Take Me Home, Country Roads: Return Migration and Platform-enabled Entrepreneurship


Prior research on mobility shows it to be a mechanism for knowledge transfer across countries and organizations, yet this focus neglects common patterns of domestic rural to urban migration. Despite the rise of digital platforms that connect rural businesses to urban customers, rural entrepreneurs still face hurdles in growing their businesses. In this study, we show that return mobility (the ability for rural migrants to return to their home regions) constitutes a crucial enabling factor for the performance of rural online businesses. We utilize a natural experiment involving a regional policy change, which reduced the barriers for rural migrants to return home in one Chinese province but not in others. We find that after the policy change, rural e-commerce businesses in the province that implemented the policy change enjoyed a 19% performance gain relative to those in other provinces. This study highlights the importance of return mobility in driving entrepreneurial performance and the heterogeneity in who benefits. It also presents a novel approach toward fostering entrepreneurship in underdeveloped regions: policymakers and digital platforms may work together to create a confluence of technology and talent in rural areas.

Speaker Biography

Chuck Eesley is an Associate Professor and W.M. Keck Foundation Faculty Scholar in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. As part of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, his research focuses on the role of the institutional and university environment in high-growth, technology entrepreneurship. His research focuses on rethinking how the educational and policy environment shapes the economic and entrepreneurial impact of university alumni. His field research spans China, Japan, Chile, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Thailand and Silicon Valley and has received awards from the Schulze Foundation, the Technical University of Munich, and the Kauffman Foundation. He is a faculty affiliate at the Stanford Center for International Development, the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Stanford King Center on Global Development. He is also a member of the Editorial Board for the Strategic Management Journal. Before coming to Stanford, Prof. Eesley completed his Ph.D. at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management.