Is the Jack Ma trajectory unique? Assessing the place-based hypothesis on entrepreneurial success

Robyn Klingler-Vidra*, Steven Jiawei Hai, Ye Liu, Adam William Chalmers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


There is a widely-held belief that China’s high-performing entrepreneurs have been fueled by their transnational experience. Scholars have pointed to studying or working in the US, in particular, as a driver of their performance, while other researchers emphasize the ascent of place-based factors, such as the triple helix–the interaction of industry, government and academia–of leading cities as a bedrock for China’s entrepreneurship. In this paper, we examine the migration patterns of high-performing entrepreneurs, like Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, in order to test these competing hypotheses. To do so, we analyze the spatial mobility patterns of the founders of the Chinese high-growth companies that had raised at least US$1 billion in private equity funding as of March 2020. In contrast to the prevailing assumption that these high-performing entrepreneurs are returnees (e.g. Chinese entrepreneurs that lived abroad and returned to China), we find that, like Ma, this elite cohort are predominantly graduates with bachelor’s degrees from universities in urban coastal regions in China. Rather than transnational or location-based explanations, our findings point to sub-national migration patterns within China—to and within coastal urban areas—as more likely to drive entrepreneurial performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-442
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Small Business and Entrepreneurship
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • China
  • education
  • Entrepreneurship
  • institutions
  • migration


Dive into the research topics of 'Is the Jack Ma trajectory unique? Assessing the place-based hypothesis on entrepreneurial success'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this