Assistant Professor

Charlene M. & Arthur Buerk Fellow ○ Sloan Industry Studies Fellow

University of Washington
Foster School of Business ○ Management & Organization Group
Box 353200 Seattle, WA 98195 ○ 206 685 2252







Sonali K. Shah is an Assistant Professor and Buerk Fellow at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business and a Fellow of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  She joined the University of Washington faculty in 2007. 

Her research examines how managers can harness the power and creativity of innovation communities to increase their organization’s chances of commercializing highly profitable and breakthrough products.  Innovation communities are composed of individuals who voluntarily come together to create new products and services outside the walls of firms and research institutions.  They are the source of important and frequent innovations in a number of industries - ranging from automobiles to software and medical devices to sports equipment.  She is currently studying the processes by which new products, markets, and industries emerge.  Her research is supported by grants from the Ewing Marion Kauffman and Alfred P. Sloan Foundations.

Dr. Shah has received numerous awards for her research, most notably an Alfred P. Sloan Industry Studies Foundation Fellowship (2008-2010), the Thought Leader Award from the Academy of Management (2008 and 2010), a Best Paper Award from the Kauffman Foundation (2010) and the Best Paper Prize from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (2006).  Her research has been published in Management Science, Organization Science, Research Policy, The Academy of Management Journal, and other journals. 

She designed the course “Innovation Strategy.”  The course attracts business, engineering, science, and medical students from across the university who are interested in tapping the numerous sources of innovation located outside of the firm.  She also teaches the capstone Strategy course in the undergraduate curriculum.  She previously taught courses in Organization Design and Technology Strategy.

Dr. Shah received her Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Prior to completing graduate school, she worked with technology clients at Morgan Stanley & Co. and at McKinsey & Co.  As a graduate student, she volunteered with the American Red Cross, focusing on issues related to refugee resettlement and education.  She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.S.E. in Biomedical Engineering and a B.S.E. in Economics from the Wharton School.  While a student, she competed in intercollegiate sailing, served as editor-in-chief of a literary magazine, and studied abroad at Stockholms Universitet in Sweden.  Her personal interests also include running, travelling, and eating (a true passion!). 





My research examines the social structures that support innovation and entrepreneurship.  My primary work examines the creation and maintenance of innovation communities that support the development and diffusion of new technologies in fields ranging from software to sports equipment to medical imaging devices; and the process by which innovations developed by users are commercialized.  I am also investigating the processes underlying the formation of new industries and product markets.


I am particularly interested in the process by which individuals outside of firms and research institutions access the resources and information they need to develop innovative ideas.  The assumption that for-profit firms and entrepreneurially-minded individuals are the primary sources of innovation runs deep.  However, as a key assumption, it limits our exploration and understanding of the innovation process.  Individuals outside of firms innovate frequently and are the source of important innovations in several product categories studied to date.  These individuals often work collaboratively in innovation communities, where they prototype novel products and receive assistance in developing their innovations from fellow community members.  Innovation-related information and assistance, as well as the innovations themselves, are freely shared within these communities.  Moreover, the actions of these innovators and their communities have seeded new firms and sometimes even new industries.


The goal of my research is to better understand (1) the complex motivations of the individuals involved in innovation communities,

(2) the nature of the collective processes they use to coordinate their actions and obtain resources, (3) how for-profit firms can work with and within innovation communities, and (4) the implications of community forms of innovation for intellectual property rights.  Such an understanding is critical to firms interested in tapping into external sources of new product ideas and to policy-makers seeking to support innovative activity.


Industries Studied: open source software, sporting goods, medical devices, agricultural biotechnology, disk drives






Creating a Context for Entrepreneurship: Examining How Users’ Technological & Organizational Innovations Set the Stage for Entrepreneurial Activity (with Cyrus C.M. Mody).  Cultural Commons. Editors: Brett Frischmann, Michael Madison and Katherine Strandburg. Oxford University Press. 2013


Do Innovative Users Generate More Useful Insights?  An Analysis of CVC Investments in the Medical Device Industry (with Sheryl Winston Smith).  Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal.  Forthcoming June 2013 (accepted May 2012)


