Universities can assess the attributes of spin-offs in terms of: 1. the science and engineering base; 2. quality of research; 3. management’s commitment to spinoffs; and 4. the entrepreneurial culture within the university (O’Shea et al. 2007). These authors present a study of MIT, and suggest that some aspects of the case are relevant for others. They point out that spin-off firms have been the subject of scholarly inquiry in disparate frameworks; viz., an institutional view seeking explanation through groups norms and culture; a resource-based school; a socio-economic view; and study at the level of individual academic entrepreneurs. Analysis of the characteristics and outcomes of spin-offs can hardly be generalized; it must be case-specific.
Spectrum of entrepreneurial activity
The traditional linear notion of the innovation system conceives of the university as simply a repository of knowledge. The usual indicators of commercialization are spin-offs, licensing, and patents. By contrast, Philpott et al. (2011) describe the EU to comprise a spectrum of activities from the “hard” (i.e., less conventionally academic) to the “soft”. See Fig.1.
|Fig. 1: University Entrepreneurial Activity (after Philpott et al. 2011)|
|“Harder”||create tech park|
|patent and license|
|conduct industry training courses|
As the entrepreneurial phenomenon has evolved to a complex, interactive model (Bramwell & Wolfe, 2008), knowledge creation and technology transfer is seen to occur through a variety of interactions and networks.
See Fig. 2.
|Fig. 2: EU Activities of University of Waterloo (after Bramwell & Wolfe, 2008)|
|conduct basic research; generate commercializable knowledge; produce qualified research scientists||standard role|
|attract talent||adds to stock of tacit knowledge in the local economy|
|give formal and informal technical support;provide specialized expertise and facilities||supports firm- based R&D activities|
|act as conduit enabling firms to accessknowledge||firms benefit from ‘global pipelines’ of international academic research networks|
|function as ‘good community players’; facilitate tacit knowledge exchange among networks of innovative firms; act as ‘anchors of creativity’||supports firm formation and growth; sustains a virtuous cycle of talent attraction and retention|
|acts as intermediary in the Co-operativeEducation Program||facilitates the transfer of tacit knowledge between students and local and non-local ICT firms|
Challenges to university administrations: complex interactive activity for research
These functions are understood theoretically: “the adoption and diffusion of new knowledge by firms involves the transfer of both codified and tacit knowledge through a process of interactive and social learning.” In other words, firms themselves must participate in this grand project of learning and innovation by cooperating with universities, suppliers and customers.
“Intermediaries” are those who fill the crucial role of connecting the creators and end-users of knowledge. Since knowledge transfers are “mainly person-embodied”, intermediaries are individuals, but also can be “independent organizations, or functions within organizations” that operate at different scales. Universities themselves establish a base of activity that builds upon itself – “a virtuous cycle that underpins economic competitiveness” (Bramwell & Wolfe, 2008).
The authors’ pre-eminent example is the University of Waterloo, which shows “a multifaceted capacity for knowledge transfer to the local economy that supports local networks and flows of knowledge, and links them with global one.” Global connections, for example, can take many forms, such as “bilateral ties between individuals in related departments to complex multidisciplinary networks, twinning arrangements and institutional consortia” (Bramwell & Wolfe, 2008: 1183). Thus the authors illustrate through the Waterloo example the variety of knowledge creation and transfer mechanisms possible for the EU at the individual and organizational levels.
These descriptions underscore current challenges to innovation and research administrations. The reality is that building a research culture is an ad hoc affair needing careful stewardship, where many aspects are difficult to institutionalize, measure, and manage. In the next post, implementation and critique of the entrepreneurial university.