Innovation in cultural industries: the role of university links.

Author:Zukauskaite, Elena


For more than a decade the contemporary economy has been described as 'knowledge-based', which means that knowledge has been recognized as the driver of productivity and economic growth, leading to a new focus on the role of information, technology and learning in economic performance (OECD 1996). As knowledge creation has an impact on the economy, and innovation is a matter of producing new knowledge or combining existing (and sometimes new) elements of knowledge in new ways (Edquist 2005), one can say that innovation is a driver of economic development. The very first proponent of this idea was Schumpeter who, in the early 1900s, described economic development as a process of qualitative change, driven by innovation, that took place in historical time (from Fagerberg 2005).

The systems of innovation approach claims that firms do not innovate in isolation, but interact with other organizations (Edquist 2005). As universities are important and useful generators of knowledge they become crucial partners in innovation activities (Coenen 2007). According to the framework of constructed regional advantage (Asheim et al. 2006), the public sector (especially universities) should take a more active role in collaborating with industry. Traditionally associated with basic research, education and peer-review, universities have been asked for social and economical accountability (Steen & Enders 2008).

These changes have created new opportunities and challenges for academia. The new concepts of 'academic entrepreneurship' (Klofsten & Jones-Evans 2000) and 'entrepreneurial university' (Vickers et al. 2001) have been introduced in the academic analysis of university--industry relations. Four major research streams have emerged in this area of study: entrepreneurial research university, productivity of technology transfer office, new firm creation and environmental context including network of innovation (Rothaermel et al. 2007). A taxonomy of the literature by Rothaermal et al. (2007) reveals that in most of the articles the unit of analysis is the university. The literature analyzing how this collaboration affects firms concentrates mostly on high-tech sectors such as ICT and biotechnology. In many cases the companies are influenced through technology transfer--licensing and spin-off activities. The research on innovation networks highlights the benefits of such networks to technology-based firms (Rothaermel et al. 2007). Additionally, the majority of studies concentrate either on large enterprises with developed R&D activities (e.g., Fabrizio 2006) or spin-offs from the university (Grandi & Grimaldi 2003; Perez & Sanchez 2003; Johansson et al. 2005). Discussions on the impact of academia-industry relations on other types of firms are lacking. The aim of this study is to analyze how (if at all) relations with academia influence the innovation performance of new media firms. Such an analysis could at least partly fill the current gap in the literature on academia-industry relations.

New media is a creative/artistic sector that is continuously challenged by the emergence of new technologies, but it is an artistic nature that defines its specificity. According to Asheim et al. (2007), there are three types of knowledge bases: analytical (scientific), synthetic (engineering) and symbolic (artistic). Knowledge creation and mode of innovation of firms are strongly shaped by their specific knowledge base. Firms operating in the new media sector are usually classified as the ones with a dominating symbolic knowledge base (Martin & Moodysson 2011). Even if some firms have analytical or synthetic competences in-house, it is the symbolic ones that define their competitiveness in the market.

A common theoretical assumption is that relations with universities are of minor importance for art industries (Asheim et al. 2007; Miles & Green 2008; Davis et al. 2009). However, new media firms tend to cluster around universities (Picard 2008; Martin & Moodysson 2011). Additionally, recent findings by Martin et al. (2011) reveal that new media firms make strong demands for support from the public sector in striving to acquire technological knowledge. According to the authors, symbolic knowledge-based industries do not produce new technology but need it as an input and tool in the creation of cultural artifacts. This suggests that a university link might play a role in the innovation activities of new media firms. This paper tests this claim empirically, by analyzing how (if at all) relations with universities affect the innovativeness of new media firms in Scania (the southernmost region in Sweden).


In order to analyze collaborative innovations, a natural point of departure for this paper is the open innovation framework (Chesbrough 2003, 2006). The idea of open innovation is based on the fact that 'useful knowledge is generally believed to be widely distributed and of generally high quality' (Chesbrough 2006, p. 9). This leads to different ways of organizing innovation activities, and a new business model that uses external and internal knowledge and external and internal paths to the market to provide value for a firm. It also makes the university an important pool of external knowledge.

Chesbrough (2003) claims that the open innovation paradigm can be employed by any type of company, regardless of their size or R&D intensity. However, neither companies nor knowledge is homogenous, implying that chosen paths for knowledge exchange or collaboration partners might be different, depending on unique characteristics even when a large framework of open innovation remains. This argument goes in line with the theory of knowledge base which emphasizes that industries and their collaboration patterns differ based on dominant modes of knowledge (Asheim & Gertler 2005; Asheim 2007; Asheim et al. 2007).

Firms drawing on an analytical knowledge base develop new knowledge about natural systems by applying scientific laws. This type of knowledge is strongly codified, highly abstract and universal. Firms with a dominating analytical knowledge base usually have more frequent links with a university, and a staff that has university training and research experience. Due to a high degree of codification, they are less dependent on social local networks (Asheim et al. 2007).

Firms drawing on synthetic knowledge apply or combine (in a novel way) existing knowledge. This type of knowledge is partially codified, strongly tacit, more content-specific and acquired in a learning-by-doing manner. University--industry links are relevant in firms with a dominating synthetic knowledge base, but mainly in the field of concrete knowledge application. The staff usually develops the skills through on-the-job training or at professional schools (Asheim et al. 2007).

Firms drawing on the symbolic base create meaning and aesthetic qualities. This type of knowledge base dominates in such cultural industries as the media (film making, publishing, music, etc.), advertising, design or fashion and the use of narratives (Scott 1998). The basic rationale for knowledge creation is thus to shape meaning and desire through an affecting sensuous medium (Asheim et al. 2007). The competitiveness of the outcomes from such industries depends largely on how they function 'at least in part as personal ornaments, modes of social display, aestheticized objects, forms of entertainment and distraction, or sources of information and self-awareness' (Scott 1997, p. 324). It follows that this type of knowledge is strongly semiotic; some forms are highly content-specific (what functions in one context as social display or personal ornament, might fail in another; Asheim et al. 2007). The creation and production of such cultural products, together with the generation and exchange of symbolic knowledge, usually take place within localized clusters (Scott 1997; Asheim 2007; Asheim et al. 2007).

In a detailed account of the development of the movie industry in Hollywood, Storper (1997) clearly illustrates the change from the Fordist mass production assembly line principle to a customized and specialized added value approach. This finding goes in line with the argument that the creativity of post-Fordist modern capitalism in cultural industries is closely related to individual talent which is stimulated through interaction with different agents (Scott 1997; Sjoholm 2010).

The development of skills is less tied to formal qualifications and university degrees than to practice in various stages of the creative process. Learning and knowledge exchange primarily take place through interaction (in some cases facilitated by regional innovation policies) between firms in the same sector, while the university plays a minor role in innovation activities (Scott 1997; Asheim et al. 2007; Martin & Moodysson 2011).

It is important to emphasize that these are ideal types. In reality, a combination of different knowledge bases is used in firms (Moodysson 2007; Martin & Moodysson 2011). However, it is usually the dominant knowledge base that defines a firm's competitive advantage. In this paper, it is a symbolic knowledge base that mostly influences competitiveness of the analyzed firms.


Before moving on to university--industry links, it is worth discussing how innovation is perceived in the literature on creative industries. Miles and Green (2008) note that research studies of innovation in the creative industries are few and far between, even though these industries are highly innovative. The authors describe the innovations in creative industries as 'hidden innovations'; that is, innovation without a major scientific/technological basis, such as innovation in organizational forms or business models; innovation created from the novel combination of existing technologies and processes and other types...

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