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Types of proximity in knowledge access by science-based start-ups

Margarida Fontes (Laboratório Nacional de Energia e Geologia (LNEG), Lisbon, Portugal and Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), DINÂMIA'CET-IUL, Lisboa, Portugal)
Cristina Sousa (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Lisboa, Portugal and DINÂMIA'CET-IUL, Lisboa, Portugal)

European Journal of Innovation Management

ISSN: 1460-1060

Article publication date: 8 August 2016



The purpose of this paper is to address the strategies adopted by science-based start-ups to gain access to knowledge resources at diverse spatial levels. It investigates the presence and relative importance of ties endowed with different types of proximity in firms’ knowledge networks, and the role played by non-geographical proximity in gaining access to knowledge sources, both nearby and distant.


An analytical framework is proposed that distinguishes between two dimensions of proximity – geographical and relational – leading to different forms of proximity, which are further linked with modes of knowledge interaction (formal or informal). A methodology for network reconstruction is developed and applied to Portuguese molecular biology firms, permitting to identify the origin, location and nature of the ties and to position them along forms of proximity.


The results show that the incidence and mix of the different forms of proximity vary in firms’ individual networks, being possible to identify several patterns. They also uncover the relevance of relational proximity, whether or not coexisting with geographical proximity and often compensating for its absence.

Research limitations/implications

This approach needs to be complemented with further research that refines the operationalization of relational proximity, by attempting to disentangle the influence of different types of non-geographical proximity. Further research will also explore in greater detail the factors that may explain variety in the proximity mix of firms’ networks.

Practical implications

The paper offers insights into the knowledge sourcing strategies adopted by science-based firms located outside the main concentrations of knowledge in their field.


The paper contributes to the literature on the role of proximity in knowledge access, by developing and empirically testing a taxonomy of forms of proximity, considering the characteristics of science-based firms. It uncovers the mechanisms through which relational proximity can contribute to span spatial boundaries, highlighting the role played by entrepreneurs’ personal networks.



This research was conducted in the context of the project POCI/ESC/60500, funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, whose support is gratefully acknowledged. Paper selected from the Knowledge, Innovation, and Technology Across Borders Conference held in Lisbon Portugal, June 2014. The Conference was organised as part of the activities of the International Research Staff Exchange Scheme Project “Crossing Boundaries: Knowledge and Technology Transfer and Innovation” project number FP7-PEOPLE-2012-IRSES


Fontes, M. and Sousa, C. (2016), "Types of proximity in knowledge access by science-based start-ups", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 298-316.



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