Roepke Lecture in Economic Geography Venture Capital in the “Periphery”: The New Argonauts, Global Search, and Local Institution Building

  • Sabel C
  • Saxenian A
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This article examines the growing importance of global, or external, search networks that firms and other actors rely on to locate collaborators who can solve part of a problem they face or require part of a solution they may be able provide. We focus on the creation in emerging economies of venture capital—an institution that is organized to search systematically for, and foster the development of, firms and industries that can, in turn, collaborate in codesign. The article examines the case of Taiwan, where first-generation immigrant professionals from U.S. technology industries have collaborated with their home-country counterparts to develop the context for entrepreneurial development. It refers to the members of these networks as the new Argonauts, an allusion to the ancient Greek Jason and the Argo-nauts, who searched for the Golden Fleece. We also argue that the most significant contributions of these skilled professionals to their home countries are not direct transfers of technology or knowledge, but participation in external search and domestic institutional reform. The new Argonauts are ideally positioned to search beyond prevailing routines to identify opportunities for complementary “periph-eral” participation in the global economy and to work with public officials to adapt and redesign relevant institutions and firms in their native countries. They are, therefore, exemplary protagonists of “self-discovery”—the process by which an enterprise or entrepreneur determines which markets it can serve—and of a microlevel institutional reform that can, diffusing and cascading, ultimately produce wider structural transformations.

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  • Charles Sabel

  • AnnaLee Saxenian

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