Critical success factors for knowledge transfer collaborations between university and industry.

Author:Schofield, Tatiana


A global knowledge exchange landscape is swiftly changing, moving towards open innovation. The open innovation paradigm demonstrates the need to exploit internal and external knowledge and knowledge transfer pathways in order to remain competitive in a market place. Industrial companies are increasingly facing pressure from growing competition, a shortening product life cycle and increased complexity. There is a growing trend to explore external sources for innovation to acquire new ideas, develop new capabilities and access the latest academic research. Furthermore, engaging in partnerships with universities allows companies to leverage government funding and reduce the cost of their Research and Development (R&D) (Perkmann, 2011).

Similarly, universities are experiencing pressure to transform from an ivory tower mentality to an entrepreneurial mind-set and to contribute to national innovation agendas (Etzkowitz, 2000). They demonstrate a growing appetite to exploit their knowledge base and commercialize their intellectual property and technologies.

At a policy level, governments are actively influencing university-industry collaborations through supporting public-private partnership, developing strategies to support open innovation and creating a dynamic small to medium enterprises (SME) sector to accelerate technology commercialization. The triple helix (university-industry-government) development strategy is becoming a powerful national tool to develop an innovation mechanism and build stronger links between private and public research sectors (Etzkowitz et al., 2000; Ranga et al., 2008).


This research paper focuses on studying knowledge-transfer collaborations between academia and industry. Our specific objective is to identify success factors for such activities in the emerging market context, The aim of our research is to develop a framework for knowledge-transfer collaborations to support a strategic decision making process in order to evaluate potential collaborations between universities and industry.

Our research makes an attempt to undertake a holistic analysis of university-industry partnership in a multi-domain knowledge transfer context in order to identify critical success factors from multiple stakeholder perspectives.

The paper is based on a comprehensive literature review and develops a theoretical conceptual framework. The results of the literature review were used to design a stakeholders' questionnaire. The survey verified our findings from the literature review and provided new insights of the drivers and barriers in university-industry collaborations.

Literature Review and Theoretical Framework

For the purpose of our research we developed a theoretical framework integrating prior research in the field of knowledge transfer between universities and industry. The framework will be further tested through a stakeholders survey to verify and analyze our findings.

Literature Overview

The following sections provide a brief summary of key topics discussed in literature, which are relevant to our research topic.

Publications on our research topic widely cover an emerging trend in exploiting knowledge as a mechanism of national growth and the triple helix model (Etzkovitz & Dzisah, 2008; Ranga et al., 2008). There is a comprehensive discussion about knowledge transfer typology, process and determinants relevant to our research which are essential to understanding knowledge transfer mechanisms (Landry et al., 2007; Barbolla & Corredera, 2009; Lockett et al., 2009). A number of authors join a debate on knowledge transfer effectiveness citing organizational, individual and institutional aspects of organizations involved in knowledge exchange (Phan & Siegel, 2006; Pertuze et al., 2010; Burnside & Witkin, 2008; Horng & Hsueh, 2005; Wilson, 2012; Cummings & Teng, 2003; Kbalozadeh, 2011). The research on critical success factors often correlates with discussions on barriers to effective collaboration and ways for their reduction (Bruneel, 2010; Perkmann et al., 2011; Wilson, 2012; Siegel et al., 2003, 2004; Khalozadeh et al., 2011).

There is a less explored area of knowledge transfer effectiveness in the international context (Kedia & Bhagat, 1988; Madu, 1989; Kumar et al., 2007; Duan et al., 2010; Svensson, 2007) with an additional layer of complexity related to market conditions, local capabilities and cultural values. Furthermore, due to its nascent nature, knowledge transfer in the emerging market context is even less explored.

Triple Helix as a Strategy for National Growth

Knowledge production and diffusion is widely accepted as a critical factor for economic growth (ConceiCao et al., 2002) with universities playing a key role in developing a knowledge-based economy. One of the models describing knowledge transfer interactions is a triple helix development model, which focuses on creating strong links between industry, government and universities. The model is proposed as a strategy for developing countries to accelerate their transition to the knowledge-based economy (Etzkowitz & Dzisah, 2008).

Many authors stress an increasingly complex interaction between universities, government and industry in collaboratively developing roadmaps and foresight strategies which can potentially lead to a more sustainable economic growth and competitive advantage (Etzkowitz et al., 2000; Ranga et al., 2008).

Knowledge Transfer Determinants

The term knowledge transfer is often interchanged with "knowledge dialogue", "knowledge exchange" and "knowledge translation" (Lockett, 2009). A diagram of the knowledge transfer cycle is presented in Figure 1.

Knowledge transfer activities between university and industry can provide substantial benefits for all partners as summarized in Figure 2.

Universities benefit from industrial funding, access to industrial testing facilities and practical case studies demonstrating translational impact. Industry potentially saves on R&D and the need to develop a specific expertise in-house. It further benefits from access to a talent pool, laboratory facilities and cost sharing. As a result, such partnership supports open innovation, competitiveness and national growth.

Effectiveness of University-Industry Knowledge Transfer Mechanisms

A university-industry collaboration landscape is complex and varies in scope, duration, funding mechanism, geographic location, expected outcomes and impact. These variables make it challenging to evaluate effectiveness of university-industry collaboration and develop metrics for comparison.

There is limited research on effectiveness of university-industry collaboration exploring it as a holistic activity with multiple stakeholders and objectives. Phan and Siegel (2006) propose a framework simultaneously considering three contexts: institutional, organizational and individual.

Barbolla and Corredera (2009) propose a framework comprising company, university, technical and relationship perspectives (Table 1). From the knowledge perspective, key factors affecting the success or failure of a project include technology maturity, readiness for application, well-defined objectives and scope of the project, technical risks and technical feasibility to implement results. Some authors (Pertuze, 2010) acknowledge a strategic alignment of technology with the company research portfolio.

From the organizational perspective, critical factors from the company's point of view are the firm's absorptive capacity and the ability to integrate new technology into the business value chain. Other authors (Pertuze, 2010) support this notion claiming that companies value research impact over a project outcome. A critical factor to evaluate knowledge transfer effectiveness is how the new knowledge will increase a company's performance. At a university level, important factors affecting collaboration include researchers' motivation, incentives structure, senior management support and strong leadership.

There are a number of symmetrical factors for both university and company which influence a success of collaboration: senior management support, flexibility, information flow and transparency, sufficient resources at both ends and past experience.

The relational aspect is critical to build confidence and trust between partners. Knowledge transfer between academia and industry depends on balancing push and pull factors and aligning multiple objectives. The challenge in this process is asymmetry of information (Landry, 2007), where industry may experience difficulties in evaluating results and their potential applicability. Therefore, relational aspect is a critical dimension to foster trust, confidence and linkages between partners.

Barriers in University-Industry Collaboration

Despite a growing number of academia-industry collaborations, there are certain issues and barriers, which affect collaboration mechanisms (Link & Tassey, 1989; Bruneel, 2011; Perkmann & Walsh, 2008): inherent differences in mission and objectives: a different time horizon (short-term industry versus long-term academia orientation), confidentiality and exclusivity (open source and publication approach by universities versus competitiveness and result protection by industry); organizational differences: this issue has a direct impact on...

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