During the past two decades there has been growing interest in the so-called “third mission” of universities – that is, the direct contribution of universities to social, technological and economic development, alongside their traditional teaching and research roles. Within the third mission framework, university-industry technology transfer (TT) emerges as one of the prominent goals (Goldstein, 2010). The pursuit of this goal involves different processes, tools and strategies aimed at transferring the research results obtained by universities to companies and to the market. Various TT strategies have been discussed in the extant literature (Festel, 2013), and increasing attention has been paid, in recent years, to the creation of a new type of venture, labelled as academic or university spin-offs, as a means of value generation from universities’ research.
University spin-offs can be defined as “companies founded by an academic inventor aiming to exploit technological knowledge that originated within a University to develop products or services” (Bigliardi et al., 2013). These companies are created to exploit the results of research conducted in academia and contribute to TT following a two-steps process: firstly, they transfer technology from their parent organisation to themselves and, secondly, they transfer the technology to customers. Moreover, they are considered important for economic growth because of their positive impact on the processes of technological change and economic development (Vincett, 2010).
Consequently, academic spin-offs are receiving growing interest from both researchers and policy-makers, and have been increasingly acknowledged as possible drivers of regional and national competitiveness in the global landscape (Di Gregorio and Shane, 2003). Their relevance is confirmed by the proliferation of studies on this topic. Most of the existing contributions deal with the characteristics of university systems (e.g. Mustar et al., 2008), their performance (Bigliardi et al., 2013), the effectiveness of TT offices, (e.g. Bigliardi et al., 2015), the presence of venture capitalists in the economic system (e.g. Clarysse et al., 2011), or with motivations, personality and intentions of the individual founders (Prodan and Drnovesk, 2010).
Notwithstanding, this topic has still to be fully explored, both at academic and policy level. In particular, empirical observations show that the majority of university spin-offs, especially in Europe, are and remain very small-sized enterprises (e.g. Mustar et al., 2008). U.S. evidence also suggests that on average, academic spin-offs do not perform as well as their non-academic counterparts (e.g. Ensley and Hmieleski, 2005). Therefore, it is important to identify the factors that limit the performance of this type of high-tech start-up. Moreover, the extant literature is almost all focused on the formation of these kinds of new ventures, while scant attention is paid to their growth.
Based on these premises, the aim of this special issue is to investigate more in depth the growth phase of a university spin-off life cycle, with particular emphasis on (but not limited to) the factors that limit their growth after establishment.
Suitable topics include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The factors hindering the growth of a university spin-off
- The networks in which the spin-off is involved during its growth
- The relationships with academia in the growth stage
- The role of the government for the growth of a university spin-off
- The location of the spin-off and its influence on its growth
- The relationship between financial aspects and the growth stage
- The influence of innovation strategy in the growth stage
Submission deadline: 31 March, 2016