2022 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: Chiara Spina, INSEAD

Chiara Spina

Chiara Spina

INSEAD

“I have worked in technology for more than half of my career but had never seen anyone discuss innovation in the clear-cut manner that Ms. Spina would. The way Ms. Spina could structure tech problems while holding the attention of the class is a rarity; the impression that she made on me and how to scientifically think through strategic issues in fast-paced industries is one that will stick with me beyond my time at INSEAD. Her passion for disruption is infectious and her willingness to discuss these concepts and industry trends further with students like myself speaks to the value-add that comes with business school.” – Sofia Cabral

Chiara Spina, 35, is Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise at INSEAD. 

She is interested in how entrepreneurial firms leverage systematic decision-making and experimentation to innovate and grow. Her research studies the effect of emerging practices such as accelerators, hackathons, and crowdfunding in collaboration with government entities and incubation hubs. Her projects have been funded by institutions such as the UK’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy; Italy’s Ministry of Education, University and Research; the Strategy Research Foundation; and the Innovation Growth Lab.

Her research has been published in top-tier academic journals such as Management Science and has been featured in leading management publications including Harvard Business Review and Forbes. Awards include the Strategic Management Society Best Conference Paper Award, the DRUID Best Conference Paper Award, and the Distinguished Paper Award in Knowledge and Innovation, Academy of Management.

She is the director of pre-acceleration programs in Italy, the UK and India, where she has worked with more than 1,500 entrepreneurs. In her role, she combines the latest management practices with research insights to help deliver cutting-edge training and mentorship programs. 

BACKGROUND

At current institution since what year? 2020

Education: Ph.D. (cum laude) Business Administration, Bocconi University; MSc Labour Studies (cum laude), University of Milan; BSc Organization Studies (cum laude), University of Milan

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Corporate Entrepreneurship: Mastering Entrepreneurial Growth for Large Firms

TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was attending talks and lectures on all sorts of topics, and I got a thrill from learning new things. The talks and lectures were stimulating and led me to read and learn more. I was happy in my professional career, but I desired working in environment that would have greater emphasis on teaching, practicing, and researching – as all three activities inform your learning around a certain topic differently.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My research focuses on the power of thinking like a scientist when starting a new business. When we think of scientists, we often envision someone running an experiment. But the same way of testing hypotheses also has an important place in entrepreneurship. Following ‘a scientific approach’ means that entrepreneurs form a clear theory about why a new business should exist and define clear hypotheses that are tested with rigorous experiments. Having run multiple field studies, I’ve worked with my co-authors to gather extensive evidence showing that a scientific mindset among entrepreneurs leads to more impactful decision-making. Entrepreneurs that use a scientific approach are more likely (compared to entrepreneurs that do not use this approach) to close businesses that they think are not valuable, make focused changes to their business, and achieve higher revenue. The most significant academic discovery is that these findings are consistent across settings – the same study has been replicated multiple times and the results remain the same. The robustness of these results has great relevance for policymakers and institutions looking to foster entrepreneurship – they give us confidence that we have learnt something meaningful about what helps new businesses thrive. In addition, through this fieldwork I met many entrepreneurs and they made me reflect on the various ways in which scientific thinking may play an important role in society. My most significant personal discovery is that beyond starting a business, scientific thinking has a bigger place in our lives than we probably realize.

If I weren’t a business school professor…  I would start a business.

 What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? My students tell me what they like is the interaction included in the course – each assignment and group activity is designed so that students get into the mindset of a corporate entrepreneur.

One word that describes my first time teaching: intense

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:  I wish someone told me about the other aspects of being a business school professor can be as rewarding as research and teaching. Connecting with alumni, speaking at events, helping students with their own business opportunities adds more color and fun to our job.

Professor I most admire and why: I am fortunate to have met many remarkable professors. One that has had a great influence on my education and career is Professor Silvia Gilardi, who supervised my master’s dissertation and was the first to suggest I apply for a doctoral program. Her course was highly experiential, and I still remember how her assessment center simulation helped me prepare for job interviews after graduation. Her passion for teaching and mentoring young people is impressive – it is something I have always admired in her and hope to instill in my students as well. 

TEACHING MBA STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I enjoy when students bring their background to the classroom and share their experiences – successful and less successful – with others. We have a very diverse student body at INSEAD, and these different perspectives contribute to an exceptionally vibrant class discussion.

What is most challenging? When students are absent or do not participate in class discussion, especially when classes were fully virtual.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Distracted

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair

LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies? Food, photography, fitness, and art.

How will you spend your summer? This summer, I am planning to finalize some research projects and attend my first in-person academic conference after the pandemic. I will also take time off to travel with my family.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: I recently fell in love with road trips during holidays in California and Connecticut. They are a great way to get a bit of everything – from seeing small towns, to enjoying nature and discovering roadside restaurants.

Favorite book(s): I have been a bookworm since I was a child so it’s hard to pick. My top 5 includes ‘The Master and Margarita’ (by Bulgakov), ‘And then there were none’ (by Christie), ‘Land of Glass’ (by Baricco), ‘The Temple of the Golden Pavillion’ (by Mishima), ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (by Austen).

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? My favorite movie is ‘About Time’ by Richard Curtis. I love this movie because it is fun yet touching and made me reflect about what I value and appreciate in life. It is also beautifully filmed, and the soundtrack is great.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I pick different music genres depending on my mood to complement what I am doing. I usually listen to Jazz (especially Ella Fitzgerald) on weekends when I am at home, Pop (currently listening to Khalid a lot) when I am getting ready to go out, Rock (Queen) when I am pottering around or trying to work out.

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… a continuous dialogue between researchers and practitioners. There is great research in academia that could help address important challenges for companies and societies – but these studies often don’t inform the choices companies and policymakers make. Likewise, companies and policymakers often face questions that academics are not currently examining, but that are highly relevant. Both academia and practice have so much to gain by establishing an ongoing dialogue.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… preparing individuals for an unpredictable future. The recent years have shown us that market conditions and work practices can abruptly change. Agility in these times has been important – it is a mindset and a skill that can be developed, and organizations should foster environment that allows their people to embrace and be comfortable with change.

I’m grateful for… more things that can be mentioned here. But especially the support and encouragement from my family and my friends.

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE 2022 ROSTER OF THE WORD’S BEST 40-UNDER-40 MBA PROFESSORS

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