Intellectual capital, science parks and incubators: an introduction to the special issue

Journal of Intellectual Capital

ISSN: 1469-1930

Article publication date: 7 October 2014



Schiavone, F. and Romano, M. (2014), "Intellectual capital, science parks and incubators: an introduction to the special issue", Journal of Intellectual Capital, Vol. 15 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Intellectual capital, science parks and incubators: an introduction to the special issue

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Intellectual Capital, Volume 15, Issue 4

Intellectual capital (henceforth: IC) is a critical driver for the success and survival of every organisation. Human capital of the entrepreneur, organisational capital and relational capital (the typical dimensions of IC) affect greatly the performance of new companies. The creation and management of IC is more articulated if business start-ups are localised within an incubator or science park. The American National Business Incubators Association (NBIA, defines business incubation as “business support process that accelerates the successful development of start-up and fledgling companies by providing entrepreneurs with an array of targeted resources and services”. Science parks, instead, are “organisations managed by specialised professionals, whose main aim is to increase the wealth of its community by promoting the culture of innovation and the competitiveness of their associated businesses and knowledge-based institutions. To enable these goals to be met, a science park stimulates and manages the flow of knowledge and technology amongst universities, R&D institutions, companies and markets; it facilitates the creation and growth of innovation-based companies through incubation and spin-off processes; and provides other value-added services together with high quality space and facilities” (IASP, 2002).” In science parks “there is a strong need to combine knowledge theory and business practice, a strong need to strengthen the cooperation between two different environment: research and business” (Kohl and Al Hashemi, 2011). Therefore, in both incubators and science parks the management of intangible resources is a great challenge and needs a special focus.

IC of incubated start-ups depends on both their own intangible assets and the knowledge, experiences, processes of the business incubator and/or science park. On the one hand, prior research reports the human capital of the entrepreneur is the most important dimension of IC for new ventures localised within business incubation centres and/or science parks. Therefore, managers of these knowledge-based organisations should pay great attention mainly to this determinant. On the other hand, these structures create own intangible assets and share them with their tenant firms. Dimensions of IC within business incubators have interactive relationships and affect the growth of the tenant firms in different ways: all the typical dimensions of IC (human capital, structural capital, relational capital) affect positively the knowledge transfer from the business incubator to the tenant firms; human capital is probably the most important between these dimensions as it affects positively all the others. Therefore, the incubated business start-ups should make continuous efforts (e.g. in the organisation of their internal processes or the enhancement of their absorptive capacity) to exploit as much as possible the invisible assets provided by their incubators.

Despite these evidences, two years ago we felt the subject of IC within science parks and business incubators was still largely improvable. Thus, we felt the need of developing more this subject by providing more evidences, replying to more research questions and testing unverified hypotheses. The present JIC special issue is the final output of these efforts.

The articles we have chosen to include in this issue develop a wide range of theoretical and empirical perspectives. Some articles focus on the status of theory and research about IC within science parks and business incubators by analysing traditional various domains, such as innovation strategies, finance, strategy and public policies. Other articles focus more explicitly on the rising connection between intangible assets and innovative forms of business models (e.g. open innovation paradigm) for both host organisations and tenant firms. Both quantitative and qualitative research methods are employed in these works. A brief overview of the articles follows.

The first article by Manuel Villasalero investigates the connection between university research and technological capital developed by science park firms in order to elucidate whether the causal linkage is owing to non-pecuniary research spillovers or pecuniary technology transfer activities. Two publicly available surveys, one dealing with the research and transfer activities of 45 Spanish universities and another with the patenting activities of 44 Spanish science parks, are matched in such a way that hypotheses can be tested using regression analysis. The results show patenting performance of science park firms is positively related to the competitive R&D projects undertaken by the universities to which they are affiliated and negatively related to the technology transfer activities carried out by those universities. These findings suggest that the scientific knowledge produced by universities principally contributes to private technology-based firms’ technological capital through non-pecuniary research spillovers, whereas the pecuniary technology transfer agreements remain uncertain or may even prove to be detrimental.

The goal of the article by Francesco Schiavone, Antonio Meles, Vincenzo Verdoliva and Manlio Del Giudiceis to investigate the effect of being located in a science park on the level of a firm's IC performance. This article aims to extend literature about factors explaining the level of a firm's IC performance and the current understanding of the impact of science parks at firm level. Using a sample of 183 Italian firms (i.e. 61 tenant and 122 non-tenant firms), and through the GLS technique, authors regress the firms’ IC performances across various explicative variables including a dummy that discriminates tenant and non-tenant firms. Consistently with expectations, the results show that the location of a firm in a science park leads to improved IC performances. Moreover, it is found that some other firm characteristics, such as size, age and leverage, are important predictors of its IC-based performance. Implications for policy-makers, science park managers and institutional investors are offered at the end of the article.

The work of Clare G. Gately and James A. Cunningham aims at exploring the value of relational capital generated by entrepreneurs with their internal and external environment. The article examines how incubated technology entrepreneurs build relational capital for a new venture formation in the social context of a Higher Education Institution. The study took a qualitative approach based on content analysis of business plans and in-depth interviews with 25 Irish technology entrepreneurs on an incubation programme. The study found that technology entrepreneurs during new venture formation engaged in four types of relational capital activities, namely, development of networks and contacts, relationship building, accessing and leveraging knowledge experts and members of associations. Incubator programmes need to actively support social building activities of technology entrepreneurs. HEI knowledge assets and networks are critical elements in supporting incubator technology entrepreneurs. The study identified four types of relational capital building. Authors also found that users, producers, opportunists and non-technical entrepreneurs engaged in client focused relational capital building, whereas researcher types networked with service providers and displayed arms length relational capital building styles.

