The Journal of Technology Transfer

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 113–140 | Cite as

The contribution of university research to the growth of academic start-ups: an empirical analysis

  • Massimo G. Colombo
  • Diego D’Adda
  • Evila PivaEmail author


The aim of this paper is to analyze empirically under which circumstances the universities located in a geographical area contribute to the growth of a special category of local new technology-based firms (NTBFs), those established by academic personnel (academic start-ups, ASUs). We examine the effects of a series of characteristics of local universities on the growth rates of ASUs and we compare them with the effects of the same university characteristics on the growth of other (i.e., non-academic) NTBFs. In the empirical part of the paper, we estimate an augmented Gibrat law panel data model using a longitudinal dataset composed of 487 Italian NTBFs observed from 1994 to 2003. Out of these NTBFs 48 are ASUs. The results of the econometric estimates suggest that universities do influence the growth rates of local ASUs, while the effects on the growth rates of other NTBFs are negligible. In particular, the scientific quality of the research performed by universities has a positive effect on the growth rates of ASUs; conversely the commercial orientation of research has a negative effect. These results indicate that universities producing high-quality scientific research have a beneficial impact on the growth of local high-tech start-ups, but only if these firms are able to detect, absorb, and use this knowledge. In this perspective, a greater commercial orientation of university research leading to a reduction of the knowledge available for absorption by these companies, can be detrimental.


Academic start-ups New technology-based firms University research Growth 

JEL Classification

L25 M13 O30 



Support from the REBASPINOFF project promoted by the PRIME Network of Excellence, the PICO project (“Academic entrepreneurship, from knowledge creation to knowledge diffusion”, contract n°028928) sponsored by the Sixth Framework Programme, the FIRB 2003 fund, the PRIN 2006 project 2006132439_002 and a grant from Unicredit is gratefully acknowledged. The authors would like to thank E. Rasmussen, A. Hughes, the participants in the XX RENT conference, and two anonymous referees for their useful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Massimo G. Colombo
    • 1
  • Diego D’Adda
    • 1
  • Evila Piva
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Politecnico di Milano, Department of ManagementEconomics and Industrial EngineeringMilanItaly

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