Institutional determinants of university spin-off quantity and quality: a longitudinal, multilevel, cross-country study

The creation of spin-off firms from universities is seen as an important mechanism for the commercialization of research, and hence the overall contribution from universities to technological development and economic growth. Governments and universities are seeking to develop framework conditions that are conductive to spin-off creation. The most prevalent of such initiatives are legislative changes at national level and the establishment of technology transfer offices at university level. The effectiveness of such initiatives is debated, but empirical evidence is limited. In this paper, we analyze the full population of universities in Italy, Norway, and the UK; three countries adopting differing approaches to framework conditions, to test whether national- and university-level initiatives have an influence on the number of spin-offs created and the quality of these spin-offs. Building on institutional theory and using multilevel analysis, we find that changes in the institutional framework conditions at both national and university levels are conductive to the creation of more spin-offs, but that the increase in quantity is at the expense of the quality of these firms. Hence, the effect of such top–down changes in framework conditions on the economic impact from universities seems to be more symbolic than substantive.