The study by Marco Romano, Pierluigi Catalfo and Melita Nicotra surveys aims at providing a strategic tool for management activities in knowledge-based organisations. In particular, it is demonstrated that science parks are big repositories of knowledge but they are neither familiar with the IC management nor with the use of methodologies functional for the resources representations and for the variations dynamics of their value. Thereby the article answers to questions related to the IC process representation, responding to managerial exigencies, and to measurability and repeatability as strategic activities for business running. Unlike the great number of studies on IC that formulate objective metrics of the value of firms’ intangible assets, the article presents a model not to describe but to shape processes in a knowledge-based organisation and to achieve and communicate results both for management and for increasing transparency of communication with external stakeholders.

Marika Macchi, Ugo Rizzo and Laura Ramaciotti investigate the strategies of business incubators adopt in respect to the creation of incubatee IC. The study focuses on links between the business incubators’ structural capital and the creation of incubatee relational capital. By crossing IC literature with the open innovation paradigm authors consider incubators as innovation intermediaries and investigate how different incubator strategies of knowledge exchange take place within and across incubator boundaries. The analysis is based on a multiple case study research involving five Italian incubators. Primary and secondary data were gathered through interviews with each incubator managing director and with relevant actors. The analysis allows to propose a theoretical framework and to highlight how different structural capital shape heterogeneous processes by which incubatees build their relational capital. A knowledge-based conceptualisation of incubators is developed. This definition moves beyond the more diffuse classification based on public vs private and sectoral specificities, and introduces some new insights for further research.

The article by Francesco Campanella, Maria Rosaria Della Peruta and Manlio Del Giudice discusses the concept of innovative performances for science parks as a framework for understanding how effectively human and structural capital are leveraged. The key point is fostering main determinants to investigate and/or make sense of key management activities/factors shaping the evolution and performance of knowledge creating processes. The study was based on the quantitative and qualitative values, for the period 2000-2011, gathered from a sample of 901 public and private organisations located in the 21 European Union countries. The authors have observed how most of the variables that determine the innovative performance of a science park (patents, contracts with industry, etc.) are influenced by numerous independent variables (allocation of public resources, presence of venture capital, etc.), generating a complex system of interaction between the variables identified.

The seventh article, written by Francesco Calza, Luca Dezi, Francesco Schiavone and Michele Simoni proposes a conceptual framework to analyse the IC of new generation business incubators. The article contributes to the extant literature about the intangible assets of business incubators by analysing in detail how these structures use their IC to perform their activities. The article carries out a literature-based analysis of the different components of the IC of business incubators and develops a “demand-driven” conceptual framework linking the business incubators’ IC to the IC of incubated firms. The article provides an analytical model able to support practitioners and scholars to better understand, measure and evaluate the IC criticalities and requirements of incubators. The notion of incubation path is developed.

In the last article, Elias Carayannis, Manlio Del Giudice and Maria Rosaria Della Peruta propose a framework for establishing and managing government-university-industry R&D partnerships. The examples of the NASA Laboratories, which are incubating several companies, are analysed to show how this framework can highlight key attributes of successful research collaboratives. The recurring pattern from these diverse case studies shows that the presence of internal and external champions, appropriate technology and patient risk capital make a difference in winning in a competitive environment. However, part of the same pattern perhaps is the lack of any identifiable recipes for success - critical factors appear to be situation specific. In light of the findings from the seven case studies the authors presented, authors recommend using a hybrid portfolio approach in assessing the success of technology transfer and commercialisation efforts.

This issue brings together an eclectic range of research and conceptual articles that offer new insights about IC in knowledge-intensive organisations as science parks and business incubators. This JIC special issue pays attention towards the complex and dual nature of these organisations: they are repositories of knowledge with a vocation towards new firms support and with a network like business structure. The articles in this issue demonstrate the close connection between intangible assets, organisational success and innovation for both tenant firms and host institutions. The main general result of these works is the maximum emphasis on the “virtuous circle” between these three variables. Drawing on this conclusion, the intent of this issue is to stimulate further refinements of new ventures creation and IC theories and the link between them. Such refinements should be related also to the development of integrated models for intangibles’ representation, evaluation and control in Science Parks and Business Incubators. Referring to this point, at least two articles of this issue report the main future challenge for scholars and practitioners will be the identification and suitable and effective indicators in order to compare and benchmark the IC hold by such knowledge-based organisations.

We thank Rory Chase for giving us the opportunity to develop this JIC special issue and all the scholars who have served as reviewers in the development of this special issue. A special acknowledgment goes to Professors Gaetano Golinelli e Carmela Elita Schillaci which contributed to the scientific and cultural background of the Guest Editors and to the completion of this special issue.

Dr Francesco Schiavone, Department of Management Studies and Quantitative Methods, University Parthenope, Naples, Italy

Professor Marco Romano, Department of Economics and Management, University of Catania, Catania, Italy


IASP (2002), “Toward a new agenda: business, social and urban development impacts”, XIX IASP World Conference on Science and Technology Parks

Kohl, H. and Al Hashemi, H. (2011), “Science parks as main driver for the development of national innovation systems in resources-driven economies! The importance of intellectual capital management for sustainable manufacturing”, in Seliger, G., Jawahir, I.S. and Khraisheh, M.K. (Eds), Advances in Sustainable Manufacturing, Proceedings of the 8th Global Conference on Sustainable Manufacturing, GCSM 2010, 22-24 November, 2010, Vol. 1, Springer, Berlin, pp. 45-50

About the Guest Editors

Francesco Schiavone, PhD University Parthenope of Naples, Italy

Marco Romano, PhD University of Catania, Italy

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