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Production of Knowledge Revisited. The Impact of Academic Spin-Offs on public research performance in Europe

Final Report Summary - PROKNOW (Production of Knowledge Revisited. The Impact of Academic Spin-Offs on public research performance in Europe)

The PROKNOW project aimed generally at re-conceptualising science-industry relations along the 'interactive model'. PROKNOW has brought the 'interactive model' to an area of research and policy which has been largely dominated by the 'linear model'. PROKNOW has analysed interactions between public research institutions and academic spin-offs. Closely looking at a limited number of cases, a broad definition of 'interaction' has been applied which includes flows of people (between both types of organisations), joint activities of knowledge production, and flows of monetary resources.

The project focused on links between two types of organisations, namely public research organisations and firms which originated from them. To explore these interactions, a matrix was developed which was divided into three basic dimensions: interaction in terms of people, in terms of joint activities of knowledge generation, and in terms of monetary resources. Following a common strategy of sampling, the consortium covered a variety of types, both on the side of spin-off companies, and on the side of parent institutes. More specifically, having decided to study only top concentrations of spin-off activities, the project has focused on a small number of (five) case studies (per country), embracing the areas of information technologies (IT), biotechnology and nanotechnology.

The research team deliberately skipped the usual format of case studies based on national perspectives and their respective (national) systems of innovation. The team refrained from delimiting their analyses to a certain type of research organisation. In that sense, a procedure that contributes to further denationalising the understanding of science policy was adopted. On the other hand, the project did not follow colleagues and fellow EU-funded researchers whose approach is very much based on distinctions between different types of spin-off companies. They suggest that research organisations (should further) develop a distinct spin-off strategy depending on different company types. By contrast, this project's analysis has given priority to interactions and left differences between company types in the background.

Public policy has often failed to create conditions under which companies do more research or spend more money on research. A large number of recent policies have been justified by referring to the interactive model. At some point, these initiatives seemed to add up to another spectre haunting Europe. Based on the findings of the project, scaling down political expectations attached to the interactive model is recommended. Two simple recommendations can be formulated. First, not to expect interaction (between academic spin-offs and their parent institutes) to result in higher research expenditures by private companies and a significant source of funding for research organisations. Second, not to expect high levels of interaction between both parties unless this has a rewarding effect for the immediate context of origin of the academic spin-offs. Research results recommend tightening the policy agenda with regard to economic and industrial policy goals: identify the few areas which are most likely to produce a financial return for parenting research organisations and provide for large incentives. In the line of the second recommendation, it should be considered to broaden the policy agenda with regard to science policy goals. Adjust any new action to foster interaction (between academic spinoffs and their parent institutes) to the particular institutional layout of the public research organisation.

It was not found that academic spin-offs deteriorate the quality of scientific work. But it cannot be concluded that, independent of the various forms of direct interaction between both parties, spin-off activities may have bad repercussions for science. Academic spin-offs should not be regarded as another possible solution to the problem of low private investment in research. If policy frameworks were designed to promote that solution, they are likely to create reverse effects. In order to encourage close interaction at the interface between academic spin-offs and their parent institutes, more attention needs to be given to the immediate context of origin of the spin-off firm.

Academic spin-offs can have a multitude of positive effects for parenting research institutes. Among the options to create conditions for good repercussions, the research findings suggest rewarding those who stay with research groups which have accompanied the creation of spin-off companies. Depersonalising the science industry interface presupposes that research groups (that stay at the research institute and accompany the creation of spin-off companies) are provided incentives, either financial or reputation - or both.

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