Demystifying the STEP Project
Matt R. Allen is an Associate Professor in Babson’s Entrepreneurship Division, Faculty Director for the Institute for Family Entrepreneurship, and the Academic Director for Successful Transgenerational Entrepreneurship Practices (STEP). He has taught entrepreneurship and family entrepreneurship courses to students at levels ranging from undergraduates to graduates and executives. Babson has recently emphasized the importance of studying and supporting family businesses. As Babson President Kerry Healey stated, “Families are the dominant form of business organization worldwide and they play a leading role in the social and economic wealth creation of communities and countries.” The STEP Project is a great resource for information on global family business.
What is STEP?
STEP stands for “Successful Transgenerational Entrepreneurship Practices.” It is a global, multi-institution research project focused on entrepreneurship in family businesses.
We produce case studies based on interviews with family businesses worldwide. STEP has written 129 cases to date. In 2012, we began to administer surveys to verify our findings from the case studies. The survey was sent out in 13 languages to people in 32 different countries and was completed by over 1,000 people. Various teams are now writing academic papers using that data. In 2018, we plan to form a cohort of family businesses from which we will collect data each year. This will be similar to Babson’s GEM project in the sense that we will collect data and publish annual reports.
Our global team meets annually, one year at a global summit and the next at an academic conference. The summit is attended by researchers and the families that we interview and it allows us to share our findings with them, while at the same time learning from them. During the years that we do not host a summit, we have an academic conference at which scholars come together and share papers, receive feedback, and develop new ideas. These conferences and summits are always held in global locations to capture the global nature of STEP.
How long have you been involved with STEP and what is your role?
I have worked on STEP for nearly seven years. My original role was to represent Babson in the project, but for the past three years, I have served as the Academic Director for all of STEP.
What is the history of the project?
STEP was founded at Babson in 2005. The project started with the European team. In 2006 we expanded to Latin America, and in 2007, we included the Asia-Pacific. Finally, in 2011, we incorporated North America.
Why was STEP created?
This project was created to look at entrepreneurship within family business. Very few academics were researching this topic at the time. We knew that in order to form a global perspective, we would need to involve a consortium of schools from different regions in order to capture the global view. The idea was to do research but also interact directly with families. Doing so allows us to gain an informed perspective on the practical and policy sides of family business. We wanted to put out research that family businesses would find interesting and useful.
What impact has STEP had on scholarly research?
Our primary impact is through publication. STEP has published five books, 18 scholarly articles, and seven practitioner booklets. Additionally, eight doctoral dissertations and four teaching cases have been completed using STEP data.
If there was one thing you wanted the world to know about STEP, what would it be?
Family businesses and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. In addition to this, there were some initial assumptions that family businesses would differ significantly from geography to geography. Our findings indicate that there are more similarities than differences.
Finally, becoming involved with STEP as a student or family involves you in a global network that’s bigger than Babson.
What does the future of STEP look like?
Over the years, we have learned a lot about family businesses. However, we haven’t been as strong at connecting with them and really creating a dialogue between academics and business-owning families. This year, we launched our new website (http://www.stepresearch.org/) and are in the process of building a family business portal. When the portal is finished, family business owners can register with STEP and complete a survey to gain access cutting-edge research and vital information regarding best practices among family businesses across the globe. The portal will contain survey results, podcasts, academic papers, and articles that these businesses can use to improve their entrepreneurial performance. Member businesses will complete the survey every year to maintain their access to the portal. We hope that the number of family businesses involved in the project will grow and provide us with a pool for future research as well as a connection through which we can share what we discover.
How can students get involved?
Anyone who is interested can first visit the webpage to learn more about that project. Students that have a further interest are welcome to visit the STEP office in the Blank Center where we can visit with them about ways to become more involved. As one example of a way to become more involved, students that come from family businesses are more than welcome to participate by working with us to write a case about their family, participate in survey research, or attend a summit. Almost half of Babson undergraduate students come from a family business, and there are great opportunities for these students to get involved with STEP.