Academic Entrepreneurship and Knowledge Transfer Networks: Translation Process and Boundary Organizations

Academic Entrepreneurship and Knowledge Transfer Networks: Translation Process and Boundary Organizations

Hugo Pinto (University of Coimbra, Portugal), Ana Rita Cruz (University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal) and Helena de Almeida (University of Algarve, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9567-2.ch015
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Abstract

This chapter underlines contributions that Science and Technology Studies (STS) can give to the analysis of the knowledge transfer process and academic entrepreneurship. The central objective of the chapter is to understand the challenges that an academic entrepreneur has to face to implement an innovative idea. To achieve this goal, the chapter presents two spin-off case studies from the Algarve region (Portugal). The case studies pay attention to academic entrepreneurship in the medical field (F1) and in eco-tourism (E1). It is given attention to the translation phases and to the network creation.
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Introduction

Today there is a major emphasis on university-industry relations. Universities are not only related its two traditional roles: the training of human capital through education and the generation of new knowledge through (basic) research. Today a third role of the university is recognised, the engagement with the community towards regional development (Molas-Gallart; Salter; Patel; Scott & Duran, 2002). Several theoretical frameworks are compatible with this idea of a new role of the university, such as the Mode 2 of Knowledge Production (Gibbons; Limoges; Nowotny; Schwartzman; Scott & Trow, 1994), the Triple Helix (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 1997) and the Regional Innovation Systems (Uyarra, 2009; Benneworth; Coenen; Moodysson & Asheim, 2009). This new mission lacks of an efficient and stable framework of relationships with the actors in their environment, particularly with firms. Initiatives such as the knowledge transfer offices (KTOs) try to create linkages between the academy and business, supporting spin-off and start-up creation, collaborative research projects, and industrial property rights registration and licensing. These new hybrid organizations gain new support schemes and instruments, from the regional scale to nation-wide initiatives or even at the international level. KTOs seem to have an important role in consolidating relations between researchers and entrepreneurs to ensure an alignment of interests, speeches and timings in order to promote an effective transfer of knowledge.

In this context, academic entrepreneurship has assumed a growing importance as a mechanism to promote employment and social cohesion and plays a central role in economic regeneration and competitiveness of the territories. In knowledge and technology intensive regions, the relation between academic entrepreneurship and regional development is clear. In territories where the main economic activities have less evident technological content, the role of universities may seem less relevant and academic entrepreneurship itself may be considered less critical.

This chapter underlines contributions that Science and Technology Studies (STS) can give to the analysis of the knowledge transfer process and academic entrepreneurship. The central objective of the chapter is to understand the challenges that an academic entrepreneur has to face to implement his innovative idea. To achieve this goal, the chapter presents two spin-off case-studies from the Algarve region (Portugal). The case studies pay attention to academic entrepreneurship in the medical field (F1) and in eco-tourism (E1). It is given attention to the translation phases and to the network creation. The Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) uses the idea of translation between different collectives to facilitate the understanding of the phases of the process, detecting what went well - and especially and often forgotten - what went wrong. Social Network Analysis (SNA) is briefly introduced to present the strength of this method to map social capital and knowledge relations.

The chapter is organised as follows. In the next section, knowledge transfer and academic entrepreneurship are briefly introduced, underlining the emergence of these notions as of crucial relevance as an inducer of economic dynamics. A second section regards the case studies. ANT is debated as a qualitative approach to study translation processes. The academic spin-offs are presented in terms of their innovative character, a chronology with the moments of translation until the stabilisation of the actor-network and its transformation in an obligatory passage point in their regional context. Firms’ social ties are represented using the SNA. The chapter closes with some conclusions and implications.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Boundary Object: Objects that are means of translation used to connect different social worlds. Boundary objects adapt to specific needs and constraints of different actors but assure a recognisable identity across sites. They may be abstract or concrete. The creation and management of boundary objects is crucial to create intersections of separate social worlds. In knowledge transfer, examples of boundary objects are business plans, contests of ideas or patents.

Academic Entrepreneur: An individual that starts an entrepreneurial venture based within the academic environment, using advanced knowledge created from scientific research. Usually it is considered the founder of an academic spin-off.

