Incubators and incubation -Resources and activities in relation to different actors

Abstract: ABSTRACT Incubators prepare new technology-based firms (NTBFs) for the obstacles ahead, they complement and develop the entrepreneurial ability of the firm founder, advise regarding financing, as well as providing structure and credibility to the firm. Incubators accelerate the development of the firms towards growth, create an entrepreneurial and innovative climate in the region, and contribute to the commercialization of research results from the university. There are many descriptions but still there remains the difficulty of understanding what an incubator is, and what it does. There is a great difference between incubators due to them having been formed in relation to different actors who have varying histories. Based on the appended papers the principal actors in relation to incubators are: the incubator, the NTBFs, the university, the policy actors and the financial actors. Moreover, the part played by the incubator differs depending on the roles in relation to the different actors, and they often have more than one role in relation to the same actor. Hence, the purpose of this thesis is to explore incubation in relation to different actors. The exploration includes five appended papers. Three of the papers focus on the role of the incubators when helping the NTBFs find and utilize resources. The three types of resources are knowledge, financing and relationships. The two remaining papers focus on the incubator as an organization with particular interest in value creation and efficiency. All five appended papers are written using the resource-based view. In the cover paper the findings in the appended papers are reflected upon using the industrial network approach in order to provide another perspective, focusing on relationships as opportunities leading to an understanding of incubators and incubation. In the cover paper principal actors, activities and resources are explored. The NTBFs are developed through the incubation with the help of resources contributed by the other actors. Additional to the development, the cover paper discussed other activities included in the incubation, i.e. mediation, innovation and acceleration. These activities enable actors to access and combine resources, within and across firm boundaries, that they would otherwise have difficulties combining at that point in time, as quickly or in that way. The relationships of the incubator enable mediation of contacts between actors who are otherwise reluctant to collaborate. Through these collaborations new resource combinations may be found. Resource combinations in already existing relationship can be found using experience from other relationships. In other words, the relationships of the incubator contribute to innovation among the actors. Furthermore, the relationships of the incubator contribute to the acceleration of the NTBFs’ development by being a trusted third party actor, and by contributing to the coordination of actors aiming at improving the innovative climate. Hence, relationships are a special kind of resource for the incubators. The importance of the relationships for the incubators implies that the critical issues might not be to pick NTBFs based on criteria for growth potential, but rather on the ability to form and develop relationships for themselves, as well as the NTBF, in order to develop the firm. Furthermore, arguments regarding the increasing homogeneity among Swedish incubators are based on the rather formalized relationships with the policy actors where incubators tend to play rather similar roles. The heterogeneity is likely to be perceived as larger from the perspective of relationships that are more context specific. Moreover, the relationships, activities and combination of resources cross-fertilize each other without a natural or manageable direction that cannot be controlled by one or a few of the actors involved. After the concluding discussion there is a retrospection of the development of the thesis and the empirical material, which is based on qualitative and quantitative data that has been gathered within the Swedish incubator program mainly during 1999, 2005 and 2006.

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