With a distinct qualitative approach to research that immerses her in various industries, Stine Grodal is a welcome addition to Northeastern’s impressive faculty community. She recently joined the D’Amore-McKim School of Business as a Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, ready to continue her work across departments.
“I’m excited about the opportunities to engage with my new colleagues and develop new research projects,” Grodal says. “I’m hoping to also have a close affiliation with the sociology department as my work is very interdisciplinary and crosses in between business and sociology.”
A longtime professor and researcher in the Boston ecosystem, Grodal began visiting Northeastern’s campus five years ago when her collaborator, Jean C. Tempel Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Fernando Suarez, was hired. Grodal found that Northeastern was an “innovative and rising university” and jumped at the opportunity to explore the intersections between her research and those of her colleagues.
“Stine is a leading qualitative scholar who immerses herself in the phenomena she studies and uses mixed methods when appropriate,” Suarez says. “She is a perfect fit for Northeastern’s collaborative spirit and a great addition to our interdisciplinary intellectual enterprise.”
Unveiling new industries
Grodal’s research focuses on the evolution of industries and organizational fields, which are defined by producers of similar products or services. Her work has shown that in the early stages of an industry, a firm’s stakeholders form various understandings of its products, creating multiple category labels, such as “computer phone” or “camera phone” at the start of the smartphone industry. These labels can influence how the public perceive and demand a product.
It’s not always clear in which industry a new venture lives, because “if you’re doing something really innovative, you’re actually often breaching categories,” Grodal shares. As digital disruption transforms a number of industries, she studies unfolding categorization processes, including the likes of nanotechnology, smartphones, e-cigarettes, and hearing aids.
“We need to understand how industries emerge in order to help entrepreneurs manage this very fragile period when it is at risk of collapsing,” says Grodal.
Public perception is integral to an industry’s life cycle. For example, nanotechnology was seen as a promising and exciting field at its start. Overhyped by the media, the public formed grand expectations around nanotechnology that it simply couldn’t fulfill. Before investments in the technology panned out to reveal its strengths and best utilities, the industry had to overcome a subsequent period of backlash and underinvestment.
The value of industry-level analyses
Grodal’s work seeks to support innovation among firms and successful startups. Though few companies consider the dynamics of categorization, it’s important for entrepreneurs and analysts to understand the bigger picture given that different industries have distinct profit margin expectations and face varied regulatory challenges and customer opinions.
“Many companies fail, not because of themselves but because the whole category fails, the whole industry never takes off,” Grodal says. “If you’re only looking at what your competitors are doing, you will not understand the broader trends happening to your industry that might affect your profitability the most in the long run.”