UT alumnus writes Best Entrepreneurship PhD Thesis of 2016

Last week, Dr Arjan Frederiks received the “Heizer Doctoral Dissertation Award” for the best entrepreneurship PhD thesis of 2016.

Frederiks wrote his PhD thesis at the University of Twente and currently works as a lecturer at the University of Groningen Centre for Entrepreneurship. His PhD thesis is entitled “On the Use of Imagination by Entrepreneurs”. For the first time in history, this prestigious prize is awarded to a PhD thesis written at a Dutch university. 

In Frederiks’ PhD thesis, he deals with the use of imagination by entrepreneurs. His literature review shows that imagination in a business setting can be described by means of three processes: prospective thinking (future-oriented imagination), counterfactual thinking (imagination geared to finding alternatives), and perspective taking (mentally putting yourself in someone else’s place). In order to research the use of imagination, Frederiks started by interviewing high-tech entrepreneurs. Next, he analysed diaries that were completed every week by about two hundred start-up entrepreneurs from the Venture Lab.


In cooperation with the University of Groningen, experiments on the use of imagination by entrepreneurs were carried out. During these experiments, the participants were randomly divided into four groups. The first group was asked to build up different images of the future, the second group was asked to imagine an alternative situation, a third group was asked to put themselves in someone else’s place, while the last group (the control group) did a personality test. Then all four groups were asked to describe a business idea based on a description of a new technology that was the same for all groups. These business ideas were assessed by experts.


The most important outcome of the PhD thesis was that actively promoting and using prospective thinking (future-oriented imagination) is effective in coming up with higher quality business ideas. In addition, Frederiks concludes that counterfactual thinking (imagination geared to finding alternatives) is effective in developing strategies for start-up entrepreneurs.


Based on the research he carried out, Frederiks advises start-up entrepreneurs who are active in rapidly changing markets or industries (which makes information and knowledge only available to a limited extent) to form different ideas of how the future might be. His research shows that this will lead to higher quality business ideas and that these entrepreneurs are still operating as an entrepreneur after a longer period of time. In addition, generating multiple, different visions of the future helps entrepreneurs to obtain a more complete picture, which in turn helps them to be better prepared for what the future may have in store.

Tip for start-ups

As imagination plays an important part in the early stages of the entrepreneurial process, Frederiks advises entrepreneurial supporters such as incubators, coaches and trainers, to promote and facilitate the active use of imagination.

Future customers

Frederiks also advises entrepreneurs to frequently test their ideas with future customers in the early stages of the process. Entrepreneurs often possess a great deal of knowledge of their own technology, product or service. This knowledge makes it difficult to generate new images. By sharing these ideas with important stakeholders who have less knowledge, these stakeholders may help to generate images that are much more innovative than the entrepreneur’s own images.  

Frederiks carried out his research at the Netherlands Institute for Knowledge-intensive Entrepreneurship (NIKOS) of the University of Twente. The supervisors were Aard Groen, Professor of Entrepreneurship (University of Groningen and University of Twente), and Michel Ehrenhard, Senior Lecturer of Entrepreneurial Leadership (University of Twente, NIKOS).

Academy of Management (AoM)

The Academy of Management (AoM) Entrepreneurship Division awarded the prize during this year’s Annual Meeting that was held in Atlanta (United States). The AoM is the pre-eminent professional association for management scholars worldwide, and the Entrepreneurship Division is a world leader in the field of entrepreneurship. The award is made possible by Heizer Capital and the Heizer family.

Janneke van den Elshout
Press relations (available Mon-Fri)