First Advisor

Charlie Curry-Smithson


This study explores how leadership in a start-up organization can influence the probability of the organization's success and long-term sustainability. The central question guiding this research is: Which specific elements of leadership have the most significant impact on the start-up process? These findings will be useful to anyone building a new organization: the formal leader/founder, or a member of the start-up team. They also can help funders or parent organizations evaluate the success potential of a new venture.

Research methods consisting of 1) reviewing literature on leadership and on the start-up process, and 2) interviewing 21 people who have a variety of experiences and perspectives with the start-up process, in both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds.

The findings of this research indicate a relationship between leaders' behavior in creating new ventures and their venture's likelihood of success in the following five areas: 1) inspiring others - start-up leaders must create an environment which inspires people to follow, to take responsibility, to get excited to do the work, and to contribute their best; 2) creating and implementing a vision - the leader of a start-up must be able to envision, articulate and implement core concepts; 3) planning - the start-up process must begin with, and be guided by, a plan; 4) tolerating ambiguity - the leader of a start-up must have high tolerance for ambiguity and risk; and 5) committing oneself to the project - all the leader's energy must be devoted to the start-up.


Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations