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Student Entrepreneurs Critical to Commercializing University Startups, Kauffman Study Shows

Student Entrepreneurs Critical to Commercializing University Startups, Kauffman Study Shows

Business incubation at universities requires more than a capable technology transfer office

(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) Aug. 6, 2012 — Graduate and post-doctoral students are critical participants in university commercialization efforts, according to a study released today by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. “University Technology Transfer through Entrepreneurship: Faculty and Students in Spinoffs” examines students’ roles in university startups and compares the functions and responsibilities of faculty, entrepreneurs and students in successfully moving university innovations to market.  

The authors, Wai Fong Boh (Nanyang Technological University), Uzi De-Haan (Technion – Israel Institute of Technology), and Robert Strom (Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation) analyze four to eight cases of technology commercialization attempts by faculty and students at each of eight major U.S. institutions.* They conclude that four primary pathways lead to spinoff development.

A partnership between faculty and an experienced entrepreneur represented 23 percent of the commercialization cases in the study. According to interviews conducted by the authors, most faculty consider this partnership the ideal pathway to technology transfer, but experienced CEOs often are reluctant to join a startup team in a venture’s initial stages. Consequently, the other pathways – partnerships between faculty and Ph.D./post-doctoral students (41 percent); collaborations between faculty, Ph.D./post-doctoral students and business school students (13 percent); and student-only ventures (23 percent) – emerged as alternatives to grow the startup to a stage at which an experienced entrepreneur is enticed to join.

“The research also showed that successful entrepreneurial output requires more than a proficient technology transfer office with effective policies and a strong incentive system,” said Robert Strom, director of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation. “It also relies on an overall university ecosystem that helps to reduce the venture’s market and technological risk by providing programs and resources that give students and faculty freedom – and time – to develop strategic lab-to-market plans.”

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