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Never mind the quality feel the width: University–industry links and government financial support for innovation in small high-technology businesses in the UK and the USA


In this paper we use a size and industry matched sample of over 1,900 UK and US businesses for the period 2004–05 in the manufacturing and business services sectors to analyse the relative “strength” of the university–industry ecosystems in which these firms operate in the two economies. Our analysis shows that in both countries universities per se play a quantitatively smaller role as a source of knowledge for business innovation than either the business sector itself or a variety of organisations intermediating between the university and business sectors. Our analysis reveals a much more diffuse university–industry ecosystem in the UK in which a higher proportion of businesses claim links external to themselves in their pursuit of knowledge for innovation and a higher proportion report directly connecting with universities. US firms are more likely to access knowledge through a combination of business and intermediary sources and are less likely to have established formal collaborative or partnership agreements in the 3 years prior to the survey. We also find, however, that a higher proportion of US firms place a very high value on the connections they have with universities and are much more likely to commit resources to support such innovation related university interactions. A similar pattern of diffuse but weaker links characterise the supply of public sector financial assistance for innovation in our sample firms. UK firms are more likely to be in receipt of assistance, but receive far less per firm in absolute terms and relative to their R&D expenditures. It appears that the UK university–industry ecosystem is characterised by a greater width than quality of interaction.

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The authors wish to acknowledge financial support from the Cambridge MIT Institute (CMI) for research underlying this paper and in particular Richard Lester their co-researcher on the CBR IPC Innovation Benchmarking Survey. Hughes also wishes to acknowledge financial support from EPSRC under award EP/E023614/1 which funds the EPSRC Integrated Knowledge Centre for Photonics and Electronics at Cambridge. They also acknowledge the helpful comments from seminar participants on previous versions of the material presented at the Science Policy Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex, at the Universities of Doshisha, Queensland, Sheffield, and the ANU Canberra and at the Manchester Statistical Society. They also wish to acknowledge the invaluable support of Anna Bullock and Isobel Milner in the preparation of the survey and survey database and to Anna Bullock for the data analysis in this paper.

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Cosh, A., Hughes, A. Never mind the quality feel the width: University–industry links and government financial support for innovation in small high-technology businesses in the UK and the USA. J Technol Transf 35, 66–91 (2010).

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  • Knowledge exchange
  • University–industry links
  • Innovation ecosystems
  • Innovation policy

JEL Classification

  • O31
  • O33
  • O38