The Teaching and Practice of Entrepreneurship within Canadian Higher Education Institutions

5. Dimension 2: Institutional Infrastructure


Key Findings: The most common types of institutional infrastructure — entrepreneurship centres and technology transfer offices (TTOs) — are present at less than half of the institutions.

The institutional infrastructure dimension isolates the facilities that institutions have established in support of entrepreneurship education. These facilities support entrepreneurship at different stages of the business development cycle. To be effective, such infrastructure seems to require many different elements to support entrepreneurship at each stage of the business development cycle. However, given limited resources, institutions may be forced to focus on a limited number of elements, thus possibly favouring licensing, for example, over venture creation.

5.1 Findings

Figure 2 illustrates how the three Canadian subsets compare within the four sub-dimensions of the institutional infrastructure dimension:

  • Approaches: Access to entrepreneurship departments, entrepreneurship centres, incubator facilities and/or technology transfer offices.
  • Entrepreneurship appointments: Appointed entrepreneurship chairs (tenured and non-tenured), not including associate and assistant professors, to support entrepreneurship across campus.
  • Research in entrepreneurship: Research on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education.
  • Cross-discipline structures: Structures to permit students to receive credit towards their degree for taking entrepreneurship courses. The sub-dimension also considers cross-faculty entrepreneurship activities to offer opportunities for students from different faculties to work together.

Figure 2: Spider Diagram of Institutional Infrastructure Dimension
(score out of 100)

Figure 2: Spider Diagram of Institutional Infrastructure Dimension (score out of 100)
Description of Figure 2
Figure 2: Spider Diagram of Institutional Infrastructure Dimension (score out of 100)
Approaches Entrepreneurship Appointments Research in Entrepreneurship Cross-Discipline Structures
Bottom five 5.0 0 0 16.6
Top five 75.0 19.0 80.0 93.3
Canadian Average 31.4 7.7 44.3 52.5

The average score of the top five institutions compared with the average score for Canada was greater than 35 points for all but the entrepreneurship appointments sub-dimension, where the difference was greater than 10 points. This finding suggests room for improvement within the institutional infrastructure dimension for Canadian institutions when compared with the top five institutions. The average score for Canada and the top five institutions was highest in cross-discipline structures, suggesting that institutions were actively involved in providing access to entrepreneurship education across campus. For example, all of the top five institutions offered cross-faculty activities (curricular and extracurricular). As well, four of the top five institutions allowed entrepreneurship courses to be credited towards the students' program of study.

The most common types of institutional infrastructure — entrepreneurship centres and technology transfer offices — are present at less than half of the surveyed institutions (Table 3)

Table 3: Comparing the Presence of Entrepreneurship Centres and Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs)
Employees Entrepreneurship Centre (%) TTO (%)
At least one full-time employee 34 46
Less than one full-time employee 13 3
Institution does not have this facility 53 51

Entrepreneurship Centre: a central location that provides entrepreneurs with access to educational programs, networking opportunities, equipment and resources either on campus and/or within the community. These centres typically require a relatively larger budget and more administrative planning than technology transfer offices.

Technology Transfer Office: Manages the use of university research results for public benefit, by providing patenting, licensing and other commercialization support to faculty and researchers within the institute or community.

  • Table 3 illustrates that half the number of surveyed institutions did not have either an entrepreneurship centre or a technology transfer office.
  • However, a greater percentage of institutions allocated at least one full-time employee to technology transfer offices compared with entrepreneurship centres (Table 3). This preference reflects findings from a recent study by Maxwell and Lévesque suggesting that universities are more inclined to host TTOs due to the short-term benefits from the sale of licences. The authors further illustrate that the TTO model provides no incentive for the university to pursue other, possibly more profitable, commercialization methods. Inevitably the innovation is sold prematurely, often resulting in the flow of long-term economic benefits to the location of the licensee rather than the region in which the innovation was funded/developed.Footnote 4

Technology Incubator: This type of facility predominantly focuses on the end of the business development cycle by providing experienced business support, high-quality facilities and management services for business start-ups.

  • Only 25 percent of institutions had incubator facilities. Of these, 60 percent assisted more than 10 graduate start-ups and 40 percent assisted less than 10 graduate start-ups.

Each type of institutional infrastructure facilitates a specific stage in the business development cycle, from conception to start-up. Many institutions that hosted incubator facilities also hosted other types of facilities.

Of the 25 percent of institutions that hosted incubator facilities:

  • 80 percent had technology transfer offices — focus on licensing and patents.
  • 87 percent had entrepreneurship centres — focus on preliminary business development stage.
  • 87 percent offered cross-faculty entrepreneurship activities — focus on theory development from opportunity.
  • 80 percent supported entrepreneurship education goals with dedicated funding.

These findings suggest that the majority of institutions that host incubator facilities also support other facilities, providing a framework to assist student entrepreneurship through each stage of the business development cycle. The financial commitment to establish such a network may motivate universities to consider alternative and cheaper modes of commercialization, such as licensing through TTOs.

To resolve the conflict on the part of universities trying to decide between short-term gains from licence fees and the cost and risk of alternative modes of commercialization, Maxwell and LévesqueFootnote 5 suggest a partnership between university incubators and regional economic development agencies. Such a partnership creates future research opportunities and a flow of donations from successful entrepreneurs and alumni to universities, while supporting the local region through new ventures, graduates and co-op students.

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