From Technology Commercialization to Social Innovation to Vinyl Records, Munshi Takes on Innovation

Dr. Natasha Munshi, Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at Saint Mary’s College, who studies technology lifecycles and evolution, finds the resurgence of vinyl intriguing—because it diverges from what has been known about the typical technology lifecycle.

Professor Natasha MunshiVinyl records have been experiencing a surprising resurgence in recent years. In 2007, the world celebrated the first “Record Store Day”, now held on a Saturday every April, to celebrate the culture of independently owned record stores. The day brings together fans, artists, and thousands of independent record stores across the world. Vinyl was dominant until the 1970s, followed by cassettes, which ruled into the 1980s. CDs then emerged, and by the 2000s, MP3 players and digital downloads started to dominate the market. However, despite newer technological reigns almost leading to the extinction of vinyl, vinyl has seen a surge in market demand.

Dr. Natasha Munshi, Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at Saint Mary’s College, who studies technology lifecycles and evolution, finds the resurgence of vinyl intriguing—because it diverges from what has been known about the typical technology lifecycle. The interest in vinyl, Munshi has discovered in her research, is mainly driven by micro segments of customer adoption, such as tech-savvy millennials, who became interested in this legacy technology just as the other digital and cloud-based technologies were starting to gain more traction.

“Vinyl went from being niche to market resurgence, capturing 10 percent of the market share. It has a growth rate that is parallel to some emerging technologies. This is not traditional. Who is driving this?” said Munshi, “Teenagers are buying vinyl—digital natives are now looking at vinyl records.”

In a research paper published in GSTF Digital Library called, “The Role of Demand-side Characteristics in Legacy Technology Evolution: How The Vinyl Record Got Its Groove Back,” Munshi and her student co-author at USI Lugano, Mirko Terrestre, ask the question, “What allows for an almost extinct dominant design technology to re-emerge after a period of decline in order to capture market share?” The paper explores demand-side factors that trigger a legacy technology’s life cycle resurgence. Munshi and Terrestre presented their research at conferences in Rome and Singapore, and are currently working on an article that addresses both the supply-side and demand-side conditions that play a role in the renewed market demand for a legacy technology.

Munshi wasn’t always interested in the business side of technological innovation. She actually started her career in cancer research, with a personal interest in this field of study. Munshi stated, “I started as a doctoral candidate working on breast cancer research in a clinical surgery laboratory, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 1992. In those early days I thought, ‘Hey I want to do this for a living.’ But I quickly realized that I was not bench scientist material.”

“So I went from looking at science from the perspective of a biomedical researcher to looking at science and technology from a business perspective. In the mid '90s, there was a transitory period in ivory tower research. Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and other well-known research schools were pushing for technology commercialization and moving away from research for the sake of research to application-driven research. This fascinated me. Scientists I knew were founding their own companies and had moved away from strictly academic backgrounds. In those early days, you could have one foot in each area, being both an entrepreneur and an academic scientist, as academic institutions were still trying to catch up and build critical mass for tech-based entrepreneurship. After working in clinical biochemistry in academia, I was lucky to have the opportunity to study this in depth in that early turbulent phase of academic tech commercialization, in my doctoral thesis in the management field,” Munshi said. She recently published an article in July 2017 in the Journal of Technological Forecasting and Social Change, with Professor Susan Cohen (University of Pittsburgh), which looks at how founders of new biotech startup ventures in Switzerland and USA, search for initial funding, as they transitioned from academia into the entrepreneurial space. This research on entrepreneurial traits, also ties with her interest in the qualities that drive innovation in organizations, as exemplified in her article entitled “The influence of leadership on innovation processes and activities” in Organizational Dynamics in 2009, with Professors Oke and Walumbwa (Arizona State), as well as an article on the divergent dimensions of creativity in Thinking Skills and Creativity, in 2011, with her former Wright State University colleagues, Professors Gruys and Dewett.

In addition to the strategic dimensions of innovation, Munshi also actively studies social innovation, where she looks into how innovative business models and disruptive technologies can be used to maximize societal good. In 2010, she was the guest editor of a special issue in the Journal of Asia-Pacific Business, which specifically focused on social entrepreneurship and innovation. In addition to a recent article with St. Mary’s colleagues, Professors Hadani and Clark that will be published in Business and Society Review this year, Munshi was awarded a research grant by the Elfenworks Center for Responsible Business for a collaborative research project that looks at how big data can be used for societal good, with Dr. Mukul Kumar, Chief Innovation Officer at Hult Business School.

In addition to her academic research on social issues, Munshi also consults with non-profit organizations that are looking for ways to engage in new product development, enter new markets, and expand their market base. She has worked with Jovid foundation in Washington, D.C., for example, a non-profit foundation that specifically funds grantees in the workforce development space, typically helping people who are underprivileged such as recent parolees, working mothers from low-income backgrounds, or anyone not otherwise benefitting from society.

"I came on as a lead pro-bono consultant to help Jovid and their grantee organizations devise a way to share their information, so they could have greater mission impact with their constituent base” said Munshi. One issue that she sees with non-profit organizations is that of a lack of recognition for their work. “One would offer a particular service and send it on to another for follow-up but the first agency was not getting credit for it. One thing my team and I helped them with was to be able create a database with Salesforce as a platform so that all the grantee organizations would be able to see who referred whom, giving them a more tangible record to show their funding agencies in terms of how many individuals they were able to help”. In other projects, Munshi also led a team of pro-bono consultants to help the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities (MFPD) with a strategic expansion project into new markets and consulted with the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, to develop a client acquisition and retention plan for the museum’s membership strategy.

Munshi has additionally been a Board member of Kid Power, a non-profit organization that helps K-12 children who are from underprivileged neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. “They had a pairing program with the best schools in D.C. For example, we had seniors from a middle school that Obama's kids went to—his kids were mentors, too. Our kids learned about science, art, sports, urban farming, and ultimately how to be social entrepreneurs, through a close mentorship experience with their student mentors.”  

Munshi first moved to the United States from India in 1992, after her B.Sc. in Zoology (with Honors) and Biochemistry, from a Jesuit University called Saint Xavier’s College, a well-known liberal arts and science college in Mumbai. She then received a Master of Combined Sciences from the University of Mississippi Medical Center and an MBA from Millsaps College, both in Jackson, Mississippi. She started her doctoral program at the University of Pittsburgh in 1999, graduating in 2003 with a PhD in Strategy, Environment, and Organization (SEO). After completing her doctoral studies, she first worked as a faculty member in the Strategy group at Cass Business School, City University of London, from 2003 to 2008. "I moved back to the US in 2008 to work at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio; in 2014, I moved to Saint Mary's to join the Management department here," said Munshi.

Working at Saint Mary’s has been a boon for Munshi and her passion for innovation as a way to transform business and society. Munshi explained, “How do I contribute to society and maximize societal good in truly innovative ways? Saint Mary's – because of its Lasallian, Catholic, and Liberal Arts mission - is the perfect avenue for bringing about such change.”