Strategies for Developing University Innovation Ecosystems


University of California, Irvine



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University of California, Irvine (UCI): UCI is listed in the 51-75 range of the ARWU engineering ranking, and #53 on the US News MBA ranking. UCI is not in the top 50 of the Forbes startup ranking. A search UCI’s website reveals The Cove, http://innovation.uci.edu, a centralized “entrepreneurial ecosystem under one roof”.
Diagram 2 – University of Michigan Innovation Ecosystem

Diagram 3 shows the above six UIEs placed on a matrix with the talent and organization attributes along the horizontal and vertical axes.


Diagram 3 – UIE Matrix of Talent & Organization

Interpretation of the above data starts with the realization that the top UIEs develop over many years – not just a few academic calendars. This fact is important in comparing, for example, the UIEs of MIT and UCI. The former has been developing over decades, while the latter is relatively young. With this multi-year process in mind, it is posited that the highest performing UIEs mature into decentralized ecosystems for the following four reasons.


1) Autonomy: Faculty and academic units at most top research universities have lots of autonomy. This is a source of academic excellence, but it also impedes imposing top-down organizational control. Accordingly, lots of UIE-related centralized administrative control is not practical at the top universities. For example, at many top universities such as UCB, the engineering and business units each have their own entrepreneurship-related academic programs, accelerators, clubs, competitions and mentor networks.
2) Dynamism: Technology and business are perpetually changing. Accordingly, high performing UIEs need to be dynamic. In other words, top UIEs have become successful through ongoing, decentralized experimentation and initiative. Those activities that succeed endure; and those that don’t pivot or shutdown. Too much top-down control can stifle this dynamism. An example of a UIE initiative that has dynamically pivoted is how the UCB business school’s competition program has evolved and rebranded itself from a business plan competition, to a startup competition, to its current format as a startup accelerator (called LAUNCH). Those changes follow the emergence of the lean startup conventional wisdom. An example of a top-down UIE initiative that failed is the East Bay Green Corridor. However, that failed program helped to spawn the successful Berkeley Startup Cluster.
3) Expertise & Guidance: Different technologies, markets and business models require different expertise and approaches for successful commercialization. For example, the commercialization expertise and approaches vary for biotech, cleantech, hardware, and software, etc. In comparison to centralized UIEs, decentralized UIEs (with lots of talent) are better at providing those varied resources. For example, in UCB’s decentralized (talent-filled) UIE, the QB3 institute provides resources that are optimized for commercializing biotech innovations; the CITRIS institute provides resources that are optimized for commercializing information technology; and the BECI institute, as well as the adjacent national lab’s Cyclotron Road program, provide resources that are optimized for commercializing cleantech innovations.
4) Private Sector: Most top-tier UIEs are located on campuses that are in close proximity to lots of innovation-related, private sector activities – such as venture capital firms, startup accelerators, and corporate R&D offices. This nearby private sector activity contributes to the campus’s innovation ecosystem. However, the university doesn’t control these private sector contributions, and accordingly they augment the decentralized nature of the UIE.




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