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The Role of Technology Policy in Incubating European New Technology-Based Firms

Aims & objectives

This project brought together researchers and practitioners from eight countries in the EU and Israel, to examine high-tech incubation and the role of universities and technology policy in promoting this. Incubation of new technology based firms is a particular focus of policy interest throughout Europe.  

The project aimed to develop a better understanding of the range and variety of initiatives, to promote better practice and to advise on policy. Work began with a preliminary review of incubation activities within each partner’s local sub-region. Following this an investigative framework was devised for studying schemes and mechanisms for supporting the creation of new technology based small firms in a range of types of organisations involved in research.  

These included universities, research institutes, embedded laboratories, and government and corporate research establishments.  Data was collected by means of face to face and telephone surveys from almost 60 organisations in 9 countries.  The other principal UK participating partner Nottingham University Business School, was undertaking a survey of University spin out activity throughout the UK.  A decision was taken therefore for the CBR to restrict its coverage of mainstream university organisations, to avoid duplication.  Within the Cambridge sub region the CBR examined a number of research institutes, the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and two private sector technical consultancies (one in conjunction with Professor Haour). 

Outside the Cambridge sub region we investigated two universities, a Medical School, QinetiQ (the privatised part of DERA Malvern) and undertook a more extensive case study of BT Brightstar (the corporate incubator of British Telecommunications plc based at Ipswich).  This case study included interviews with those managing research in BTexact Technologies, the promoters and managers of BT Brightstar and a number of the incubating companies. Covering a range of types of research organisations enabled the CBR to identify differences in the extent to which commercialisation of research through company creation was potentially facilitated or hindered.  In this context the study illustrated the importance of organisational culture, particularly in terms of the degree of autonomy given to individual researchers and the support for creativity per se and of reward and incentive structures. These findings were reported in a working paper addressing what were termed ‘pre-conception conditions’. 

Working papers

Clarysse, B, Lockett, A, Quince, T and Van de Velde E, (2002) ‘Spinning off New Ventures: A typology of facilitating services’, Working Paper No. 41 IWT Institute for the Promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders, Brussels, December 2002.

Quince, T. (2002) ‘Meet the Parents: The Importance of Pre-Conception Conditions in Facilitating High Technology Spin-Out Companies’, ESRC Centre for Business Research Working Paper No. 233.

Datasets created, software written

Using the UKBI (UK Business Incubators association) Directory, a preliminary database on over 100 schemes in the UK has been set up. This will be extended with the updated directory. The objective is to classify existing incubators according to ownership, objectives and provision of services.

Project leader

Hugh Whittaker

Research fellow

Thelma Quince

Research associates

Tim Minshall

Project status