A pragmatic two-armed Randomized Controlled Trial represents the basic study design testing the effect of tactical knowledge coaching on the survival capabilities of technology-based early-stage ventures. Over three years, 450 ventures from the German regional state Baden-Württemberg will be recruited. Accredited, experienced coaches are imparting certain tactical knowledge to the founder teams in the form of individual support sessions. The treatment group (T) encompasses 150 startups in total, each year about 50 being subject to the intervention. Not having been coached with a focus on tactical knowledge, another 300 ventures serve as the control group (C). After three years, ventures' survival capability (total score) six months post-intervention is compared.
Randomization takes place on a venture team level. Restricted blocked randomization will be used to ensure the budget-limited number of interventions (50/year) is entirely reached. One ‘block’ in this specific context refers to a one-year budget of 50 coaching contracts, randonly allocated to venture teams by bwcon consultants.
External support is needed to enable venture teams to develop their business activities efficiently. The coaching intervention will focus on tactical knowledge, which is designed to help founders building appropriate networks and enhance their know-how where needed capabilities cannot be derived from books. Our delivery partner bwcon has had an efficient business coaching concept in place since 2005 which serves as support intervention in the planned RCT. Content-wise, the coaching sessions do not only provide business and technological expertise to new business founders, but particularly aim at accelerating the creation of networks and tactical implementation of venture development activities during the growth phase. Business as usual refers to venture teams with different levels and exposure to explicit business knowledge gained for instance through prior work experience or by non-tactical coaching input.
The primary outcome of interest to the research team is venture survival capability. In conformity with the main research goal and the primary research question, the effectiveness of tactical business coaching in increasing survival capabilities of newly founded businesses is detected. Measuring the absolute rate of survival entails the challenge of limited comparing opportunities due to the fact that the sample is drawn over time. A more refined measurement of survival thus was introduced by breaking down the outcome measure ‘survival’ into survival capability classes. Based on network theory and the assumption that the likelihood of survival increases as the venture’s value-network of transactions with partners in various dimensions (selling, procurement, HR, and capital markets) matures, we are measuring five distinct survival capability classes in these four categories summing up to a total survival capability score.
The trial design provides adequate statistical power. In a very conservative setting assuming an unrealistically high pooled standard deviation (4.2) drawn from an extreme-outcome pre-sample, a two-sided t-test, ?=0.05, and power against alternative hypothesis = 0.8, results suggest that the minimum required sample size to detect an effect size of 0.2 (comparison of groups 6 months after the intervention) is 321, meaning 107 for the treatment group and 214 for the control group. Given a sample size of 360 (conservative estimation of sample size reached at the time the final analysis for the RCT is planned) and an allocation ratio of ventures receiving tactical coaching to those of the control group of 1:2, the minimum detectable effect size (MDES) is 0.18.