Investigating the Evolving Information Needs of Entrepreneurs:
Integrating Pedagogy, Practice & Research
Nicholas Albaugh & Micah Altman
Innovation-driven entrepreneurship is essential and indispensable in the race to solve the world’s major challenges, especially in the areas of health, information technology, agriculture, and energy. MIT is a global leader in this type of entrepreneurship: a 2015 report from the Institute’s Sloan School of Management estimated that active companies founded by MIT alumni produce annual revenues of $1.9 trillion, equivalent to the world’s tenth largest economy. In terms of the curriculum at MIT, over sixty courses in entrepreneurship were taught during the 2016-2017 academic year.
Discovering, accessing, and integrating information is critical to the success of innovation-driven entrepreneurship and it is part of the Libraries’ core role to improve the foundations for discovery, access, and integration. The presence of a vibrant community of entrepreneurs provides an opportunity to delineate and understand the information skills, needs, and challenges of students and researchers engaged in entrepreneurial ventures. This understanding can inform strategies and methods to address these challenges and aid in the design of innovation methods of library instruction which move beyond small group lectures.
In this blog post, we are going to report on the background and preliminary results of a project designed to answer these questions. There were three stages to this project: background research to identify the information related skills of entrepreneurs, the design of a survey instrument, and the surveying of MIT’s delta v accelerator program.
Initial Steps & Background Research
This was a group effort. Nicholas Albaugh (Librarian for Innovation and Entrepreneurship) did most of the heavy lifting — performing both the ‘bench’ work identifying what was known about information use in entrepreneurship, interacting with the students and the class, and creating a first draft of communications. Micah Altman (Director of Research) provided overall scientific guidance, co-lead in conceptualization, developed the research design and methodology, performed the quantitative analysis, and provided critical review. Shikha Sharma, Business and Management Librarian, and Karrie Peterson, Head of Liaison, Instruction, and Reference Services, contributed to the conceptualization of the project and provided critical review.
During the first few months of the project, the four of us met roughly once a month to develop a prospectus outlining the research questions, methods, desired outcomes, and key outputs.
After this prospectus was completed, we wanted to build on previous work by identifying existing frameworks outlining the information skills necessary for entrepreneurial success and entrepreneurial competencies more broadly.
To identify these frameworks, we conducted background research in the business and library literature using three databases: Business Source Complete, ABI/INFORM Complete, and Library, Information Science and Technology Abstracts.
The primary article in terms of identifying key information-related skills for entrepreneurs was “21st Century Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities and Entrepreneurial Competencies: A Model for Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Education” by Trish Boyles. This delineated three broad categories of entrepreneurial competencies, cognitive, social, and action-oriented. The key information-related skills fell in the cognitive category, in particular:
A habit of actively searching for information
The ability to conduct searches systematically
The ability to recognize opportunities when not actively looking for them by recognizing connections between seemingly unconnected things
In addition to a general framework regarding the information-related skills of entrepreneurs, we wanted a more general framework for entrepreneurial competencies. The premier text for this is Bill Aulet’s Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup. It is the textbook for the delta v program and its author is the Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, one of the key parts of MIT’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Outside MIT, it has been translated into eighteen languages and serves as the text for three, web-based edX courses taken by hundreds of thousands of people in countries all over the world.
MIT delta v
We decided to survey MIT’s delta v accelerator program, as it is widely considered the capstone entrepreneurial experience for students here on campus. Participants in the program work full time over the course of the summer on the following goals:
Defining and refining their target market
Conducting primary market research about their customers and users
Running experiments to validate or invalidate hypotheses regarding potential customers
Building and nurturing their founding team
The goal of the survey was to identify which stage of the information gathering phase of the delta v program was most time consuming and which part of that process was the most challenging. We were also interested in learning what resources and tools they used during these stages and processes and what tools they would have preferred to use. We also sought to identify specific information needs of those participating in the delta v programs in order to inform solutions going forward.
Our survey consisted of six multiple-choice questions and 5 open-ended questions. The multiple-choice questions addressed the following points:
Time spent on market analysis vs. business model development and the most challenging part of each process
The relative challenge of identifying and evaluating sources and extracting and analyzing information
Resources, tools, and methods used to locate, extract, and collect information
The open-ended questions addressed:
The most useful tools they used when seeking, collecting, and analyzing information and why
What existing tools would have been useful to them
The biggest surprises they encountered during this process
We launched a pilot version of this survey at the conclusion of the program in September 2017, in which six students participated.
Some suggestive patterns emerged: All of the entrepreneurs surveyed reported that market analysis was the most time-consuming phase involving seeking, collecting and analyzing information; and all of them used a library resource in their search for information. Further, nearly all of the entrepreneurs found evaluating sources of information, and summarizing, analyzing and mining those sources challenging or very challenging — and almost all relied on manual copying and pasting to extract or collect information they discovered.
We plan to survey a larger group of MIT delta v students during the upcoming summer 2018 cohort of the program. This larger data set will allow us to draw more generalizable conclusions regarding the information-related skills necessary for entrepreneurial success.
Katie Montgomery is a Graduate Research Intern in the Program on Information Science, researching the areas of usability and accessibility.
by Katherine Montgomery
Research libraries are catalysts for interaction with and creation of knowledge. As information and interactions with it become increasingly digital, librarians are increasingly concerned with the way that computers and humans interact. 
The Computer Human Interface group of the ACM is a group of professionals devoted to studying these interactions. Their annual conference, CHI, is a place where people share the state of the art, and learn to use the state of the practice. CHI itself isn’t a standard library conference but it addresses many of the concerns of librarians in a broader context. For example, focal points include digital privacy (which libraries work to protect), improving UX in virtual and physical realms, gamifying learning interactions, and addressing the pitfalls of automation. The conference is also packed with people the library serves, i.e. academics.
