IV Academic Spin-Offs and the Issue of Commercialising Science. Some Empirical Experiences

The Impact of a Start Up's Key Business Relationships on the Commercialization of Science: The Case of Nautes

Enrico Baraldi, Andrea Perna, Fabio Fraticelli, and Gian Luca Gregori


The purpose of this chapter is to shed light on how start ups deal with the complex task of commercializing science. While the linear “spin-out funnel” model (Clarysse, Wright, Lockett, Van de Velde, & Vohora, 2005) views commercialization simply as a bridge between technology and the market, the process of connecting science to industrial or societal needs is more complex and transforms the original science into something else

E. Baraldi (h)

Department of Engineering Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden A. Perna

Department of Engineering Sciences , Uppsala University, Uppsala , Sweden

Department of Management, Universita Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, Italy

F. Fraticelli • G.L. Gregori

Department of Management , Universita Politecnica delle Marche , Ancona , Italy

© The Author(s) 2017

L. Aaboen et al. (eds.), Starting Up in Business Networks, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-52719-6_8

(Pavitt, 2004; Grandin, Wormbs, & Widmalm, 2004) rather than simply transferring it over a bridge. This “something else” is often “downgraded” because the most cutting-edge discoveries are too advanced and clash with established investments and the other technologies already in place (Hakansson & Waluszewski, 2007, pp. 6-10). Therefore, most scientific knowledge is used in the business world, after it has already been embedded in a complex socio-technical network through several connections created with surrounding technologies, actors and organizations (Hakansson & Waluszewski, 2007, pp. 6-7). Following this approach towards the commercialization of science and the adoption of a network perspective (Hakansson & Snehota, 1995) means “the real challenge in commercializing science is making it fit in the established socio-technical structures of producers and users” (Hakansson & Waluszewski, 2007, p. 10).

This challenge is even more compelling when, as shown in previous studies (Aaboen, Dubois, & Lind, 2011), we consider that the efforts of new ventures to commercialize their offer depend on some initial and key business relationships—specifically customer relationships—as well as particular conditions that affect, at a network level, the new venture’s development. Therefore, we take the perspective of a new venture facing a business network, and we refer to science as the object of a commercialization process, whereby a complex set of relationships transforms science into something else of commercial value. Because start ups are small companies and have minimal network connections, the first relationships they establish play a pivotal role in the new venture’s development. Accordingly, we call them “key relationships”.

Against this background, the purpose of this chapter is to illustrate how initial key relationships influence the way in which a start up commercializes science. The first part of the chapter offers theoretical insights into the critical role that business relationships play in supporting or limiting the efforts that new business ventures make to commercialize science. The second part of the chapter focuses on the particular case of an academic spin-off, Nautes, established at the Universita Politecnica delle Marche, Italy, and its first customer relationship. By means of this empirical study, we emphasize how business ventures are shaped and strongly affected by their initial and key business relationships, which can play two different roles: as facilitators or inhibitors of the commercialization process. The chapter ends with a discussion of how new business ventures may overcome the barriers created by the first business relationships and exploit the opportunities related to their initial and key customer relationships. More specifically, by looking at the academic spin-off as a central actor, we focus on how this new venture, managed by researchers with limited experience commercializing their innovation, engaged with a large customer and learnt, albeit in a turbulent way, how to take its business forward.

The main contribution of this chapter is its explanation of the commercialization process of science by taking an inter-organizational perspective. Secondly, we investigate the complex nature of relationships between new and established companies. Thirdly, we examine the embedding process of science over time by describing several adaptations between the new solution and the surrounding context (Akrich, Callon, & Latour, 2002, p. 209; Van de Ven, Polley, Garud, & Venkataraman, 1999), starting from the first customer and continuing with subsequent customer relationships.

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