Creating new strategies for Ontario businesses

What are the best ways to help Ontario businesses grow and successfully compete on the world stage?

It’s a question that Douglas Cumming (right), associate professor of finance and entrepreneurship at the Schulich School of Business, plans to address through his appointment to York University’s inaugural Ontario Research Chair in Economics & Cross Cultural Studies. Cumming’s research will seek cutting-edge strategies to help Ontario’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to increase their competitiveness, innovation and productivity.

“Evidence suggests that Ontario is not producing as many internationally-competitive firms as it should,” says Cumming. “My research examines regions in Canada and abroad where a greater proportion of businesses are growing quickly to see how their government policies and legal practices could be adapted to generate comparable successes here.”

Cumming’s research agenda encompasses several projects, including one to investigate business advisory hubs and entrepreneurship. “I’m interested in whether there are benefits to creating policies that encourage SMEs to connect with business advisory hubs such as the Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham,” he says. “Such policies could foster regional development and economic growth and yield benefits to a variety of businesses and different members of our culturally diverse community.”

Through York’s existing partnership with the Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham, a not-for-profit business advisory hub for entrepreneurs developing SMEs, Cumming is gathering cross cultural data on how innovation centres can help Canada to further benefit from the multicultural, social and economic ties of a variety of businesses, including those started by immigrants. “Innovation centres pose many interesting questions,” he says. “Who makes use of them? What are their characteristics? Given the non-random selection process, what kind of success do entrepreneurs have after they get involved with a centre compared to that of their peers?”

The project’s findings could be used to determine best practices for structuring innovation hubs and facilitating knowledge transfer to members of the community. Actively disseminating the new knowledge created through Cumming’s research to policy-makers and community organizations – a process known as knowledge mobilization – is also a key component of the chair’s mandate.

Cumming is also exploring collaboration with York Professors Valerie Preston and Phil Kelly in the Department of Geography, Faculty of Arts, who have conducted similar comparative research on issues of economic competitiveness in regions with large and diverse immigrant populations. “There isn’t a lot of existing literature in business schools in this area,” says Cumming. “I’m excited to see how the project will evolve over time.”

His current projects also include an unrelated interdisciplinary collaboration with Professor Poonam Puri in the Osgoode Faculty of Law on market regulation, and has plans to develop a relationship between the Schulich School of Business’ and Market Regulation Services Inc., the independent regulation services provider for Canadian equity markets.

Cumming will also spearhead an interdisciplinary research program around SME competitiveness, building upon strengths within Schulich and across the York campus that include economics, law, geography, political science, and sociology, among other disciplines. His broader research interests into how law and regulation impact markets, particularly in entrepreneurship and venture capital, position him to consider the public policy-related research questions at the core of the chair’s mandate.

“At a broad level, York’s interdisciplinarity, partnerships with the business community, and the diversity of its surrounding communities are strengths for this type of research,” says Cumming. “The Schulich School of Business is extremely well respected and has first-class faculty in a number of disciplines. Conducting research within this kind of environment is very important for one’s one productivity and involvement in academic life. It’s certainly the biggest draw for me.”

Cumming received a JD from the University of Toronto Law School and a PhD in economics and finance from the University of Toronto, and is a certified Chartered Financial Analyst. Much of his previous research is in the law and economics of venture capital and private equity markets, and how government policies can stimulate entrepreneurial activities.

Prior to joining York, Cumming was an associate professor of finance at the Lally School of Management and Technology at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State. He has also held appointments at the University of New South Wales and the University of Alberta’s School of Business. He sits on the editorial board for the Journal of Business Venturing and Venture Capital: An International Journal of Entrepreneurial Finance, and is a contributing editor to Venture Capital Experts.

Professor Cumming has an established research track record focused on or directly relevant to public policies as they relate to enterprise competitiveness,” says Professor Eileen Fischer, director of Entrepreneurial Studies at the Schulich School of Business, who chaired the search committee. “He is one of a very small number of researchers who possess both the rigorous training required for, and a demonstrated commitment to, high-quality research that is contextually comparative and relevant in this area.”

“Professor Cumming is the ideal candidate to build a consultation with policy makers, business leaders and academic peers,” says David Dewitt, associate vice-president research, social sciences and humanities. “He has consistently collaborated with governments and other agencies to help specify the practical policy implications of his work. Much of that research has been conducted in Ontario, a familiarity that means he will be well-positioned to succeed in this role.”

Story submitted to YFile by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer.