The Sources of Competitive Advantage in University Spin-Offs: a Case Study

Marco Greco, Michele Grimaldi, Laura Scarabotti, Massimiliano Maria Schiraldi
2013 Journal of Technology Management & Innovation  
University Spin-Offs are incorporated to exploit the knowledge and skills achieved within Universities. Often, their competitive advantage is represented by specific know-how that may be hardly imitated by competitors. In this article we present an analysis of the intellectual capital assets owned by a University Spin-Off using a framework recently introduced in literature. The framework resorts to a series of structured interviews to key figures within the organization. The interviews are
more » ... interviews are synthesized through the Analytic Network Process and the results are compared using graphical and cost/ benefit analyses. The implementation of the framework creates a useful panel for the planning of investments in intellectual capital assets in order to create value. Moreover, it may emphasize possible discrepancies among interviewees about the importance of each intellectual capital asset. 140 preneurs lack those specific resources and skills needed to transform an academic idea into a market-ready product or process innovation (Vohora, Wright, and Lockett, 2004) . On the other hand, University Spin-Off companies presumably enjoy significant advantages in exploiting technological resources as they possess greater absorption capacity than their non-academic counterparts (Colombo, D'Adda and Piva, 2010). Moreover, the connection network, the credibility and the support structure of a University has been found to help University Spin-Offs develop new contacts and expand their social capital (Borges and Filion, 2013). Accordingly, the scientific background and "connectedness" of spin-off founders in the scientific community should facilitate the recognition of external knowledge flows, and their assimilation and application to commercial ends (Knockaert, Spithoven and Clarysse, 2010; Murray, 2004) . In addition, marginal returns on internal investments in R&D are likely to be higher for University Spin-Offs than for other innovative startups as a consequence of the technological specialization of their founders acquired in an academic setting (Colombo and Piva, 2008; Mustar, 1997) . On top of this, Abramo et al. (2012) showed that the spin-off founders are, on average, more productive than their academic colleagues; thus, in Universities, entrepreneurship and scientific research are definitively not in conflict. In literature, many theoretical methods are applied in order to examine the performance of University Spin-Offs. Cantner et al. (2010) applied a non-parametric method to compare the performance of University Spin-Offs with other innovative startups: the results show that University Spin-Offs have a higher innovative performance and a lower economic performance, and are able to obtain technological resources, financial resources and entrepreneurial human capital more easily. The resource-based view is widely used in academic literature to conceptualize spin-off performance (Gras et al., 2008; Powers and McDougall, 2005; Rothaermel, Agung and Jiang, 2007) and a recent meta-analytical review (Rosenbusch, Brinckmann and Bausch, 2011) confirmed that innovation drivers lead the performance evolution of these startups. Other theories that are used to analyze this research area are the social capital theory (Nahapiet and Ghoshal, 1998; Trott, Scholten, and Hartmann, 2008) , and the science-based design approach (Van Burg et al., 2008) . Brush et al. (2001) studied this problem and identified some categories of resources and capabilities that influence the development of small new companies. Brush et al. (2001) categorized several important resources into six different classes: technological, human, social, financial, organizational and physical capital (i.e. the availability of tangible resources such as scientific research equipment and facilities). Other models do not entirely take these six types of resources into account and seem to fail in generating a complete overview of the factors that determine spin-off performance (Salmador
doi:10.4067/s0718-27242013000400013 fatcat:7uhgaywkpfcg3mdauvgbjuih2a