Strategies for Developing University Innovation Ecosystems

Quadrant D – Moderate Talent | High Decentralization

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Quadrant D – Moderate Talent | High Decentralization: UIEs in this position generally have weak ecosystems. Consequently, their best strategy is to coalesce their decentralized activities into a centralized and augmented ecosystem under a flagship program. The flagship program can then help attract and retain innovative and entrepreneurial students, faculty and staff. Under this approach the UIE tries to move counter-clockwise from quadrant D, to C, then B, and finally A. These UIEs could also be improved by directing their admissions offices to accept more entrepreneurial students.
Ecosystem Innovation-Drain: Universities in quadrant C or D (moderate talent) that aren’t located in proximity to a private sector technology cluster could find it challenging to achieve the critical-mass of talent necessary for a robust UIE. The reason is that these universities are annually incurring massive ecosystem innovation-drain because practically all of their entrepreneurial graduates and spinout companies move to a technology cluster (far from the university). Moreover, many of these departing students exit with know-how for commercializing technologies developed at the university.
Ecosystem innovation-drain occurs at five Ivy League universities on the Forbes startup schools ranking: Brown (#7), Princeton (#8), Dartmouth (#9), Yale (#11), and Penn (#39). This is a long-term strategic problem for those universities. For years, this innovation-drain was also occurring at UCB because many of its entrepreneurial graduates and spinout companies were locating about an hour south in the heart of Silicon Valley. However, in the past half decade, an increasing number of these students and startups are locating in the Berkeley Startup Cluster (adjacent to the campus), or only a short BART ride away in San Francisco and Oakland. That trend correlates with rapid growth of UCB’s innovation ecosystem.
Universities that have massive innovation-drain and can’t develop a local technology cluster (because the intrinsic attributes of the campus location aren’t conducive to tech clusters), should consider opening a branch campus in a location that is already a tech cluster. This branching strategy is discussed in this paper: The Strategic Value of a University’s Hyper-Local Innovation Ecosystem: Grow, Branch or Envy . This branching is exemplified by the following: Ithaca-based Cornell’s (#4 on the Forbes ranking) new $350 million graduate engineering campus in New York City; Pittsburg-based CMU’s (#31 on the Forbes ranking) growing campus in Mountain View (Silicon Valley); and Philadelphia-based Penn’s impressive campus for its Wharton Business School in San Francisco.

Robust university innovation ecosystems are highly desirable because they drive regional economic vitality – and that vitality in turn bolsters a university’s education and research mission. Four attributes that drive ecosystem performance are, (1) high levels of faculty, student and staff entrepreneurship-related talent; (2) decentralized, dynamic and diversified entrepreneurship-related programs, (3) local, private sector technology clusters that help keep entrepreneurial graduates and spin-out companies in a university’s ecosystem, thereby contributing to a critical-mass of human talent in the ecosystem, and (4) importing of innovations from other research institutions in order to augment the supply of (and meet the high demand for) readily commercializable technologies. These realizations can help universities with their ecosystem development strategies.

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