Our ‘Dual Focus PhD’ series tracks the working lives of our part-time PhD fellows. Many work at the highest of levels, both nationally and internationally, including for other parts of the UN System. They come to Maastricht for our unique PhD Dual Career Training Programme in Governance and Policy Analysis (GPAC²). This time we catch up with Michal Kazimierczak, who defends his thesis on 19 November 2019.
The sustainability of agriculture and industry is an increasingly important topic for the UN and national governments. This means thinking about what we produce and essentially finding “cleaner” ways to produce them. That’s what your research is about: entrepreneurship and efficiency in the manufacturing industry. Based on your study, how well are entrepreneurs doing and what roles do they play in the various regions of Europe?
Recent economic theories posit that entrepreneurs are the missing link between abundant knowledge stocks and economic growth. Knowledge is uncertain; therefore, every entrepreneurial idea tested by a new firm is, in fact, market experiment. Innovative entrants introduce new products, develop new markets and drive technological evolution in regions. Lower entrepreneurial activity leaves some commercial possibilities unexplored and therefore may be detrimental to economic growth. For instance, research by the OECD links lower rates of entry in recent years with lower productivity growth and increased market concentration.
My research looks into the factors that either help or hinder the conversion of local knowledge into prosperous businesses. My dissertation shows that local knowledge pools are vital to the emergence and growth of new manufacturing firms, especially for the most innovative start-ups. However, these positive results from knowledge may be reduced by incumbents’ strategies that seek to protect knowledge from spilling over to third parties. Any investigation into the role of knowledge pools for local entrepreneurship should also take into account the relation between knowledge and economic activity pursued by entrants, as not all the knowledge is equally relevant to them.
Your study deals with the impact of innovation on performance in the manufacturing industry. In particular you look at the entry of new firms in the market and their growth over time. How does your study tie in with Sustainable Development Goal 9, on industry, innovation and infrastructure? Do innovative firms fare better? Can we say that newcomers in manufacturing are more innovative than incumbents?
Technological innovation shows great potential for helping solve our most acute problems related to climate change, our dependence on finite natural resources and improving quality of life. On the other hand, as shown in my dissertation, abundant local knowledge pools may lead to a concentration of manufacturing activity. Entrepreneurs, particularly the most innovative, tend to start up their businesses in regions already abundant in knowledge. Meanwhile, the loss of manufacturing firms compromises the future innovation capacities of areas with low levels of innovation activity, further weakening their economic prospects. Regions with low innovation levels are therefore much less attractive for prospective innovative entrepreneurs. This exacerbates problems related to regional polarisation, increases regional inequalities and amplifies social tensions. It is, therefore, very challenging to foster higher rates of innovation and have more sustainable and inclusive growth. Inclusive and sustainable growth requires the development of policies that help declining regions identify and strengthen their comparative advantages, preferably in the economic activities where they already show relatively high innovation potential. Maintaining manufacturing capacities within regions should be a priority, as R&D and innovation are difficult to decouple from production processes.
On 19 November 2019 you will publicly defend your PhD research in Maastricht. As a global citizen – a Pole now living in Spain, trained in the Netherlands – how have you found education in Maastricht different from abroad? How have the benefits compared to the drawbacks?
My education in Poland was very theoretical. It was based on traditional top-down teaching and less on discussion, analysis of cases and own research. I had some previous experiences with Maastricht University, as I did a post-graduate course on European Union policies co-organised by Warsaw and Maastricht Universities in early 2000’s. I very much liked the practical approach of professors from Maastricht University. Therefore, when I decided to start my PhD research, I chose the GPAC2 programme. The possibility to combine my full-time job with the postgraduate study was also a crucial aspect for me.
I really enjoyed the first year of the GPAC2 programme. Courses on the research methodology gave me a fixed base to pursue my own research in later years. I learnt, sometimes the hard way, that “handbook economics” is not best suited to deal with dynamic aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship. Overall, it was an eye-opener. While working on my PhD project, I benefited a lot from exchanges with my supervisory team, René Belderbos and Micheline Goedhuys. Although I was doing my research far away from Maastricht, I always felt their support and interest in my research. I was often amazed by how quickly I received their feedback. I am sure that their support was crucial for finishing my PhD.
I should also highlight that this PhD was not only an investment by me but also by my entire family. I always felt support and encouragement from my wife and my three sons. They helped me a lot by taking responsibility for a lot of my usual daily chores at home.
Looking back, it has definitely been one of the best investments of my life. I am sure that there is no better way to understand thoroughly any problem than by conducting rigorous research on your own. Sometimes it strains your mental capacity to the limits, but ultimately it is a very rewarding experience. Besides the academic benefits, the GPAC2 programme allowed me to meet a lot of fantastic people from all over the world, and I hope that we will stay in touch in the future.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / H.Pijpers; Flickr / F.Ates