Alison Wood Brooks of the Harvard Business School; Laura Huang of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; Sarah Wood Kearney and Fiona E. Murray of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School said in the earliest stages of start-up business creation, the matching of entrepreneurial ventures to investors is critically important.
The entrepreneur's business proposition and previous experience are regarded as the main criteria for investment decisions, the researchers said.
However, the researchers said they documented other critical criteria that investors use to make these decisions -- namely attractiveness.
The researchers had men and women deliver the same pitches to investors via video and tape recordings.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found investors preferred pitches presented by male entrepreneurs via video recordings compared with pitches made by female entrepreneurs, even when the content of the pitch was the same. However, the men the investors considered good looking were more effective in their pitches than the men deemed unattractive. There was no difference for women.
The study also found the investment pitches delivered by recordings were considered more persuasive and fact-backed when delivered by men -- even though the pitches were identical to those of the women.
"Investors preferred pitches presented by male entrepreneurs compared with pitches made by female entrepreneurs, even when the content of the pitch is the same," the researchers wrote in the study.
"This effect is moderated by male physical attractiveness: attractive males were particularly persuasive, whereas physical attractiveness did not matter among female entrepreneurs. We identified a profound and consistent gender gap in entrepreneurship, a central path to job creation, economic growth and prosperity."