Do Campus Incubators Lead to Less Innovation?


UNIVERSITIES THAT ESTABLISH their own startup incubators often see a decrease in the quality of university innovations. That’s according to a new study that analyzed nearly 56,000 patents granted between 1969 and 2012 to more than 60 U.S.-based, research-intensive universities that have established incubators. About half of the incubators in the U.S. are located on a university campus, or otherwise sponsored by a university.

According to the researchers, “Not only do university attempts to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship by incubating businesses seem to reduce the quality of subsequent scientific and technical innovations, but they also appear to reduce the income generated by innovative activities.” The study was conducted by Christos Kolympiris, associate professor in innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Bath School of Management in the U.K., and Peter Klein, professor of entrepreneurship at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business in Waco, Texas.

Klein emphasizes that the study focused on the quality not the quantity of the patents. Researchers tested innovation quality by looking at the university patents and their “forward citations,” or the number of times these patents were cited in the bibliographies of subsequent patent applications.

“For example, if I had a patent in 2005, how many future applications cited my patent?” Klein asks. If the answer is none, his patent would not be “as ‘foundational’ as a patent that was cited in a bunch of future applications.”

Universities often create incubators as a response to reduced public funding and increased calls for accountability. But university resources are finite. If too many resources are dedicated to incubators, entrepreneurship and other forms of academic innovation may suffer. Moreover, the more universities invest in incubators, the less they can devote to other activities such as basic research.

However, the study stresses that incubators still provide value to universities-and that value is only partially educational. The authors write, “The presence of an incubator may attract particular kinds of faculty and students, enhance the prestige of the university, generate economic multiplier effects, and benefit the community as a whole.”

“The Effects of Academic Incubators on University Innovation” was published online January 2017 in the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal. Read the article at