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The Second Most Important Pitch: How Digital Start-Ups Must Navigate the Endorsement Economy to Scale

The aim of this studentship is to foster a discussion around a pivotal evaluative hurdle that influences the ability of new digital ventures to prosper.

Deadline: 31st May 2018

Nationality Criteria: All countries

Value: £14,500 per year plus fees

Project Description

The UK is one of the leaders in promising new digital ventures worldwide. However, there are concerns that many will fail. The aim of this studentship is to foster a discussion around a pivotal evaluative hurdle that influences the ability of new digital ventures to prosper. One thus far unrecognised factor influencing whether a new digital venture can grow is the backing of industry analysts. There is anecdotal evidence that those ventures endorsed by these important market actors receive a significant boost and, conversely, where this form of backing is not forthcoming, it becomes a block or impediment to progress: analysts wield influence over technology adopters and investors regarding their choice of technology vendors (see Pollock and Williams 2016).

We term this hurdle the 'second most important pitch'. We envisage that the PhD will analyse the 'pitches' made by new digital ventures to analyst firms and investigate how the analysts subsequently assess the venture's viability and potential as compared to other players. While much has been written about the first equity pitch a start-up will make to an investor, little is known about how ventures make these second important pitches to analysts to win their endorsement. Understanding just what is expected in these second pitches and how they are evaluated will make a key contribution to academics, policymakers and those directing and supporting digital ventures.

It is also envisaged that to analyse these pitches the PhD student will draw on the emerging specialism of 'Valuation Studies' (which is the application to market situations of analytical techniques borrowed from Science and Technology Studies, Sociology of Finance, and Economic Sociology) (see MacKenzie 2008, Aspers 2009, Stark 2011, Muniesa 2014). It is hoped to extend this current work through conceptualising these pitches as part of an 'endorsement economy'. This idea captures not only that market actors provide assurances about the viability or value of a venture, but how/whether they play a key role in helping to realise that value through 'championing' a venture. This conceptualisation also lays the groundwork for a potential new area of study within ‘Digital Entrepreneurship’ (Nambisan 2016).

Using a qualitative methodology, it is envisaged that the student will directly observe how digital enterprises prepare for and give pitches and thereby provide the first 'naturalised' study of this kind of pitch (most existing research on investment pitches tends to be based on televised 'pitching competitions' or other similar events). Semi-structured interviews will also be conducted to understand:

  1. the processes assessors use to make sense of the pitches and assess the start-ups
  2. how they may then go on to recommend or publicise these ventures to others.

Works Cited

  • Aspers, P. "Knowledge and Valuation in Markets." Theory and Society, 38(2) (March 2009): 111-131.
  • MacKenzie, D. An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2008.
  • Muniesa, F. The Provoked Economy: Economic Reality and the Performative Turn. Oxon: Routledge, 2014.
  • Nambisan, S. "Digital Entrepreneurship: Toward a Digital Technology Perspective of Entrepreneurship." Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 41(2016): 1029-1055.
  • Pollock, N. and Williams, R. How Industry Analysts Shape the Digital Future. Oxford: OUP, 2016.
  • Stark, D. The Sense of Dissonance: Accounts of Worth in Economic Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011.


Applicants should have:

  • Normally a postgraduate master's degree from an accredited institution in the UK or overseas (we accept applications from those still currently studying for a master's, but any offer will be conditional on successful completion at the required standard.
  • Evidence of above-average academic achievement (more than 65% overall) and normally a postgraduate master's dissertation with distinction (UK equivalent). MBA or master's students without a dissertation are welcome to apply and should normally provide evidence of distinction-level work (UK equivalent).
  • An International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score of at least 7.0 overall with no score lower than 6.0 in each section, or the equivalent from our approved list of certificates.

Ideal candidates will have a social science degree and masters, and an interest or experience in the emerging digital economy.

Award details

The award will be for three years, subject to satisfactory progress, at the following rates:

  • European Union candidates: standard EU tuition fee plus maintenance fee of £14,500 per year
  • Non-European Union candidates: standard non-EU tuition fee plus maintenance fee of £14,500 per year.

Successful applicants will be expected to contribute to our teaching programmes during their second and third years of the scholarship.

How to apply

You must submit your online application for the PhD programme by the scholarship closing date.

Applicants interested in the studentship should send a CV and a one-page discussion of why they think this project is interesting, how they might go about conducting it, and what makes them particularly qualified to carry it out to

Award announcement date

Shortlisted candidates should expect to attend an interview either in person, on the telephone or via Skype.

The recipient of the scholarship will be announced by the end of June 2018.


Please send any enquiries to: