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A head for business

Introducing Professor Sylvie Chetty, Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship and holder of the Dunedin City Chair in Entrepreneurship.

Professor Sylvie Chetty's research experience on the internationalisation of businesses introduces a whole new perspective on entrepreneurial thinking to the University of Otago.

Chetty took up the role of Dunedin City Chair in Entrepreneurship at the University of Otago in October 2012, funded through the University's Leading Thinkers Initiative.

A year on, she's pleased with the progress she's made in strengthening the research focus of the centre while, at the same time, using her role to further foster engagement with the business community.

She has identified international entrepreneurship, ethics and social entrepreneurship as research areas for the centre to focus on, and is enjoying the opportunity to build on the research infrastructure and connect Otago's research externally. She's also working on building up the PhD programme in Entrepreneurship.

One of her first steps was to initiate an Entrepreneurs' Club in Dunedin to grow the relationship between business and research, encouraging business people into the University to transfer research and learning, and to strengthen links between the business community and academics. Held three times a year with a mix of practitioner and academic presenters, it's deliberately hosted on-campus to encourage business people in.

“It's been a really good way for our masters' students to mingle with entrepreneurs active in the business community, while our academics and local business people have so far shared information on international markets, advertising and branding, and communication.”

Over the last year Chetty has extended the centre's seminar programme, using her international contacts to boost the stream of visiting academics from Australia and the northern hemisphere to present on a wide range of topics. This has included a Williams Evans fellowship for Professor Patricia McDougall-Covin, a leading international entrepreneurship scholar, to visit the centre.

“Its given the staff and students a good appreciation of international entrepreneurship – it prevents us from being New Zealand-centric.”

For instance, entrepreneurs are increasingly looking to developing new business in Europe, with more programmes that encourage young people to commercialise ideas to combat high unemployment. “Its inspirational to hear stories from our visiting academics of young people creating their own opportunities through this wider entrepreneurial focus. With the current spotlight on business closures here, extending entrepreneurial capabilities is a good message for us to start picking up on to generate positive business opportunities.”

Chetty has also been working on expanding interdisciplinary links between the Centre for Entrepreneurship and other University departments. The Centre for Entrepreneurship now holds regular research workshops to foster these links with academics at Otago who are researching in entrepreneurship.

All these activities help to strengthen the Master of Entrepreneurship programme that is administered by the centre, ensuring the papers taught in the programme involve research-informed teaching as well as relevance for practice.

One of only two such master's programmes in New Zealand, it won an Award for Teaching Excellence from the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurs earlier in 2013.

“This is the best entrepreneurship programme outside the United States and it's good to see us gaining that international reputation – all credit to previous Chair [Professor] Brendon Gray and our staff over the years.”

The 2013 programme has 20 students in Dunedin and a further five in Queenstown.

Chetty's research interests are in the internationalisation of firms, export performance, business networks and social capital, with experience on the internationalisation of businesses in Nordic countries.

An internationally acclaimed researcher, she has worked in New Zealand for 23 years, at Canterbury, Victoria and, most recently, Massey universities. She has also worked in Iran, South Africa and Swaziland, and studied in Edinburgh (Scotland), England and South Africa. She spent her research study leave in Sweden for a year in 1997 and continues to spend a month each year as a research associate at Uppsala University.

While at Victoria University she joined the FRST-funded Competitive Advantage New Zealand project with Otago's Professor Colin Campbell-Hunt. Chetty won the American Marketing Association's prestigious Hans B. Thorelli Award in 2010 for an article co-authored with Campbell-Hunt – “A Strategic Approach to Internationalization: A Traditional Versus a 'Born-Global' Approach”, published in 2004. The award is given annually for the article published in the Journal of International Marketing that has made the most significant and long-term contribution to international marketing theory and practice.

The growth and internationalisation of small and medium size enterprises in New Zealand and other countries has been a focus of her research for more than two decades and she has produced some valuable insights into the processes used by Nordic and New Zealand business people to develop export markets. Not only that, it has also helped to globally profile the New Zealand businesses taking part in the research.

The Nordic countries are very similar to New Zealand, she says, and there are, therefore, advantages in learning from each. Both have a lot of smaller businesses, small economies and small domestic markets, and the businesses in both countries have to look at exporting to grow.

What the Nordic businesses do differently, however, is to value entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial research more. She says they think about contributing to growing their local economy, not just what growth does for the individual business owner. In addition, there is a strong link between business, university and government to contribute to the national economy. They also operate in a more collaborative environment and, therefore, exploit the opportunities that clusters or networking brings.

Having already undertaken research on a cluster of New Zealand boat-builders to understand how to maximise their export potential, Chetty is keen to foster this Nordic practice and experience and help strengthen the existing town-gown relationship in Dunedin.

She has categorised businesses as those born global (have to export to survive), those who go global gradually, and regional (which includes 80 per cent of sales in New Zealand and Australia). Each chooses a different strategy to get their product or service to market.

“Many New Zealand businesses are resource-poor, so grow their markets slowly, starting domestically, then expanding overseas as opportunities arise. Nordic, as well as New Zealand businesses, are able to share knowledge and experiences and to piggy-back off others in their industry who are doing complementary work – all of which helps to fast-track their entry into foreign markets. Through sharing their experiences during breakfast meetings and seminars they're able to learn from mistakes and successes.”

Chetty has published widely in this area in international marketing and business journals as well as several chapters in edited books.

In Dunedin, she's enjoying working in a research-led university, one with a strong sense of history and “a very beautiful campus”. Outside the University she enjoys travelling, tennis and walking, and has been pleasantly surprised by Dunedin's scenery, history, architecture, and lovely gardens on her walks around town and the beaches of the Otago Peninsula. One of her favourite activities is shopping at the Saturday farmers' market.


About the Chair in Entrepreneurship

The Professorial Chair in Entrepreneurship was made possible by a $1 million endowment to the University of Otago by the Dunedin City Council (DCC). As part of the University's Leading Thinkers Initiative, the DCC gift attracted matching funding from the Government under the Partnerships for Excellence scheme.

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