Founder Central

For founders and their startups, early decisions about people – cofounders, employees, investors, and board members – are vital to long-term success. Despite the significance of these decisions, founders often operate without the benefit of a roadmap to help guide what matters most and soonest: when specific decisions should be made, which options to consider, and what long-term consequences can be anticipated. It’s well-known that “people problems” represent the biggest reason (by far) for the high failure rate of high-potential startups. Less well-known are the ways in which founders can navigate or mitigate the negative impact of these problems, which can include founding team break-up, slowed startup growth, and founder replacement.

Founder Central’s mission is to create and disseminate knowledge about the most important early decisions faced by founders and the other people who help build startups. The goal: to build a research-driven roadmap that helps founders understand, through deep consideration of historical and current entrepreneurship, how to make more effective, more ethical decisions. We are committed to research and educational efforts that clarify how:

  • entrepreneurs learn from experience and generalize acquired knowledge to future ventures.
  • first-time entrepreneurs differ from serial entrepreneurs.
  • events in our social environment motivate social and economic decision-making.

Founder Central’s work is shared in several ways: through courses on campus at USC (Founder’s Dilemmas, Entrepreneurial Imagination), angel investors and founder bootcamps; and a national research symposium that brings together academics with shared interests.







Founder Central also works with several postdoctoral fellows each year. Our current postdoctoral fellows are:

Valeria Giacomin - Ph.D., Copenhagen Business School: Prior to coming to USC, Valeria was an Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School, where she completed her Ph.D., writing a dissertation on the palm oil cluster in Southesat Asia that won the 2018 EBHA Best Dissertation Award. Valera also served (2017-2018) as a Newcomen Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard Business School, researching entrepreneurship, clustering, and corporate reputation in emerging markets. Her research interests include entrepreneurial ecosystems, clustering and international trade, emerging markets, business and global history, and more. Valeria holds additional degrees from a BSc (Economics and Finance ) from Bocconi University; a double MSc degree (International Management) from Bocconi University and Fudan University (China); and an MA (Southeast Asian Studies) from SOAS London. She is also a co-founder and board member of BII Research, a boutique consulting firm specializing in business and industrial conferences and tech research.

Smrithi Prasad - Ph.D. (Social & Personality Psychology), University of Oregon: Smrithi's primary research examines how events in our social environment (e.g., acute social stressors and competitive outcomes) may modulate the influence of biological and psychological processes in motivating social and economic decision-making behaviors. Her questions are informed by theories and methods from social psychology and behavioral endocrinology using both laboratory paradigms and naturalistic field methodologies. Prior to her Ph.D., Smrithi earned her B.S. in Psychology and M.S. in Management at the National University of Singapore (NUS). 

Hadar Ram - Ph.D. (Social Psychology), Tel Aviv University: Hadar conducts research to better understand human learning mechanisms by focusing on the question: When people learn, what do they learn? More specifically, she takes a social-psychological perspective in seeking to understand how the generality of what people learn is affected by psychological distance and valence (positive vs. negative information). During her Ph.D. studies, she was a visiting scholar at NYU and at the Social Cognition Center in Cologne, Germany. At USC’s Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, she explores how entrepreneurs learn from experience and generalize their acquired knowledge to future ventures. In doing so, she also examines how first-time entrepreneurs differ from serial entrepreneurs.