The Comprehensive Australian Study of Entrepreneurial Emergence (CAUSEE)

The Comprehensive Australian Study of Entrepreneurial Emergence research project, or CAUSEE, is Australia’s largest research project on business start-ups and the development of young firms. The project provides an exciting opportunity to fundamentally improve our understanding of independent entrepreneurship in Australia.

CAUSEE follows a large, random sample of approximately 600 emerging (but not yet operating when first contacted) business start-ups and another random sample of approximately 600 newly established young firms (which had commenced trading). In addition, over-samples of approximately 100 ‘high-potential’, high-growth firms complement the study. The four annual waves of data collection were completed in 2007/8 – 2010/11. In addition, a follow-up was conducted in 2013 to get updated outcome information on as many firms as possible.

The project has yielded:

  • two doctoral dissertations (with another three underway)
  • several articles in international scholarly journals
  • a number of policy reports and chapters for the federal Department of Industry
  • a number of research briefing papers and other reports.

Increased output will emerge in the coming years.


CAUSEE aims to uncover the factors that initiate, hinder and facilitate the process of emergence of new economic activities and organisations. Unlike previous entrepreneurship research, the CAUSEE project does not put a singular focus on the ‘entrepreneur(s)’ but pays balanced attention to all the factors depicted in the above figure. The detailed CAUSEE Questionnaires¬†show exactly what questions have been asked.

Regarding “Individuals” we examine solo vs team start-ups; the education and experience of the founders, and what other resources they bring to the start-up. The Venture Idea is examined in terms of its level and type of novelty and how it relates to the prior experience and resources of the founders. We also examine how much the Venture Idea changes in the process, and why. The Process is also examined in terms of what activities are undertaken – with what intensity and in which sequence – to get the business up and running. As regards Environment we look into the industry and the region in which the firm is located. We look at a range of objective and subjective outcomes, from sales and profitability to the founders satisfaction with what they have achieved.

The CAUSEE project is making top quality contributions to the international research frontier, but it also yields highly relevant results for policy-makers and business founders.

Our team

The CAUSEE project is run from the Queensland University of Technology and is designed and conducted by a team that includes some of the most highly qualified researchers in the world for conducting this type of research.

Chief Investigators are Professor Per Davidsson and Associate Professor Paul Steffens.

Per Davidsson is one of the most highly recognised entrepreneurship scholars internationally. His involvement in earlier and concurrent projects of the same kind in the US and Sweden makes him a leading expert in this type of longitudinal, start-up research. His credentials also include being a leading figure in the largest and most influential entrepreneurship policy research project in Sweden in the 1990s; receiving an honorary doctorate from Leuphana University in Germany, and chairing the 3,000 member strong Entrepreneurship Division of the (US-based) Academy of Management.

Paul Steffens has expertise in the areas of innovation and technology commercialisation and also brings important methods expertise and knowledge of the Australian context to the CAUSEE leadership.

International Partner Investigators include Professor Paul D. Reynolds, Florida International University, Associate Professor Ted Baker, North Carolina State University and Associate Professor Saras Sarasvathy, University of Virginia, as well as Siri Terjesen and Jason Fitzsimmons, who were at QUT at the start of the project. Paul Reynolds, effectively the creator of both the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) and CAUSEE’s international predecessors, is arguably the most influential researcher in entrepreneurship policy and the world’s leading authority for this type of research. He was also the 2004 recipient of the International Award for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Research; arguably the highest honour achievable in this line of research. Saras Sarasvathy is a disciple of Nobel Prize Laureate Herbert Simon and the originator of ‘Effectuation Theory’, which is one of the most interesting and discussed theoretical developments in entrepreneurship research in the last decade, and will be tested through CAUSEE.

Apart from the Chief and Partner Investigators, CAUSEE engages research students, post doctoral fellows, other QUT faculty members and ad hoc external co-authors on individual manuscripts.

PhD researchers

  • Scott R Gordon (completed)
  • Julienne Senyard
  • DM Semasinghe (completed)
  • Christophe Garonne
  • Antonio Dottore


What is CAUSEE?

CAUSEE stands for Comprehensive Australian Study of Entrepreneurial Emergence. It is a large-scale, high quality research study following the development of two categories of start-ups over time: a) those who are currently trying create a new business or move into self-employment and b) young firms, who are independent businesses which started in 2004 or later (followed in the research from 2007/8).

What are the goals for CAUSEE?

Previous research shows that new business start ups are important sources of innovations, jobs and economic growth. We want to understand what works, and what doesn’t work for new businesses in the Australian context. No one knows very much about how Australians go about developing new businesses, the resources they use, such as people, knowledge and money, how this varies across industries and how all this impacts the success (or otherwise) of the business. This information will help entrepreneurs make better decisions; educators and support organizations develop better advice and assistance, and Governments design better conditions for the creation of new businesses.

Who pays for this?

CAUSEE received its main funding from two grants from the Australian Research Council (ARC). The ARC is the Australian Government’s main body for research funding. The grants of $455,000 and $262,000 are among the biggest given to business research and indicate that the ARC agree new businesses and knowledge about their development are important, and also that they have great confidence in the team of researchers behind the project. CAUSEE also has some funding ($180,000) from industry sponsors BDO-Kendalls and National Australia Bank. The Department of Industry funded the 2013 follow-up interviews about longer-term outcomes. These organisations sponsor this research because they, too, believe new businesses are important and that we need to learn more about what facilitates their development. The sponsors do not influence the contents of the surveys and do not get access to data or privileged access to results.

Who has access to the interview responses?

The data is used solely for the purpose of academic research. Only a small team of academic researchers affiliated with QUT have access to the data, and even they perform their analyses on data sets that do not fully identify individual businesses. Results are published only in the form of averages across all participants or for broad categories of businesses; for example industries or size classes. In academic tradition such overall results will be made as openly available as possible – there will be no privileged access to results for any particular interested parties.

How did we get the samples of business start-ups?

The majority of respondents were called randomly. CAUSEE used random digit dialing, which is an established procedure for getting in touch with a representative sample of Australian households. More than 30,000 households were contacted to find the 1,200 people involved in emerging or young businesses at that time.

Other respondents were specifically targeted as high potential start-ups. These were identified by screening a large number of individuals and organisations that are likely to be in contact with such start-ups at an early stage (e.g., patent attorneys; business angels; business incubators; research units).

Why are the interviews so long?

Businesses are started in many different ways, and many different factors contribute to the success or failure of business start-ups and young businesses. This requires relatively rich information about each case. The interviews comprise questions in the following general areas:

  • Classifying the business: What type of business is it in terms of industry, ownership, etc.
  • Activities and milestones: What activities have been undertaken in order to develop this business, and when? How do the founders go about doing certain things for this business?
  • The business idea or ‘business model’. What is new about this business compared to existing businesses? How is the business’ activities linked to the owner’s prior experience and education? What changes have been made to the business idea so far, and why?
  • Resources. What resources in terms of time, effort and money, etc. have been invested? What sources of finances and advice have been used? What resource advantages or disadvantages does the business have compared with other businesses?
  • Results, goals and future expectations. What has been achieved so far, and what are the expectations for the short and long term future?

View the detailed CAUSEE Questionnaires

Funding / Grants

  • Australian Research Council (ARC), National Australia Bank, BDO


Other Team Members

External collaborators