Howell, Sabrina, Lee, Henry, and Heal, Adam. 2014. Leapfrogging or Stalling Out? Electric Vehicles in China. Discussion Paper, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School.

Howell, Sabrina. 2013. Pathways for Reducing Oil Consumption in the U.S. Carbon War Room & Fuel Freedom Foundation Research Report.

Howell, Sabrina. 2009. “Jia You! (Add Oil!): Chinese Energy Security Strategy.” In Luft, Gal and Anne Korin, eds. Energy Security Challenges for the 21 Century. California: Praeger Publishing.

Smith, Anne E. and Sabrina Howell. 2009. “An Assessment of the Robustness of Visual Air Quality Preference Study Results.” Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (EPA CASAC) Particulate Matter Review, Public Comments, March 30.


Reducing Information Frictions in Venture Capital: The Role of New Venture Competitions.”​

Forthcoming at the The Journal of Financial Economics.


Venture capital, an important source of financing for potentially high-growth new businesses, is believed to suffer from information frictions. This paper quantifies the magnitude of these frictions among participants in new venture competitions. In a regression discontinuity design with data from 87 competitions, winning a round increases the chances of external financing by about 35 percent. Winning is most impactful for ventures ranked just above the cutoff but that receive no cash prize, and judge ranks strongly predict venture success. The results indicate that information problems in new venture finance are large, and competitions can help resolve them through certification.

Sabrina T. Howell

"Innovation Investment and Labor Mobility: Employee Entrepreneurship from Corporate R&D." With Tania Babina.

This paper studies how corporate research and development (R&D) investment affects labor mobility. We use employer-employee matched data in ordinary least squares and instrumental variables analyses to assess four hypotheses. R&D has no effect on worker retention, exit from employment, or mobility to incumbent firms. Instead, it increases employee departures to entrepreneurship, leading employees to join the founding teams of startups that are venture capital-backed, high tech, high wage, and in different sectors than the parent firm. These high-growth, high-risk startups emerging from R&D benefit from a focused, standalone incentive structure and have poor complementarities to the parent firm’s assets. 


Featured in: 

Verkhivker, Alex. 2018. "How delaying IPOs has a big and lasting effect." Chicago Booth Review, March 14. 

I am an Assistant Professor of Finance at NYU's Stern School of Business, and a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). My research and teaching focus on entrepreneurial finance, innovation, fintech, energy, and China.

Please click on the underlined titles below for PDF files. 

Howell, Sabrina T. “Financing Innovation: Evidence from R&D Grants.” The American Economic Review  107 (4) 2017, 1136-64. [Journal website.]


Governments regularly subsidize new ventures to spur innovation. This paper conducts the first large-sample, quasi-experimental evaluation of R&D subsidies. I use data on ranked applicants to the U.S. Department of Energy’s SBIR grant program. An early stage award approximately doubles the probability that a firm receives subsequent venture capital and has large, positive impacts on patenting and revenue. These effects are stronger for more financially constrained firms. Certification, where the award contains information about firm quality, likely does not explain the grant effect. Instead, the grants are useful because they fund technology prototyping. 

"Learning from Feedback: Evidence from New Ventures 


This paper studies how early stage entrepreneurs learn about the quality of their ventures. I assess the effect of negative feedback on abandonment using application and judging data from 87 new venture competitions, 34 of which privately informed founders of their relative rank. I use a difference-in-differences design and matching estimators to compare lower and higher ranked losers, across competitions in which they did and did not observe their standing. Receiving negative feedback increased venture abandonment by about 13 percent. The effect occurs quickly, doubles among women founders, and increases with signal precision. It decreases with venture maturity and riskiness.

"Networking Frictions in Venture Capital, and the Gender Gap in Entrepreneurship."  With Ramana Nanda.

Exploiting random assignment of judges to panels at Harvard Business School’s New Venture Competition (NVC) between 2000 and 2015, we find that exposure to more venture capitalist (VC) judges increases male participants’ chances of starting a VC-backed startup after HBS much more than this exposure increases female participants’ chances. A survey suggests this is in part because male participants more often proactively reach out to VC judges after the NVC. Our results suggest that networking frictions are an important reason men benefit more than women from exposure to VCs. Such frictions can help explain part of the gender gap in entrepreneurship, and also have implications for how to design networking opportunities to facilitate financing of the best (rather than just the best networked) ideas.

Featured in: 

Berman, Jillian. 2018. "When private equity firms buy colleges, students often pay more." Sept 7. 

Segal, Julie. 2018. "When Private Equity Wins and Consumers Lose." The Institutional Investor, Sept 4.

"IPO Intervention and Innovation: Evidence from China.” With Lin William Cong.

