Effects of Academic Incubators on Innovation

by Peter Klein

My paper on academic incubators, presented at SIOE in 2014 and forthcoming in the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, is featured in the current issue of Inside Higher Ed. Christos Kolympiris and I study the largest, most research-intensive US universities and find that after a university establishes an on-campus business incubator, the average quality of the university's patents, measured by forward citations and by licensing revenues, tends to fall. This challenges the conventional wisdom that business incubation and other activities designed to foster scientific discovery, technological innovation, and entrepreneurship are stritcly complementary. Indeed, as the Inside Higher Ed piece points out, many university administrators charged with fostering innovation and entrepreneurship are not very happy about this result. 

We don't claim to measure all the benefits of incubators, but we think the results call into question the current emphasis on commercialization, business creation, and economic development (and perhaps the STEM fields) at research universities. Perhaps universities do not have a comparative advantage in these activities, and would be better off sticking to their traditional missions of knowledge discovery and dissemination. Food for thought!