Academic spin-offs, i.e., new venture projects backed by one or more researchers, are attracting increasing attention by researchers and policy makers as an effective way to increase the rate of technology transfer from Public Research Organizations (PROs) to the business environment. With the aim of supporting technology transfer processes, in the last years, many universities have carry out specific policies and a wide range of programs addressed to the development of academic entrepreneurship. Among these, the organization of a start-up competition is rather popular. But, how effective do such activities result, in particular the start-up competitions, in supporting academic researchers toward entrepreneurship? Are these kinds of initiatives able to raise the level of the reputation of academic entrepreneurial projects? If so, would such social capital have any real impact on the entrepreneurial development of academic spin-off? Is this social capital able to improve the spin-off’s ability to gain access to and acquire an initial stock of resources? Our exploratory research, following the emerging paradigm of the Quadruple-Helix Model, takes into consideration the mediating role of Media players in building visibility and reputation of nascent entrepreneurial projects from academia. The study that we performed is based on the results of web citations of business projects that won at least one prize awarded by an academic start-up competition. We consider the 2013 edition of the Italian universities business plan competitions (PNI), and we tried to measure the visibility and the reputation effect experienced by winners of local and national steps of the business plan competition. Implications of the study might be that investing in start-up competition is a useful mechanism to gain in visibility and might be useful as an ignition mechanism to start a positive entrepreneurship discourse about academic spin-offs among stakeholders that control access to valuable resources for them.
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