Public equity is an important source of risk capital, especially in China. The Chinese government has occasionally suspended IPOs, exposing firms already approved to IPO to indeterminate listing delays. The temporary bar on going public curtails the firm’s timely access to equity capital and increases uncertainty. We show that suspension-induced delay reduces the firm’s innovation activity both during the delay and for years after listing. The effects seem best explained by financial constraints and uncertainty. Our results suggest that corporate innovation is cumulative, and indicate that predictable, well-functioning IPO markets are important for firm value creation through innovation. 

​Minsk, Ronald E., Sam P. Ori, and Sabrina Howell. Plugging Cars into the Grid: Why the Government Should Make a Choice.Energy Law Journal 30(2), 2009. [Journal website.]​​

"When Investor Incentives and Consumer Interests Diverge: Private Equity in Higher Education." With Charlie Eaton and Constantine Yannelis. 2019.

Conditionally accepted at the Review of Financial Studies.

Best Paper Prize at the 2018 UNC Private Equity Research Council Annual Symposium 


This paper studies how private equity buyouts create value in higher education, a sector with opaque product quality and intense government subsidy. With novel data on 88 private equity deals involving 994 schools, we show that buyouts lead to higher tuition and per-student debt. Exploiting loan limit increases, we find that private equity-owned schools better capture government aid. After buyouts, we observe lower education inputs, graduation rates, loan repayment rates, and earnings among graduates. Neither school selection nor student body changes fully explain the results. The results indicate that in a subsidized industry maximizing value may not improve consumer outcomes. 


Assistant Professor of Finance

​NYU Stern School of Business

"Initial Coin Offerings: Financing Growth with Cryptocurrency Token Sales." With Marina Niessner and David Yermack. 2019.

R&R at the Review of Financial Studies.


Initial coin offerings (ICOs) have emerged as a new mechanism for entrepreneurial finance, with parallels to initial public offerings, venture capital, and pre-sale crowdfunding. In a sample of more than 1,500 ICOs that collectively raise $12.9 billion, we examine which issuer and ICO characteristics predict success, measured using real outcomes (employment and issuer failure) and financial outcomes (token liquidity and volume). Success is associated with disclosure, credible commitment to the project, and quality signals. An instrumental variables analysis finds that ICO token exchange listing causes higher future employment, indicating that access to liquidity has important real consequences for the enterprise. 

Featured in: 
Council on Foreign Relations. 2015. "Keeping the Edge: U.S. Innovation." Report.

Smith, Noah. 2015. "Angel Investing, Government Style." Bloomberg. July 9. 

​Pethokoukis, James. 2015. "Uncle Sam, angel investor?" AEIdeas, July 15. 
Davis, Lucas. 2015. "How Should We Design Government Policies to Stimulate Innovation?" Haas Energy Institute. March 23.

Gill, Dee. 2015. "Small, Early Stage R&D Grants to Energy Startups have Large Impact." Chicago Booth Daily Data. February 2.
Howell, Sabrina. 2014.  "The Impact of Government Grants in the Clean Energy Sector." Cleantech Group. January 9.  

"Firm Type Variation in the Cost of Risk Management.


This paper explores whether and why private and public firms experience different costs of risk management. I exploit a natural experiment in highway procurement, which features diverse firms with common exposure to commodity risk. The Kansas government began to insure highway-paving firms against oil price risk in 2006. With a difference-in-differences design using data from 1998 to 2012, I evaluate the policy’s effect in Kansas relative to Iowa, which never introduced such a policy. A first step shows that the policy reduced procurement costs, increased competition, and reduced bid sensitivity to oil price volatility. This permits examining which firms exhibit more risk pass-through. I find the most pass-through among private firms with high credit risk and low industry diversification, and no pass-through for public firms. Family-owned firms do not have a higher cost of risk. Financial constraints and distress costs appear to best explain the cost of risk management, rather than risk aversion, information, or agency problems. 

Howell, Sabrina T. “Joint Ventures and Technology Adoption: A Chinese Industrial Policy that Backfired.” Research Policy  47(8), 2018. [Journal website.]


To spur technology transfer, emerging market policymakers often require foreign firms to form joint ventures (JVs) with domestic firms. Through knowledge spillovers, JVs may reduce technology acquisition costs for domestic firms. Yet domestic firm rents from JVs could discourage innovation through a cannibalization effect. Which force dominates is an empirical question. I address it with novel data on China’s auto sector. In response to fuel economy standards requiring firms to upgrade technology or sacrifice quality, firms with JVs reduced quality and price relative to their counterparts. Consistent with cannibalization, firms with JVs drive the negative effect.