Get to Know a Wharton Prof: Ethan Mollick

By Nadine Kavanaugh, Associate Director, Wharton Entrepreneurship

In this series, Get to Know a Wharton Prof, we do brief interviews with our professors in order to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of these amazing scholars, teachers, and entrepreneurs. Today’s interviewee, Ethan Mollick, is a Professor of Management at Wharton. He studies innovation and entrepreneurship, and the ways in which an individual’s actions can affect firms and industries. He was named one of the “40 Most Outstanding Business School Professors Under 40.” Learn more about him here.

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Briefly describe your professional background.

Before getting my PhD and MBA, I was a consultant and an entrepreneur, so my academic interests grew out of those experiences.

What is your field of expertise?

I study entrepreneurship and innovation generally, but I am very interested in the impact of new technologies and ways of working.  My work has covered the intersection of innovation and entrepreneurship with topics like crowdfunding, open source, hackers, and video games.

How long have you been at Wharton?

Five years.

What classes do you teach?

Management 801 and Management 806.

Describe a recent exciting teaching moment.

It is hard to pick out just one! I interact with hundreds of students every year, and always learn something in the process.  One recent event comes to mind, however.  A startup that started with a business plan in my Management 801 class recently raised $100M from various outside investors, and the founder was coming back to Wharton to give a talk to one of my classes.  I had a moment of panic when I realized that I had no memory of what grade I gave the business plan, and remembered the old story about the grade given to the founder of FedEx, and how the professor has been mocked for it ever since.  Fortunately, it turns out they did well in the class, so I didn’t have to be embarrassed.

Why is your research important?

Because entrepreneurship and innovation are important.  My research is, in large part, about how we democratize innovation and entrepreneurship. Right now, you are far more likely to succeed as a founder if you are well-connected, highly educated, and living in the right places.  I believe good ideas are everywhere, and part of my research involves thinking about how new technologies can help increase the rate of entrepreneurs and innovators among groups of people who do not have the same opportunities as Wharton students.

How is your recent research relevant to the entrepreneurial ecosystem?

I think it is pretty relevant because I have tried to stick close to things that I think matter to actual entrepreneurs. I hope that my research on how to succeed at crowdfunding campaigns, or how to use games to transform innovation, are important.

How have you seen students or alumni take action based on your research or teaching?

They tell me they have!

What made you choose an academic career?

I was frustrated that, when working at my startup, I received lots of wisdom about entrepreneurship from experienced founders, but there was very little actual knowledge—real, actionable data about what to do to make your company succeed.  I wanted to play a part in changing that.  Besides, studying entrepreneurship is really fun!

What do you like most about your career as an academic?

It is the best job in the world—I like researching, teaching, and having interesting conversations while constantly learning.

What do you like least?

Not enough time to do everything.

Tell me one surprising thing about you.

I created one of the first internet memes, back in 1995.