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Outlier Research Funding

iORB’s core mission is to nurture and grow outlier research. Consistent with this mission, iORB provides funding to support ambitious research projects that require additional resources but have significant potential impact. iORB aims to annually fund several outstanding proposals that will positively impact business and society.

A call for proposals is sent out each Fall as part of a competitive submission process and respected business scholars review the proposals. Based on the reviews, the iORB executive board makes final funding decisions.

The proposals for funding are evaluated according to the following main criteria:

  1. Is there potential for creative and rigorous research that has a likelihood of significant impact on business and society, and will result in publications in premier academic journals?
  2. Is the work of broad impact; i.e., is there a path forward for disseminating the results of the work beyond the proposer’s own academic community? 

Examples of Recently Funded Outlier Research Proposals

Fall 2017

1. Refugees and Entrepreneurship: A Comparative Country Analysis
Shon R. Hiaat (Management and Organization)

The global refugee crisis has affected many developed and developing economies. How to deal with this crisis remains an open question. Entrepreneurship has been proposed as a potent tool that can lift refugees out of poverty, integrate them into in new societies, as well as spur local economic growth. Yet, research in the area of refugee entrepreneurship remains scant and is limited to a handful of qualitative case studies. As a result, theory explaining the founding, performance, and survival of businesses organized by refugees in their host countries, as well as the mechanisms explaining how refugee inflows impact native entrepreneurship is limited. Empirically, we propose to address this issue by examining both refugee entrepreneurship and the influence of refugees on native entrepreneurship in the countries of Mexico and Jordan. These two countries are the primary hosts of refugees from Central American (Mexico) and Arab countries (Jordan), and thus provide an opportunity to conduct comparative research on the topic. Project investigators will use a mixed methods approach that includes panel data, social network analysis, event history analysis, regression analysis, and qualitative analysis.

2. Conspicuous Consumption and Status Signaling among Great Apes
Joseph Nunes (Department of Marketing)

This research intends to test whether great apes engage in status signaling through conspicuous consumption, specifically by employing artifacts as positional goods. The project is interdisciplinary, involving a collaboration between researchers in marketing and comparative cognitive psychology. It seeks to access the mental processes that drive certain behavior in both humans and our closest living relatives, great apes (bonobos, gorillas and orangutans).1 The study of primates helps us learn about the origins of human behavior and trace evolutionary pathways in our thinking and behavior. By studying status signaling behavior in apes using artifacts and controllable behaviors, we hope to gain a better understanding of human behavior and the evolution of hierarchical social interactions.

What is the key research question?

Do great apes engage in status signaling through the acquisition and consumption (display) of positional goods?

Consumers often acquire higher-priced goods when lower-priced, functional substitutes are readily available. The most common explanation for this behavior has its roots in signaling theory, which examines communication between individuals. It is widely assumed that people who spend more than necessary for a distinctive product are engaging in conspicuous consumption intended to distinguish themselves from others whom they consider socially inferior (Veblen 1899). To the conspicuous consumer, such public displays of discretionary economic power are a means of signaling a given rank within the social hierarchy. It is critical to point out that conspicuous consumption is believed to be a form of signaling that has its roots in evolutionary biology.

3. Informational Mitigations
Kimon Drakopoulos (Data Sciences and Operations)

Misinformation on online media markets and social platforms is a phenomenon that drew the public attention after the 2016 presidential election. Ever since, online platforms are implementing several approaches to mitigate the effects of misinformation but little is known both theoretically and empirically regarding the effectiveness of these approaches.

In our latest work (Allon et al. (2017)) we develop a model for the consumption of content in online social platforms according to which agents engage with content that is closer to their beliefs at equilibrium. We show that this confirmation bias in an online platform leads to the following novel and counter-intuitive paradox: the more information the platform provides to the users, the less they learn at equilibrium. Therefore, platforms should design the size of the News-Feed in such a way so that learning outcomes of users is not compromised. Based on the finding from our paper, in the proposed research we plan to design a behavioral experiment to assess whether the insight from our theoretical model is accurate, in which case the design implication for the platform would be significant.