A ‘jam’ or a ‘hackathon’ is distinguished by teams of relative strangers coming together to tackle specific problems in a focused and creative way within a limited time frame. The event fosters personal connections, concrete learning, pride in the product, and has the potential to generate real life changes. Libraries aim to nurture precisely these elements and would do well to look to hackathons and jams and adapt their structure to empower patrons. Here at the MIT libraries, we aim to create and inspire hacks in the great MIT tradition of using ingenuity and teamwork to create something remarkable.
Attending the Science Jam is a great way to start CHI, especially if you’re coming from a library background. The Science Jam enables you to interact with your prototypical patrons on problems that interest both of you and in a fashion that familiarizes you with patron needs. The Science Jam itself is a way to hack the conference. 
This is the first year they’ve run the program, and if you’ve never heard of a Science Jam before here’s the lowdown: it’s essentially a hackathon for scientists. You form teams, come up with a problem, pose a question, create a hypothesis, design a test, run the test, analyze your results, and present your study, all in 36 hours. About 60 people attended this year’s jam. We formed ten teams, broke into two rooms (so we could use each-other as test subjects the next day without contaminating our sample with knowledge of the study), and began the stimulating and occasionally frantic process. My team tackled privacy. Our initial problem? People share other people’s data without thinking about it or even realizing it. Our question was, how could we change this behavior? In order to create something testable we quickly honed the question to a much more specific issue and hypothesis. When people attend large conferences, or festivals, or concerts, or other public events they often take pictures that focus on a screen, or a float, or a stage, but include strangers in the foreground or to the sides. They then upload those pictures to their social media accounts where, even if they aren’t tagged, those strangers are vulnerable to facial analysis software and the eyes of the public. We hypothesized that if given cues that they are sharing the faces of strangers people might change their behavior by altering the photo to obscure those faces. Our initial hope was to create a digital interface but time and tech constraints limited us to a paper prototype. We took photographs which contained bystanders but were focussed on a different element, in this case a sign or a presenter with slides. We gave our participants the choice of selecting one of these photos to hypothetically upload to their social media account (we asked the participants to imagine that these were pictures they had taken). After selecting the photo they were presented with an upload interface with the option to go back and select another photo, crop the image, or upload the photo. However, these were given to three different groups with three additional caveats. The first group was given no textual cues as to the presence of potential bystanders in the photo (our control). The second group was given textual cues that there were potential bystanders in the picture, ie “this photo may contain two people, inside, standing up”. The third group was given visual cues that there were potential bystanders, ie blown up images of the faces beneath the main image.
These images were used with the express permission of the people they depict
For the most part, people uploaded the pictures anyway, not bothering to crop out the bystanders and not expressing concern for privacy in the follow-up questionnaire. The cues didn’t make a significant difference between behaviors, but we were surprised that such a technologically enlightened group didn’t take measures to protect people’s privacy more. Of course, our test group only contained 15 people (five per scenario), our prototype was on paper, and there were a number of other potential issues with our methodology, but the question and premise remain sound. How can we help people be aware of the fact that they may be violating other people’s privacy when uploading photographs to social media? And how do we help them alter that behavior?
The next day I attended a presentation given by Roberto Hoyle about his work testing the efficacy of various photo alterations in protecting privacy. Afterwards, we got to talking and posited an idea. What if Facebook added a feature to their image upload interface that asked a simple question: “Do you want to protect the privacy of the people you don’t know in this picture?”. If the person said yes then Facebook could auto-blur the faces it didn’t recognize as friends. The blur feature could be removed or modified, but it would bring the issue to the attention of the user and make it easy (and hopefully aesthetically pleasing, or at least acceptable), to obscure the faces of strangers.
While we agreed it was probably a moon shot I decided to go down to the exhibition hall and talk with the Facebook folks at their booth. I was met with a combination of skepticism and interest. Since then I’ve been in touch with a couple people at Facebook advocating for the idea. If your Facebook interface changes you’ll know it’s been a success. If not? Then the benefits are exclusively mine. Because of the Science Jam I had the opportunity to meet and work with people I would otherwise have never known, pursue meaningful ideas, improve my teamwork, practice scientific testing and analysis with a tight deadline, exercise my presentation skills, and make friends ahead of the conference itself. Libraries could benefit from implementing a similar model ahead of extended programming. Doing a week of events on graphic novels? Include a Cartoon Jam where people can come in, team up, generate ideas, produce some sketches and storylines, and share them with each other! Running a summer of gardening programs? Engage a couple of professionals in your area and encourage patrons to bring in photographs of their trouble gardens (lots of shade, rocky, hot, snow spill), form groups, hit the books, and pick each other’s minds for solutions. Trying to get the library more involved with the school letterpress? Collaborate with the experts there and run a Book Jam , challenging your students to connect e-readers and the early practice of printing. There are any number of ways that Libraries can take advantage of the Jam/hackathon model to engage their patrons and further the goal of becoming hubs for creation, not just consumption.
Excited? Inspired? Ready to work up a plan for your own hackathon or Jam? Take a look at the resources below and get cooking.
Current research in the Program on Information Science focuses on how measures of attention and emotion could be integrated into these interactions.
CHI will be in beautiful Scotland next year. Attend the Science Jam. You won’t regret it. Oh, and if you want to check out some of the documentation from this year’s Science Jam take a look at #ScienceJam #CHI2018 on Twitter.