University Science Parks and Entrepreneurship
Many Universities around the world now develop their own Science Parks, or are endeavouring to be associated with another Park. Why? For many years, Science Parks have been defined as “Enhancing the synergy between Universities and Companies” (www.iasp.ws definition) and many Parks developed without the support of a Research Institution have been at pains to engage with Universities in order to be seen as more than a Business Park. The reason for this is not necessarily to receive revenue from property developments but rather to engage with industry to attract investment into institutional research and development and commercialisation projects.
Developing a University Science Park can also provide the institution with greater access to research facilities through corporate sponsorship of buildings and, in particular, laboratories. University owned Parks also give Universities greater control over development within or adjacent to the campus. However, the greatest benefit to a University is to use the Science Park as a tool to develop entrepreneurship within its research community, student cohort, and industry partners. Further to this, Universities can use the Park as a tool to showcase institutional research developments and industry collaborations.
The collaborations and entrepreneurial activities within a Science Park can flow throughout the academic precinct and be instrumental in changing the culture of a University from one of pure academia to one driven by innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.
This paper will discuss these issues and use the La Trobe University R&D Parks as an example of how all stakeholders in a University Science Park benefit form the development and enhancement of a culture of entrepreneurship. For the purpose of this paper, the terms ‘Science Park’, ‘Technology Park’ and ‘Research and Development (R&D) Park’ are interchangeable with each other.
According to the International Association of Science Parks (IASP), Science and Technology Parks (STPs) are always associated with, or part of a research institution such as a University. They are not real estate developments or general business parks. STPs according to the IASP website:
“Promote economic development and competitiveness of regions and cities by:
·Creating new business opportunities and adding value to mature companies;
·Fostering entrepreneurship and incubating new innovation companies;
·Generating knowledge based jobs
·Building attractive spaces for the emerging knowledge worker; and
·Enhancing the synergy between Universities and Companies.”
University Science Parks meet all aspects of the IASP definition with the added criteria of showcasing the impact of University research on industry. This in turn acts as a catalyst for the creation of new business opportunities and for fostering entrepreneurship within the University Research community, student cohorts, and amongst the Parks tenant companies.
Many Parks, be they associated with Universities or not, have active business incubation programs or business accelerators on site. These facilities that support and encourage the formation of start-up ventures are by definition the source of many entrepreneurial activities. They can also be used for fostering entrepreneurship outside of the University boundary. What is important, is the programs that are offered at either the Incubator or Park Centre should not be standard business courses but rather something that excites the imagination. However, it is still necessary to make available training courses in how to start and manage a business enterprise. Some Parks with Incubation activities and a wide range of programs have not been successful and that is often due to the lack of enthusiasm or driver from the management team. State-of-the-art buildings and a wide range of programs will not necessarily make a Park a success, nor will they in themselves foster entrepreneurship, without the right team to drive the programs.
Many University Parks around the world will be home to the University Technology Transfer or Commercialisation Office where intellectual property is managed, commercialisation projects are under taken, and industry partnerships fostered. The technology transfer office at the Park can often be the conduit that brings industry and academia together. However, a University Park that is focussed on fostering entrepreneurship will develop programs other than the often process-driven activities of a technology transfer office.
Innovation programs beyond the usual training seminars on the value of intellectual property and business development need to be developed to leverage from the activity on the park.
Innovation Programs and Entrepreneurship
For University Science Parks to successfully foster entrepreneurship, they need to develop a suite of valued-added products for budding entrepreneurs. As well as faculty driven specialised entrepreneurial studies this may include access to business incubation facilities, business development training seminars and business networking opportunities, but what is really need is the opportunity to think ‘outside the box’.
Few Universities today would not be in a position to offer students entrepreneurial studies of some description, however, many of them have a focus on the management of an entity rather than the creation of new enterprise ventures. Richard Florida in ‘The New American Dream’, (2003) wonders why many university students start up new ventures during in their “spare time” and why students are not encouraged to investigate the creation of new start-ups in schools. This is where University Science Parks can add value by providing programs outside the usual academic offerings. It has been gratifying to see changes in this direction in Australia. These changes include:
‘enterprise in schools’ programs, the Young Achievement Program, affiliated with Junior Achievement International (www.yaa.org.au) available at secondary, undergraduate and now post graduate levels, and the various University Business Planning Competitions run throughout Australia and partly sponsored by the Australia Government’s ‘Backing Australia’s Ability’ program (Bell 2004).
Bringing together valued-added programs and an environment that encourages entrepreneurship in a University Science Park can produce a number of benefits for the University.
Benefits of a University owned and managed Science Park
A University Science Park offers entrepreneurs, or those interested in entrepreneurship and innovation, a ‘one-stop-shop’ where access to facilities, education and the ability to work within an exciting and energetic environment comes in a campus development. The University benefits from having its own Science Park by being able to control the Park master plan and tenant selection. The Park master plan and tenant selection policies influence the environment of innovation and entrepreneurship. In these circumstances, the University can develop policies that reflect the courses it offers and its research strengths that it wishes to market to prospective industry collaborators.
