Collaboration leads to new research on how entrepreneurs develop the pitch

A new research collaboration between the Global Commercialization Group and a broad-based team led by Clay Spinuzzi of the UT Austin Department of Rhetoric & Writing has born fruit in its first publication, “Making the Pitch: Examining Dialogue and Revisions in Entrepreneurs’ Pitch Decks” (IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, September 2014).

The paper explores how Korean entrepreneurs in a GCG-led entrepreneurship training program revised claims and evidence in their pitch presentations based on dialogue with their target market. The research team analyzed 14 sets of five related document genres from the GCG archives to trace the development of entrepreneurs’ pitches.

The research represents new territory for the field of rhetoric. Says Spinuzzi, “There’s a lot of work on the endpoint of the pitch, how people deliver it, mostly focusing on presentation. But as far as the process of going through it, figuring out what the value proposition is, figuring out how to talk to markets, there’s a lot of lip service but nobody seems to actually looked at the process of putting a pitch together. That’s an amazing research hole!”

The project brought together practitioners (GCG Director Sidney Burback and Program Director Joel Momberger), seasoned researchers (Prof. Spinuzzi of Rhetoric and Dr. Gregory Pogue of the IC² Institute), and team members at an earlier stage in their careers (Rhetoric doctoral student Scott Nelson and the Institute’s Keela Thomson, Francesca Lorenzini, and Rosemary French).

As a “think and do tank,” the IC² Institute has a long history of combining research with practice, but this project represented a new chance for the Global Commercialization program to make use of its extensive archives. Says GCG Director Burback, “It was a great opportunity for us to put together what we’re doing on a real-time basis in the commercialization process and have a team look at things from a very different perspective, to see what really makes the difference for an entrepreneur.” Asked about future directions for research at GCG, Burback said that he looks forward to cross-regional research, because GCG’s experience in large and culturally diverse India is very different from what it sees in smaller and relatively homogeneous Korea.

The new paper is just the first in a series. Says Spinuzzi, “The second paper is going to be on reuse, which is something that is really interesting to people in writing studies – how do they take these chunks of information and either drop them into their final presentation, or expand on them or even push against them.”

A third paper will focus on the process, including participants’ subjective experience and the deliberations that go into creating a pitch. In preparation for followup research, Scott Nelson and Keela Thomson travelled to Korea to videotape presentations, interview entrepreneurs, and acquire what Spinuzzi calls “much thicker data.” Thomson says of her experience, “This type of opportunity is part of what drew me to working at the Institute in the first place. All the experience helping entrepreneurs that IC² has in Texas and abroad gives us an opportunity as researchers that you can’t really get anywhere else.” This month Thomson will leave the Institute to pursue a PhD in Cognitive Science at UCLA with a journal publication to her credit and extensive real-world research experience.

You can read the “Making the Pitch” paper in the UT Digital Repository.

L to R: Sidney Burback, Keela Thomson, Clay Spinuzzi. Photo by Coral Franke.

L to R: Sidney Burback, Keela Thomson, Clay Spinuzzi. Photo by Coral Franke.