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Study suggests that university incubators may impair innovation quality


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 19th, 2017

Even the authors admit they were surprised by their findings: that incubators, by draining resources from other university departments and offices, can impair the overall quality of university innovations.

“After research-intensive U.S. universities establish incubators, the quality of university innovations, which we measure by patents, drops,” they assert in their article, “The Effects of Academic Incubators on University Innovation,” published in Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal. They also found that licensing revenues can decline following the establishment of an incubator.

“Universities have resource constraints; they can’t fund all they want to fund,” notes co-author and Baylor University Entrepreneurship Professor Peter G. Klein, PhD. “If you have an incubator, you have less for others, like the TTO, the physics lab, scholarships, fewer positions for other personnel like those in the TTO, or other R&D facilities that could also lead to patentable innovations.”

“In most cases incubators’ tenants exploit facilities already in place at the university,” adds Christos Kolympiris, PhD, University of Bath Innovation and Entrepreneurship Associate Professor and Klein’s coauthor. “Before the incubator, only scientists could use the facilities, and now they are shared. Also for personnel devoted to these types of jobs there is less attention from administrators, and so on.”

Naturally, their findings have drawn a quick response from tech transfer executives and research leaders, who question among other things the choice of patents and licenses as appropriate measurements. For example, they note that universities with incubators have generally more mature and established commercialization programs, and are thus more selective in their patenting. They also note that incubators have a number of benefits beyond innovation, such as economic development.

Kolympiris does not dispute that. “We’re not saying stay away from incubators, but you have to take into account that there can be bad impacts,” he says. “If there was one message [from the study], it’s that [incubators] compete for resources and it’s very difficult to measure their overall effect.”

A detailed article on the study and reaction to it appears in the April issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, as well as the publication’s 10-year archive of best practices and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.

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