A further benefit to Universities is that the Park and its tenants can provide ‘real world’ experiences for students as part of University student enrichment programs and industry placements. Park tenants can also contribute to curriculum advisory boards and to student projects. A number of Universities in Australia have developed their own model of innovative environments in order to encourage entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship and University Parks in Australia
In Australian Universities, as elsewhere in the world, there are a range of programs from entrepreneurial streams within a standard Master of Business Administration, to specialist graduate entrepreneurial courses that specifically target new venture creation and many of our Universities are now in a position to offer business incubation and science park facilities. Examples of holistic entrepreneurial programs include those that:
·Encompasses a creativity environment including business incubation and Park facilities;
·Provide suitable academic programs;
·Seminars that cover intellectual property issues;
·Soft-skill programs such as ‘how to network’;
·Have access to research programs;
·Provide support programs for the development of new companies; and
·Have the important link back into the community through business networking events and collaborative opportunities.
Swinburne University, in Melbourne Australia, does not have a technology park in its own right but has still achieved a process that enables it to make a significant contribution to the encouragement of entrepreneurship. The Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship at the University offers programs with a specific focus on “innovation and entrepreneurship for those who wish to build or develop enterprises” (www.swin.edu.au). These programs are coupled with the Swinburne ‘Hatchery’, an environment for idea creation and new business enterprises. Access is also provided to the MiniFAB Micro Nano Machining Facility and incubator and Small Technology Cluster at a Technology Park close to Melbourne.
The Monash Science Technology Research and Innovation Precinct (STRIP) (www.monash.edu.au) is being developed adjacent to Monash University in Victoria, Australia. This area is the home of the Australian Synchrotron, which is expected to foster an interdisciplinary approach to research and development, innovation and entrepreneurship within Victoria.
At the University of Adelaide in South Australia, they have combined a technology park and business incubator with a focus on the development of ideas and new enterprises. Adelaide has also developed a ‘Graduate Entrepreneurial Program’ that offers students the chance to ‘turn opportunities into a commercial reality’ (www.adelaide.edu.au). The Park is also the base for the University ‘Office of Industry Liaison’ that gives strong and direct links to business. The co-location of Bioinnovations SA (www.bioinnovationsa.com.au) has allowed the development of a University, Industry, and Government support innovation cluster where entrepreneurship is allowed to develop in a supported environment.
In Victoria, La Trobe University has made a commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship through the 20 year development of its R&D Park strategy and the formation of the Innovation and Knowledge Transfer division.
La Trobe University R&D Parks and Entrepreneurship
The La Trobe University division of Innovation and Knowledge Transfer manages a portfolio that includes:
·University R&D Parks and associated business incubators;
·Intellectual Property Management; and
With two active parks, a further one in development and three business incubators, La Trobe University has probably the largest network of whole University owned and managed Science Parks in Australia.
A University strategic focus on Innovation and Knowledge Transfer and financial support for commercialisation activities allows R&D Park staff to actively cultivate an environment of entrepreneurship throughout the University including both staff and students. This entrepreneurial environment is also accessible by the wider community and potential industry collaborators and partners.
The Innovation and Knowledge Transfer division develops and implements programs that encourage a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship within the University by:
·Providing support for undergraduate and postgraduate enterprise development programs. These are conducted under auspices of ‘Young Achiever Australia’ Business Skills Program (www.yaa.org.au). The Business Skills Program™ is a structured educational program that promotes innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and the use of IT, and reinforces career education and builds employability skills. During a 24 week program students develop a business idea, raise capital, develop and market a product and then liquidate the company and return any profits to shareholders;
·Facilitating enterprise development and innovation workshops for faculties and colleges;
·The development of a staff innovation program. This program will encourage staff to develop a business case for good ideas relating to University business improvement or new business venture. There will also be a category for “Blue sky ideas” where good ideas will be deposited in an ideas bank to await matching with the appropriate research and development team.
·Providing a full range of commercialisation services and programs that provide the processes necessary for entrepreneurial activity plus the education programs that encourage staff and students to think out side the box.
Entrepreneurs from the wider community are also encouraged to start up their business venture within the business incubators and to become involved with student projects. Industry partners can also become involved with students by providing research and development projects as the basis of final year research projects. The final product of these programs can then be entered into student business planning competitions and if successful can either be developed further by the industry partner or through a student start-up at the business incubator.
University Science Parks can be a useful tool in developing an environment of innovation and entrepreneurship in a campus setting. It is important to remember that the provision of buildings and business support programs is not necessarily a guarantee of success for any Science Park and that much thought needs to put to the employment of a team that can drive collaborations, build an environment of excitement and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.
There are many examples of how a University Science Park can be developed to encompass more than a property development. A University Science Park can be a real asset to a University by becoming a place that showcases University Research, develops industry collaborations, and more importantly, drive innovation and entrepreneurship within the University and wider community.