Furthermore, in our prior work from Candogan and Drakopoulos (2017) we theoretically study the optimal intervention from a platform that seeks to optimize the tradeoff between engagement and misinformation and establishes that without loss of optimality platforms can resort to simple, straightforward mechanisms with binary labels (”True” or ”Fake”). Furthermore, optimal mechanisms may label content differently across users depending on their position (centrality) on the underlying social network. On the other hand, it is unclear whether our results extend to the more realistic setting where users are (i) polarized and (ii) the network connections are among ”similar” users (homophily). In the proposed research we would like to understand the effect of polarization and homophily on the design of intervention mechanisms as well as on the equilibrium behavior.

4. Effects of Overconfidence on Decision Making: Technology Readiness Levels Assessments in NASA’s SBIR Program
Fernando Zapatero (Finance and Business Economics) and Andrea Belz (USC Viterbi)

The broad topic we are studying is the effect of overconfidence on economic decision making.

There is a long literature in finance on overconfidence and its impact on individuals’ decisions (especially CEOs), as well as the long-term effect on outcomes (for example, profitability of companies with overconfident CEOs). Although the academic community has reached some conclusions, there are no direct measures of overconfidence and the robustness of the conclusions in the literature is not obvious. The notion of overconfidence is undoubtedly elusive, but we plan to use our proprietary database as it may provide a more direct assessment of overconfidence than the proxies used in current research.

Viterbi has access to a database from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, a federal subsidy of major importance to the technology entrepreneurship ecosystem. The data set includes ex ante and ex post technology maturity assessments in the form of technology readiness levels (TRL), a standard metric of the aerospace industry, measured by both the entrepreneur and by a NASA program manager. We propose analyzing the difference between these assessments entrepreneurs’ and project managers’—as a measure of overconfidence, and studying the effect on both the selection and the success of the proposals. We also have a comprehensive database of patents, a standard measure of success on research proposals.

5. "Performing Large-scale Causal Inference in the Digital Age: Integrating Field Experiment and Big Data"
Tianshu Sun (Data Sciences and Operations)

With the ongoing digitization process, firms are increasingly making data-driven decisions by leveraging randomized experiments and big data. Randomized experiment is the holy grail of causal inference but often costly and limited in scale. Observational data, on the other hand, is often readily available and large-scale but may lead to biased estimates of causal effects. How can firms combine the advantage of both randomized experiments and observational data while avoiding the shortcomings of each? How can firms design adaptive causal inference procedures for any intervention in any context, given the available observational data and the cost of new randomized experiments? In this proposal, I propose a new framework drawing a close analogy with semi-supervised learning, and introduce an estimation method (IBASE) that Integrates Big (observational) DATA and Small (randomized) Experiment for large-scale causal inference. The framework and method can be potentially applied to a wide range of applications, including but not limited to improving product feature design and pricing scheme, optimizing and personalizing marketing campaigns, and accelerating experimentation and sampling process.

Fall 2016

1. A Paradigm of FDR Control in High-Dimensional Nonlinear Models
Jinchi Lv and Yingying Fan (Data Sciences and Operations)

The wide availability of massive data in such diverse areas as marketing, economics, finance, operations management, genomics, etc. poses unprecedented challenges to statistical methods, theory, and algorithms. A common issue is that we have a deluge of explanatory variables, often many more than the number of observations, knowing that the outcome only actually depends on a small fraction of them. An important question in any such study is to select the variables or causal factors that are important in explaining outcomes. Note that traditionally we determine the variables that are statistically significant by considering the p-value that is output by the “regression” software. However, these p-values do not make any sense in these high-dimensional settings, and would lead to wrong conclusions. The authors propose to develop a novel method for controlling the False Discovery Rate (FDR) in high-dimensional non-linear models. The proposed method will provide an important step in the pursuit of key causal factors in a wide range of important applications in various disciplines with scalability and statistical guarantees. 

