among different parts of the foreign doctorate workforce, but also on the facilitators or constraints foreign STEM workers face in realizing their entrepreneurial career aspirations.
Michael Roach and Henry Sauermann gratefully acknowledge support through Kauffman Foundation Junior Faculty Fellowships.