Reflections as an ECR on ISBE2019 – Margaret Coughtrie

Reflections on attending the ISBE conference 2019

I guess in such an institution as ISBE where the focus is research, policy, practice, education, support and advice, one should not be surprised to encounter political streams and biases as policy by its nature exudes that and this is one of the pillars of the organisation.

Experiencing my perception of the politics within the Institute and of some of its presenters was interesting for me and no doubt my experience is coloured by who I am politically and my political views, yet it left me wondering are there known dominant political streams within this Institute.

It all began in the Plenary session, which was wonderfully chaired by Professor Kiran Trehan. I can’t find an intended focus of that session in the timetables however from the panel members and possibly from what was said, the focus appeared to be on entrepreneurship, or business owning as some prefer to call it, amongst the economically disadvantaged – including minorities, immigrants and women. That session did awake in me a consideration of the lack of supportive policies for entrepreneurial immigrants and was most encouraged to hear that a greater focus needed to be placed on such issues in future ISBE forums. A very annoying aspect of that session was the large amount of time allocated and bandwidth provided to differences in access to entrepreneurial opportunity between the genders and in particular to Professor Susan Marlo, who in my opinion was on a feminist bandwagon and I felt much of that time could have been more productively used by discussing other matters. The lady next to me agreed.

As the Plenary session was a dialogue, I contributed by explaining my disagreement with Professor’s Marlo’s stance that women are so disadvantaged that they resort to unsustainable life-style businesses like making organic baby food. I suggested maybe they had chosen to have that as a business as that is what they wanted to do. I explained the beginning of my career was in the City but I chose to leave as a 90-hour week or increased responsibility did not increase my utility value. I opined that carrying responsibility was more of a masculine than feminine trait. Only afterwards did I realise how loaded that comment must have been to some. No doubt by them I was viewed as woman of privilege. Marc Cowling mentioned later during his Entrepreneurial Finance track presentation ‘Ten years after GFC, do small businesses still hate banks?’ that only folks from Oxbridge worked in the City. Well that wasn’t me – so why does he think that? Maybe also I was viewed as biased and conservative and out of touch wishing to categorise gender into male and female. That being said, two of the people in the Entrepreneurial Finance room thanked me for my contribution at the Plenary as they felt the discussion was going down a ‘piste’ which was not familiar to them.

My abode for the whole conference in the Entrepreneurial Finance room – more easily my cup of tea. Although some topics elsewhere interested me it seemed like too much hard work with the digital programme to figure out what was going on. Even within the room we had some political snipes Marc Cowling reminding the room after Keith Arundale’s paper ‘Investing across frontiers: A study of venture capital investment approval practices in Europe and US.’ that venture capital only provided 0.5% of the capital that entrepreneurial businesses need. This suggested to me he did not think a study of such things added much value but given his Oxbridge comment I also wondered if it was politically loaded as venture capital means Oxbridge City to him. I will never know but did seem an unnecessary swipe.

Aside from reflecting as to how my contribution to the Plenary session may have been interpreted by others as discussed above. I was conscious of other biases I have. My paper was nominated for best paper in the Entrepreneurial Finance track. When I saw the other papers addressed green issues and emerging economies, my first thought was how politically correct that was today – representation from the big contentious issues – tax policy, climate change and minorities. I was sure the emerging economy paper by Gianni Romaní, Karen Weinberger and Miguel Atienza’s paper with a title ‘Angel investing in Peru. What should be done to strengthen a market with high institutional voids?’ wouldn’t stand a chance of winning anything. I thought who cares about Peru, it’s not even in the top 30 nations in the world. We all know Latin America has a dire record of sustainable economic development. Well was I surprised! When Gianni presented their paper, I was amazed. The paper was so thorough, well structured and well presented that I thought she must be on to a winner here. Indeed! the paper won not only the best paper for the Entrepreneurial Finance track but the conference overall.

Despite all the biases and political comments, I did experience some corrective sanity at the conference. Robyn Owen is the co-chair of the Entrepreneurial Finance Special Interest Group. I really appreciated her interventions on papers presented. She is obviously well read and experienced in the Entrepreneurial Finance domain. She often added value to presenters’ by suggesting other expanded or more rigorous research approaches or reminding them of other research that had been undertaken. Even on Marc Cowling’s 0.5% venture capital comment, she helped up put that in context by telling us that despite being a small percentage of capital provided to SMEs and investing in under 2% of them, venture capital is an important source of finance to the vital 6% of SMEs that grow most and create the most jobs. I hope some balanced thinking was presented in the Gender and Enterprise track.

Margaret Coughtrie



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