In the entrepreneurial economy of today, it is not the multinational firms which are the predominant driver in the creation of new knowledge, but the individual entrepreneur. Correspondingly, new ventures of small size are leading in commercializing new knowledge and transferring it to the market. This economic shift has been reflected by broad entrepreneurship policies, which aim at supporting the individual on the challenge of a high-growth start-up. However, prior experience shows that uniform entrepreneurship policies do not address the individual needs in different countries and ecosystems adequately. In this paper, we study the performance of academic spin-offs that received public funding from the German EXIST Business Start-Up Grant, a support program which aims at increasing the number of innovative start-ups from academia. Using a control group matching approach, we provide evidence that these start-ups are smaller by two full time equivalent employees, generate 1.7 times higher losses and have a nearly three times lower return on capital than science-based entrepreneurial firms with comparable characteristics in the first 5 years after foundation. We interpret these results to be primarily caused by the inferior financial contracting structure of the program compared to private venture capital funding and by the resulting adverse selection and incentive effects on the entrepreneurs. The evidence calls for rethinking public interventions in a national system of entrepreneurship.
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The risk capital variable captures informal investment in start-ups and institutional venture capital. The process innovation component measures the use of new technologies by start-ups combined with the Gross Domestic Expenditure on Research and Development. The third variable reflects the perception of start-up skills in society and combines it with the level of human capital available for entrepreneurial endeavors.
In Germany, the survival rate of start-ups after 6 years is below 60 % on average (acc. to Mannheim Enterprise Panel, see Bersch et al. 2014).
On average, EXIST-firms are founded by 2.62 persons. Only 2 % of the firms are founded by one scholar.
A firm is defined as innovative if it conducts R&D or introduced a new product or process. Government-funded are those firms which received financial support by a governmental institution (employment office, federal states, councils, KfW, EU, and others.) Both variables come from the Mannheim Start-up Panel.
Further restriction criteria for all model variants in the following are: team start-up, incorporation (GmbH or GmbH and Co. KG) and at least one founder with university degree as described in Sect. 5.
The observed absolute failure rate of nearly 4 % is rather low but similar to other findings (Djokovic and Souitaris 2008).
See the definition in the corresponding notes of Table 2.
The first goal of EXIST is the enduring establishment of an entrepreneurial culture in teaching, research and administration at universities (Kulicke 2014).
Statistics are taken from the European Private Equity and Venture Capital Association.
Even when matching EXIST-firms with similar control group firms, EXIST-firms’ probability of receiving VC is significantly higher.
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Ayoub, M.R., Gottschalk, S. & Müller, B. Impact of public seed-funding on academic spin-offs. J Technol Transf 42, 1100–1124 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10961-016-9476-5
- Academic spin-off
- Economic policy
- Technology transfer
- Venture capital