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Who is the academic entrepreneur? The role of graduate students in the development of university spinoffs

Abstract

Academic entrepreneurship, the establishment of new companies based on technologies derived from university research, is a well-recognized driver of regional and national economic development. For more than a decade, scholars have conceptualized individual university faculty as the primary agents of academic entrepreneurship. Recent research suggests that graduate students also play a critical role in the establishment and early development of university spinoff companies, but the nature of their involvement through the entrepreneurial process is not yet fully understood. Employing a case study approach, this paper investigates the role of graduate students in early-stage university spinoff companies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We find that graduate students play role similar to that of individual faculty entrepreneurs in university spinoffs, both in terms of making the initial establishment decision and in reconfiguring the organization for marketable technology development. We also find that student entrepreneurs face unique challenges involving conflicts with faculty advisors and other students.

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Notes

  1. As of January 1, 2016, Google Scholar shows that lists Shane’s (2004) book Academic Entrepreneurship with 1366 citations.

  2. See Bradley et al. (2013a) for a detailed discussion of the emergence of the patent-centric, linear model of technology transfer among most research universities within the United States. In practical terms, this means that most university faculty are subject to similar technology disclosure and management processes, typically articulated within their employment contracts. This also helps explains the emphasis on licensed technologies, a characteristic that is relatively easy to capture as opposed to other forms of entrepreneurship (e.g. Fini et al. 2010).

  3. Theoretical sampling introduces deductive thinking into the study (Eisenhardt 1989). Decisions about which data should be collected next were determined by the insights revealed in the present case; collected data guided the selection of the next case in order to maximize empirical heterogeneity, an important consideration for early theory-building efforts (Creswell 2003).

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Correspondence to Roman Lubynsky.

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Hayter, C.S., Lubynsky, R. & Maroulis, S. Who is the academic entrepreneur? The role of graduate students in the development of university spinoffs. J Technol Transf 42, 1237–1254 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10961-016-9470-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10961-016-9470-y

Keywords

  • Academic entrepreneurship
  • Student entrepreneurship
  • University spinoffs
  • Technology transfer

JEL Classification

  • L26
  • M13
  • O31
  • O32