Strategies for Developing University Innovation Ecosystems:
An Analysis, Segmentation, and Strategic Framework
Based on Somewhat Non-Intuitive and Slightly Controversial Findings Mike Cohen
Director, Innovation Ecosystem Development
Office of Intellectual Property & Industry Research Alliances (IPIRA)
Abstract Universities have been increasingly viewed as catalysts for regional economic vitality – especially related to innovation, entrepreneurship and startups. Accordingly, many universities have been increasingly trying to establish robust innovation ecosystems that drive local economic development (which in turn, bolster university research and education programs). This paper describes an analysis, framework and strategies for developing robust university innovation ecosystems (UIEs). The paper’s analysis reveals the following somewhat non-intuitive or slightly controversial observations that are leveraged in developing ecosystem strategies:
(1) Organizational Structure: While (not surprisingly) people talent has the most significant influence on UIE performance, the highest performing ecosystems also have a high degree of decentralization because that maximizes dynamism, resources and expertise.
(2) Organizational Leadership: While high performing tech transfer offices are important to high performance UIEs, it’s optimal for a university’s academic units (i.e. business school, engineering college, and/or applied sciences programs) to take a UIE leadership role because in comparison to tech transfer offices, academic units can more readily, (a) integrate ecosystem programs into educational curriculum thereby increasing student experiential learning opportunities; and (b) leverage relationships with their alumni thereby increasing mentor and investor network opportunities.
(3) Innovation-Drain: Universities that aren’t located in proximity to private sector technology clusters incur ecosystem innovation-drain (because practically all of their entrepreneurial graduates and spinout companies relocate out of the ecosystem), and consequently, that makes it challenging for those universities to achieve the critical-mass of human talent necessary for a robust UIE.
(4) Innovation-Importing: In contrast to the meme that most universities have readily commercializable technologies “sitting on the shelf”, the top UIEs have a greater demand for readily commercializable technologies than those universities can supply (especially technologies that address important societal problems); and therefore, the top UIEs are able to effectively import innovations from other research institutions.