Proximity and Cooperation for Innovative Regional Development: The Case of the Science and Technology Park of Alentejo

Proximity and Cooperation for Innovative Regional Development: The Case of the Science and Technology Park of Alentejo

Maria Raquel Lucas (Universidade de Évora, Portugal), Conceição Rego (Universidade de Évora, Portugal), Carlos Vieira (Universidade de Évora, Portugal) and Isabel Vieira (Universidade de Évora, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1978-2.ch010
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Abstract

Entrepreneurship and innovation are multidimensional phenomena, with many interrelated determinants. Innovation is also frequently associated with scientific and technological research. Since innovative entrepreneurship is vital for the promotion of social and economic development, policy makers have for long nurtured potential synergies between universities and enterprises. In the context of wider strategies for regional development, the creation of Science and Technology Parks is one attempt to tackle societal challenges such as boosting competitiveness, job creation or the development of lagging regions. This chapter focuses on the only science and technology park located in the Portuguese region of Alentejo and is organized in five sections: introduction, survey of the literature on proximity and cooperation for innovation, Park description and analysis of a questionnaire developed to assess the effects of membership for resident firms, and a set of conclusions and implications on proximity and innovation for low density converging regions.
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Introduction

Entrepreneurship and innovation are multidimensional phenomena, with many individual and contextual determinants often thought of as being interrelated. Innovation is also frequently associated with scientific and technological research. Since innovative entrepreneurship is vital for the promotion of social and economic development, policy makers around the world have for long been nurturing potential synergies between universities and enterprises. In the context of wider strategies for regional development, public authorities have sponsored the creation of science and technology parks to help tackle societal challenges such as boosting competitiveness, creating jobs or fostering the development of lagging regions. Such parks are also a way of demonstrating that public investment in research developed by universities can be translated into valuable innovative uses. Universities, in turn, have been utilizing science and technology parks to foster the marketization of their research outputs, facilitating knowledge transfer and diversifying funding sources. The creation of science and technology parks is thus an attempt to institutionalize the mutually beneficial connections thought to exist between universities and entrepreneurs, and to link the research developed by academics and the innovative entrepreneurial environment required to climb the competitiveness ladder in knowledge-based societies. The link between the institutions that produce knowledge and companies, either in science and technology parks or via other mechanisms, is particularly relevant in regions of low economic and demographic density, as well as for small and medium-sized enterprises, which are more dependent on the external production of knowledge. Theoretically, these mechanisms for knowledge creation and transfer are strongly related, among others, with the perspectives of territorial development models known as triple helix and quadruple helix.

Science and technology parks first emerged in the United States of America (USA) in the 1950s, with the creation of the Stanford Research Park in 1951, and later progressively spread throughout the world. In Portugal, a country where European Union (EU) membership has not erased pre-existing regional asymmetries, the first science and technology park was established in the Lisbon region in 1992 (the Taguspark, in Oeiras). Today, the large majority of science and technology parks are situated north of the river Tagus, with the South having only three parks:

  • The Parque Tecnológico da Mutela/Almada,

  • The Centro Regional para Inovação do Algarve, and

  • The Parque Científico e Tecnológico do Alentejo (PCTA).

The last-named is the focus of our attention in this study. Established in 2011, the PCTA is the only science and technology park in the low density region of Alentejo. It was created in partnership with regional higher education institutions, but is endowed with physical and statutory autonomy.

Our study is organized in five sections. The introduction is followed in section two by a survey of the literature on proximity and cooperation for entrepreneurship and innovation, focusing on the relationships between firms and universities in science and technology parks. Section three presents our case study, the PCTA, and section four presents the results of a survey by questionnaire developed to assess the main effects of PCTA membership for the park’s firms. The last section concludes and draws some implications of proximity for innovation in low density converging regions.

In the fourth section, we examine the results of a survey by questionnaire conducted in 2015 by the PCTA on all its companies. The survey includes questions to characterize each firm in terms of:

  • Number,

  • Age and academic qualifications of employees,

  • Business volume,

  • Exports value,

  • Connection with the local higher education institution,

  • Payroll costs,

  • Direct and indirect taxes,

  • Investment in research and development, and

  • EU funding applications.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Entrepreneurship: Process that comprises the creation of new companies, new products, new jobs and new production processes, through which it is possible to achieve higher income levels.

Alentejo: Portuguese region (NUTS II) located in the south of the country, sharing borders with Spain and with the Portuguese regions (NUTS II) of Algarve, Área Metropolitana de Lisboa and Centro. Alentejo occupies a third of the Portuguese mainland and displays characteristics of a Low Density Region (cf. definition below).

Territorial Development: Processes to improve the quality of life. Better territorial development levels are strongly related to fewer asymmetries between regions’ level of development and therefore better levels of cohesion (economic, social and territorial).

Low Density Regions: Regions displaying low demographic density (population per square kilometer) as well as weak economic density (GDP per capita, economic developments levels), both below national and European levels. Low density regions often combine these characteristics with physical and relational distance to centers of decision-making.

Innovation: To innovate means to renew, create again. It is a feature which can take place at all stages of processes (be it at the productive and / or social level). The introduction of innovation in processes is the best way to promote efficient uses of resources and therefore improve results. Currently, innovation is often associated with scientific and technological changes and strongly related to knowledge, education and qualification.

Innovation Contexts: We talk about innovative contexts when referring to territories where innovative practices and processes are predominant. As an example of these contexts, we can refer to the case of Millieux Innovateurs or Learning Regions . In these cases, the proximity and interactions between companies and the other regional institutions are a resource that creates economic value. Innovative contexts are those that strengthen the contribution of intangible resources (proximity, relational capital, cooperation, learning), as a source of economic growth.

Science and Technology Parks: Places aimed at promoting fruitful links between companies and higher education institutions and particularly oriented to regional development. They are institutions that promote the transfer of knowledge and innovation on the basis of associations between knowledge institutions and small and medium enterprises (the most dependent on externally produced knowledge). They may also function as incubators for companies with an intense technological basis.

Entrepreneurial Contexts: The recognition, evaluation and pursuit of opportunities can be considered in diverse contexts, expressed in observable behavior such as founding an organization (profit or non-profit) or leading a project within an organization to pursue an opportunity. Entrepreneurship contexts are situational and vary across nations, regions and individuals, and over time. Environmental factors are especially important in fostering entrepreneurship and include culture, networks, access to capital, mobility and government policies. The entrepreneurial setting differs from corporate and bureaucratic contexts and entrepreneurial behavior may occur in small or large organizations (intrapreneurship).

Entrepreneurial Organizations: One of the main structures for organizing a business enterprise. Compared to other structures, where business processes are segmented into highly diversified departments, the entrepreneurial organization is generally unstructured, simple and flexible. It typically includes one large operational unit, with one or a few individuals in top management.

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