Cost of External Finance and Selection into Entrepreneurship
Executive Summary — Entrepreneurs are, on average, significantly wealthier than people who work in paid employment. Research shows that entrepreneurs comprise fewer than 9 percent of households in the United States but they hold 38 percent of household assets and 39 percent of the total net worth. This relationship between personal wealth and entrepreneurship has long been seen as evidence of market failure, meaning that talented but less wealthy individuals are precluded from entrepreneurship because they don't have sufficient wealth to finance their new ventures. Nanda studied how changes in the cost of external finance affected the characteristics and likelihood of individuals becoming entrepreneurs. He finds that market failure accounts for only a small fraction of the relationship between personal wealth and entrepreneurship in advanced economies such as the U.S. Key concepts include:
- Entrepreneurs are, on average, significantly wealthier than people who work in paid employment. The wealthy are also more likely to become entrepreneurs.
- Talent matters in entrepreneurship, more so for the less wealthy. The relationship between individual wealth and entrepreneurship in advanced economies is driven at least in part by the fact that wealthy individuals can start lower growth-potential businesses because they do not face the discipline of external finance.
- It may be misguided to provide a simple scheme of cheap credit for new ventures, as not all who take up the scheme will be those who really need it.
This paper examines the extent to which the positive relationship between personal wealth and entry into entrepreneurship is due to financing constraints. I exploit a tax reform and use unique micro-data from Denmark to study how exogenous changes in the cost of external finance shape both the probability of entering entrepreneurship and the characteristics of those who become entrepreneurs. As expected, differences-in-differences estimates show that the entry rates for individuals who faced an increase in the cost of finance fell by 40% relative to those whose cost of external finance was unchanged. However, while some of the fall in entry was due to less wealthy individuals with high human capital (confirming the presence of financing constraints), the greatest relative decline in entry came from individuals with lower human capital, many of whom were above median wealth. This finding suggests that an important part of the positive relationship between personal wealth and entrepreneurship may be driven by the fact that wealthy individuals with lower ability can start new businesses because they are less likely to face the disciplining effect of external finance.