2. The Nomenklatura State Institutions in the Knowledge Economy
Nan Jia (Management and Organization)

A pivotal factor in the rapid surge in China’s indigenous innovations in recent years is the direct and powerful role of the Chinese government, which creates a very different institutional environment for innovation as compared to countries such as the U.S. This paper aims to understand how key features of the political governance in China’s political systems shape the incentives in developing innovations. Contrary to the ideal type of Weberian bureaucracy, at the heart of China’s state institutions is a nomenklatura model which generates incentives for state officials to promote certain ideas, for example to promote knowledge production in the 21st century. We plan to use longitudinal data from 1990 to 2015 covering all patents produced in each of the 333 Chinese municipal-level cities and 32 provinces (including province-level cities) every year, to study the relationship between an outstanding incentive feature of the nomenklatura governance system and the patenting landscape in China. We predict that the same incentive structure that resulted in excessive grain extraction and famine in the 1950s also produced greater activism in patenting following the national campaign promoting indigenous innovations—but with certain distortions: a larger number of patents at the expense of the quality or novelty of these patents. This project has the potential to bridge the gap between theories in political science and the economics of innovation literature on the topic of how state institutions influence economic outcomes (innovation outcomes in particular).

3. Optimization in the Small-Data Regime
Vishal Gupta and Paat Rusmevichientong (Data Sciences and Operations)

Modern decision making under uncertainty often requires making thousands of decisions simultaneously at a highly granular level in a time-varying environment. Because of these three features - large-scale, high-granularity, changing environments - the relative amount of relevant data per decision is often quite small. We term this emerging application setting the small-data optimization regime. This proposal aims to: (1) formulate customized methods for decision making in the small-data regime that exploit large-scale optimization structure, (2) promote the adoption of these methods by creating open-source software, (3) partner with the Operations Innovation team in the City of LA's Mayor's office to implement these methods on real-world problems, and (4) host a Hackathon/conference showcasing this software and the above real-world case-studies for academics and practitioners.

4. Institutional knowledge and local information advantage of US versus Chinese information intermediaries 
T.J. Wong (Leventhal School of Accounting)

Using textual analysis of a comprehensive set of analysts’ reports and corporate news articles of Chinese firms, we propose to address three research questions in two related projects. First, when covering the Chinese listed firms, do the Chinese intermediaries (financial analysts or journalists) have local information advantage over their US counterparts as measured by forecast quality for the analysts and the level of bias and market response to the information generated by the analysts or journalists? Second, do the Chinese intermediaries focus more on sociopolitical rather than market and economic factors in the reports, and is this focus a key contributing factor to their local information advantage? Third, can the institutional knowledge about the sociopolitical factors be acquired through education or work experience? These projects would shed light on the information advantage of local information intermediaries in the literature. They would potentially impact practice as US intermediaries and investors are increasing their investment in emerging markets such as China but experiencing severe information asymmetry.

5. Digital Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Outlier Behavior in the Mobile App Ecosystem
Pai-Ling Yin (Greif Center for Entrepreneurship) & Milan Miric (Data Sciences and Operations)

This project aims to study: 1) how mobile app entrepreneurs finance their launch in ways that differ from traditional tech entrepreneurs, and 2) how mobile app developers employ novel business models. The mobile app context presents a unique opportunity to identify many failed developers, allowing us to correctly measure the prevalence of different strategies and correctly infer the success of these strategies. Using a mix of large-scale empirical analysis and qualitative case studies, we examine the drivers of bootstrapping among entrepreneurs and the drivers of non-monetary and freemium business models in mobile apps. We accomplish this by merging two unique datasets to explore these questions. The resulting findings will more generally speak to digital and platform environments, where low-cost entry, low-cost production, and the presence of network effects lead to intense competition. We hope to help industry participants and investors in the mobile app industry as well as similar digital and platform environments better understand successful resource acquisition and business model options.