I am Yanzhao Lai, a PhD Candidate in Economics at The George Washington University.

I am on the job market and will be available for interviews at the 2019 ASSA Annual Meeting in Atlanta.

My current research interests include industrial organization, economics of technological change, innovation and entrepreneurship. My primary research focus is on university technology transfer, academic entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem, with secondary interests in innovations in the financial sector (Fintech).

Curriculum Vitae


  • Ph.D., Economics, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, 2019 (expected)

    Dissertation: Essays on Innovation and Entrepreneurship
    Committee: Professor Nicholas Vonortas (Chair), Professor Anupama Phene, Professor Roberto Samaniego

  • M.A., Economics, Boston University, Boston, MA, 2011
  • M.S., Mathematics, University of North Carolina, Wilmington, NC, 2009
  • B.A., Information and Computing Science, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China, 2007

Working Papers

The Relationship between University-Industry Interactions and University Scientific Productivity: Evidence from China, Job Market Paper


This study proposes an inter-temporal conceptual model to examine the effect of different types of university-industry (U-I) interaction – contract research and intellectual property (IP) transfer – on university scientific productivity. Based on the empirical analysis of 59 Chinese research-intensive universities from 2010 to 2015, this paper finds that contract research commissioned by industry has an inverted U-shaped effect on university research, whereas IP transfer has a negative effect on university scientific productivity, and university internal R&D intensity weakens the effect of university-industry interaction on university scientific productivity.

In light of the growing trend in government promotion of university interactions with industry, this paper sheds light on university technology policy and indicates that academic engagement and commercialization should be treated separately by policy makers. Academic engagements with industry spurs research performance but over-dependence or proximity with industry might distract university research agendas and cause a reallocation of academic effort across activities which leads to decrease in scientific productivity. Meanwhile, increasing academic commercialization was found to be detrimental to the accumulation of openly accessible knowledge. As a result, policies aimed at promoting academic commercialization risks sacrificing the long-term benefits of scientific inquiry for short-term economic benefits.

Regional Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in China, with Nicholas Vonortas,R&R Industrial and Corporate Change


The concept of the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem (EE) has drawn a lot of attention in the fields of entrepreneurship studies, economic geography and urban economics, and have recently gained popularity with policy decision makers. While a long list of factors that influences entrepreneurship, few studies have so far looked at entrepreneurship from a truly systemic and interdisciplinary perspective that identifies explicitly cause and effect. This study proposes a two-stage structural model for the entrepreneurial ecosystem which identifies the factors which directly or indirectly influence regional entrepreneurial activities.

We bring to bear a unique dataset in terms of size and composition, comprising of statistical information on various aspects of the entrepreneurial ecosystems of 263 Chinese prefecture-level municipalities from 2007 to 2015. The empirical results confirm our systemic modeling approach: human capital, knowledge creation and absorption, risk finance and market demand are the main factors in regional entrepreneurial ecosystems that promote local entrepreneurship directly. Moreover, presence of high growth firms in the region, startup companies, university graduates, as well as city openness are significant predictors of both the regional stock of human capital and knowledge creation. Risk finance is found to be strongly associated with the presence of high growth firms and startups. Last, but by no means least, the study also underscored the strong positive impact of universities on regional human capital and knowledge creation, thus indicating the crucial role of academic institutions in regional entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Do Peer Schools Affect University Patenting and Licensing: Evidence from China, with Nicholas Vonortas


This paper advances academic entrepreneurship studies by exploring how peer schools affect university patenting and licensing behaviors. The study argues that due to the competitive nature of the university environment, inter-university relationships are similar to inter-firm relationships and peer schools also have effect on each other’s entrepreneurial behavior such as university patenting and licensing behavior. Utilizing patenting information on 501 Chinese university between 2007 and 2015, our empirical results confirm that peer schools have positive effect on university patenting activities, and geographical and organizational proximity exert a stronger peer influence on the focal university patenting activities.

Returnee Academic Entrepreneurship in China, with Nicholas Vonortas


This paper aiming to understand the difference between returnee academics and non-returnee academics in terms of their innovation and entrepreneurial activities. Utilizing a panel data covering from 2007 to 2017 of 507 computer science faculties from 42 research-intensive universities in China, this study provides initial clues on how foreign educational backgrounds affect academics’ entrepreneurial activities. This study finds that academics with foreign educational background are more likely to involve into entrepreneurship, and returnee academics with a Ph.D. overseas are more likely to involve into entrepreneurship than returnee academics with only Postdoc experience overseas.

Working in Progress

Regional Innovation Ecosystem, with Jieshuang He (the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen)

Social Influence on Academic Entrepreneurship: The Effect of Geographical and Cognitive proximity

What Drives Students to Become Entrepreneurs? Classmates or Advisers

Self-Adaptive Quantitative System: three pre-conditions of AI application in automatic trading, with Min Peng (Institution of Artificial Intelligence, Wuhan university)