Actor-Network-Theory: An approach that emerged in Science and Technology Studies, stimulated by the contributions of Michel Callon, John Law and Bruno Latour, but that today is used to understand all types of processes where actors develop collective decision, creating new associations. ANT provides a reference framework to understand change and collective engagement from initial problem delimitation to the consolidation of a network. ANT is applied through qualitative methods, such as interviews, and ethnographic research, by following the actors in their quotidian context and activities.

University’s Third-Mission: It refers to an additional function of the universities in the context of knowledge society. The university is not only responsible for qualifying the human capital (Education – the first mission) and for producing new knowledge (Research – the second mission). Universities must engage with societal needs and market demands by linking the university’s activity with its own socio-economic context. Today universities develop their strategies around these three missions. Academics debate negative effects and the effective integration of these missions in a coherent institutional framework. Governments develop third mission policies allocating funding to this role while policy-makers and experts are implementing specific indicators.

Contest of Ideas: Initiatives based in competitions to transform ideas into businesses. Academic institutions and other relevant innovation actors promote regular contests to select ideas, provide training, business coaching, and capital to entrepreneurs.

Knowledge Transfer Office: An innovation intermediary that is created inside the academic organization to facilitate the implementation of transfer activities, namely the support to spin-off creation, patent protection and licensing and the search for demand of research results from the home organization. KTOs are today spread by universities all over the world and have created their own institutional cultures, professions, languages and networks.

Spin-Off: A firm which was born from another company, university or research centre either public or private, usually with the aim of exploring a new product or service. Academic spin-offs, born in the universities or other public research organizations, are the most frequent. Commonly, to be considered a university spin-off, the firm must be originated in the university, explore technological innovation, patents or knowledge obtained with research, be independent from the university, have commercial purposes, and must be formed by, at least, a university's member (student, faculty or employee).

Business Plan: The main document structuring a specific business project. It allows to present the idea and analyse its viability (in particular the financial and economic dimensions) and forms the basis for the dissemination of the project to third parties.

Start-Up: A young innovative firm that was born without a formal linkage to other existing companies or organizations. They are normally small businesses but with strong interest to the traditional industries by creating and developing new concepts and ideas.

Actor-Network: A macro-level entity, instigated by one or several translation enablers, that assembles a variety of individual and collective actors, humans and non-humans, engaged in common objectives and shared goals.

Triple Helix: Concept emerged in 1990s by Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff, interpreting the shift towards a growing overlapped relationship between the spheres of university-industry-government in the context of the knowledge society. The Triple Helix argument underlines that innovation and economic development depend on a more important role for the university and in the hybridisation of actors from university, industry and government to generate new institutional architectures for the generation, exchange and application of knowledge.

Social Network Analysis: It is a technique developed in sociology, social psychology and anthropology to study relational ties between social actors. The SNA seeks to understand through quantification methods the strength and centrality of nodes and links by providing a graphical illustration of the network structure.

Industrial Property Right: It is a right protected in law that regards inventive creation with potential industrial application. Patents, copyrights and trademarks are types of IPR. These rights provide monopolistic power to the inventor over the invention in a delimited period and geographical scope, enabling people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they have invented or created.

Knowledge Transfer: It is a complex process that regards the transmission and exchange of knowledge from a producer to a recipient. Today it is considered central to the capacity of a specific innovation system. Usually it is associated to the production of scientific knowledge by universities and other public research organizations and the sequential absorption by firms and the industrial fabric. This vision is being more contested because it assumes a linear perspective of innovation and a somewhat passive role of firms. Knowledge transfer is often connected to the commercialisation of knowledge and valorisation of research results, with spinning-off, patent exploitation and research contracting, yet it is not limited to these channels because informal mechanisms of transfer, as for example the graduate absorption by local firms, are very significant.

Network: A set of relationships, ties or links between nodes that represent economic actors, such as persons, firms, or organizations. Within a network relationships vary: in strength (acquaintances vs. intimate friends), in formalisation (contractual agreements vs. implicit understandings), in duration (short vs. long term), in direction (indirect vs. direct ties – friends of friends vs. friends), or in level (personal, corporate, national). Networks consist of strong and weak ties. The classical text of Granovetter suggests that weak ties are said to be crucial for diffusion of innovation by providing non-redundant information to the system. Actors vary in their centralities and linkages creating ‘structural holes’ or assuming the role of ‘gatekeepers’.

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