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Incubating at universities: Bridging the culture gap

by Nanette Kalis

June 2000

The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 marked the moment when universities could finally lay claim to the innovations developed within their environs. In the wake of this groundbreaking legislation, the technology transfer movement within higher education was born. To some it was a superb, new way to generate revenue and polish the school’s reputation. To others it was an oxymoron, a dichotomy, a flat-out bad idea.

Universities are ideally suited to education and research. Partnering with businesses, developing portfolios and deal-making with corporations ran up against those dearly held missions.

The draw was too strong, however, and universities not only kicked technology transfer engines into gear, they went beyond. Realizing that merely transferring technology to established, large corporations was not always the best vehicle for bringing early-stage technologies to the market, they began technology commercialization efforts and went on to set up business incubation programs. They plunged headlong into new company formation.

One piece of research summed up best the factors that lead one university to be better than another at incubation and tech commercialization. Benchmarking Best Practices for University-Industry Technology Transfer: Working with Startup Companies (1995) came from the Southern Technology Council (STC), a division of the Southern Growth Policies Board. It listed success factors in technology commercialization that hold true today. These factors run the gamut from formal, stated policies to more intangible – and informal – attitudes that promote entrepreneurship among faculty, students and community members. The various factors have the combined effect of overcoming the cultural gaps discussed earlier – of bridging the chasm between academia and entrepreneurship. Below are the success factors and examples of how universities have put them to work.

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Keywords: technology commercialization, special-focus incubator, specialized equipment/facilities, technology commercialization, technology incubator, university partnerships

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