Small Business Economics

, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp 485–504 | Cite as

The governance of universities and the establishment of academic spin-offs

  • Michele Meoli
  • Stefano Paleari
  • Silvio VismaraEmail author


While the metaphor of entrepreneurial ecosystem has become popular in academia, industry and government, one aspect is almost neglected, the role of universities. In particular, there is a paucity of studies that examine the governance of universities in relation to their engagement within the ecosystem. This paper relates for the first time the governance structure of universities to their capacity to foster the establishment of academic spin-offs. Thanks to a regulatory change imposing to Italian State universities the enrollment of lay members (i.e., external directors) in their board of directors, we can observe their appointment as an exogenous shock. We find that, while half of the universities appoint the minimum required number of lay members, others appoint more, up to creating board of directors where only the rector is not external. Moreover, there is a strong variety in the type of experiential capital that these lay members bring to universities. While some are entrepreneurs or managers of private firms, others are local stakeholders, such as lawyers or members of foundations or chambers of commerce. Such variance is reflected in the stimulus they exert on the creation of spin-offs. Using a regression discontinuity design on a sample of 1234 spin-offs from 66 universities, our longitudinal study of 1122 university-year observations shows that the rate of establishment of technology spin-offs increases more when more entrepreneurs are appointed. Local stakeholders in the university’s board of directors, by contrast, are associated with increased establishments of service-oriented spin-offs.


Academic entrepreneurship Spin-offs University Technology transfer Governance Higher education 

JEL classification

I23 M13 O38 



This paper was presented at the Small Business Economics Special Issue Development Conference “The Governance of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems,” held in Catania, Italy, on September 29–30, 2016. We thank the conference participants, the guest editors Massimo G. Colombo, Giovanni B. Dagnino, Erik E. Lehmann, and Mari-Paz Salmador as well as the two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michele Meoli
    • 1
    • 2
  • Stefano Paleari
    • 1
    • 2
  • Silvio Vismara
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.CCSEUniversity of BergamoBergamoItaly
  2. 2.Department of Management, Information and Production EngineeringUniversity of BergamoDalmineItaly

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