When Do User Innovators Start Firms?  A Theory of User Entrepreneurship (with Mary Tripsas).  Revolutionizing Innovation: Users, Communities and Open Innovation.  MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.  2012


Who are User Entrepreneurs?  Findings on Innovation, Founder Characteristics & Firm Characteristics (with Sheryl Winston Smith & E.J. Reedy).  Kauffman Foundation Report.  Kauffman Foundation, Kansas City, MO.  February 2012


Individual & Opportunity Factors Influencing Job Creation in New Firms (with John Dencker and Marc Gruber).  Academy of Management Journal.  52(6), pp. 1125-1147.  2009

          Carolyn Dexter Award Finalist, Academy of Management. 2008

           • Thought Leader Award, Academy of Management.  2010


Pre-Entry Knowledge, Learning & the Survival of New Firms (with John Dencker & Marc Gruber).  Organization Science.  20(3), pp. 516-537.  2009.


The Accidental Entrepreneur: The Emergent & Collective Process of User Entrepreneurship (with Mary Tripsas).  Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal. 1(1), pp. 123-140. 2007

           • Thought Leader Award, Academy of Management.  2008


Motivation, Governance, and the Viability of Hybrid Forms in Open Source Software Development.  Management Science. 52(7), pp. 1000-1014.  2006

           • Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Industry Studies Best Paper Prize.  2006

           • William H. Newman Award Finalist, Academy of Management.  2004


Building Better Theory by Bridging the Quantitative-Qualitative Divide (with Kevin Corley).  Journal of Management Studies.  43(8), pp. 1821-1835.  2006


Open Beyond Software Open Sources 2, edited by Chris Dibona, Danese Cooper and Mark Stone.  O’Reilly Media, Sebastopol, CA.  pp. 339-360.  2005.  This paper discusses many examples of community-based innovations other than open source software development. 


How Communities Support Innovative Activities: An Exploration of Assistance and Sharing Among End-Users (with Nikolaus Franke).  Research Policy. 32(1), pp. 157-178.  2003



Individual, Organizational & Environmental Drivers of Job Creation in New Firms.  Proceedings of the 2008 Academy of Management Meeting in Anaheim, California (CD), ISSN (forthcoming).  2008


From Innovation to Firm Formation: Contributions by Sports Enthusiasts to the Windsurfing, Snowboarding & Skateboarding Industries.  Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Meeting of the International Sports Engineering Association.  2006


Understanding the Nature of Participation & Coordination in Open and Gated Source Software Development Communities.  Proceedings of the Sixty-third Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management (CD), ISSN 1543-8643.  2004


Effort of the Edge, Part 1: Does the JCP Adequately Balance Innovation with the Maintenance of Java's Standards? (with Frank Sommers).  JavaWorld, November 2002


Effort on the Edge, Part 2: A Fact-Based Analysis of the JCP's Effectiveness (with Frank Sommers) JavaWorld, January 2003


Article Summary: Open Source Software as Lead Users Make or Buy Decision: A Study of Open and Closed Source Quality.  Technological Innovation & Intellectual Property Newsletter, Fall 2002, issue 3



Community-Based Innovation & Product Development: Findings From Open Source Software and Consumer Sporting Goods.  Management. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 230.  2003






List of articles on mixed methods and qualitative methods assembled with Jean-Baptiste Litrico for a symposium at the 2008 AoM conference.  Not a complete list, but hopefully a useful starting point if you are thinking about doing mixed methods research!

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Industry Studies Program

Kauffman Foundation

MIT Open Source Research Community


Rajshree Agarwal, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Carliss Baldwin, Harvard Business School
Kevin Corley, Arizona State University
Roberto Fernandez, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Nik Franke, University of Vienna

Jim Herbsleb, Carnegie Mellon University

Cyrus Mody, Rice University

Mary Tripsas, Harvard Business School

Eric von Hippel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Patrick Wagstrom, Carnegie Mellon University





Places I Enjoyed Visiting
Family & Friends



Great places to volunteer
American Red Cross
Power Lunch




Boston & New England

Falmouth Road Race

Falmouth Marathon 
Boston Half-Marathon


Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon (perfect for runners who adore food and wine - a beautiful and fun course run right before Halloween!)


Seattle Rock n' Roll Marathon and Half

Lake Union 10K