Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research, 1995

Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research
1995 Edition

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    Bjørnar Reitan, The Norwegian Institute of Technology
    Sigmund J. Waagø, The Norwegian Institute of Technology


    Experiences from a public measure with the aim of fostering technical entrepreneurship are presented. The measure - a scholarship-programme - is positioned in the preparation stage of the new business formation process, with the aim of achieving high quality preparations. The target groups are scientists and academics who want to establish a new venture in a high-tech field. The programme has not been as huge a success as expected. The programme is not appropriate according to the criteria of realism, complementarity and compatibility. Assessing the success of the established NTBFs, we find that in quantitative terms, the programme has to be categorized as a success. The start-up rate is 89%, the survival rate 73.7% and the "commercial utilization rate" 82.8%. However, in qualitative terms, the programme is not too successful. Most of the NTBFs do not contribute substantially to employment. Considering the turnover and net income before taxes, most of the firms are small and unprofitable. For the public fostering of technical entrepreneurship at universities and research institutions, implications are that they have to attach great importance to creating an environment supportive of technical entrepreneurship. The role of the incubator is very important both for the short-run and long-run success of NTBFs. The university or research institution as an incubator can, when playing a proper role, reduce some problems NTBFs experience later, and, thus, strengthen their qualitative performance.


    Norwegian exports have largely been based on raw materials and semi-manufactured goods, with the petroleum sector as the most important sector. Less than 5% of Norway's exports are on the average attached to knowledge-intensive goods and services. In the 1980s, Norway experienced stagnating industrial output and decreasing oil-prizes, and industrial renewal and technological development became central topics in the industrial policy debate. It has long been claimed that if Norway is to withhold its competitive position, the industry has to converge toward more knowledge-based production (Ekelund & Hjelde, 1989). In Norway, interest in new technology-based firms (NTBFs) has therefore increased in recent years.

    In Norway, considerable technological development takes place at universities and private and public research institutions. One way of achieving industrial renewal is therefore through increased commercialization (or technology transfer) of research results from these institutions. Louis et al. (1989) have identified five major ways in which academics and scientists can bring their research into the commercial sector:

    1) Consultancy

    2) Funded research

    3) Clubs and development companies

    4) Patenting and licensing the results of research

    5) Venture spin-offs

    The focus in this paper is on spin-offs, a special case of technology transfer and high-tech venturing.

    > During the past decades, there has been a growing acceptance by policy makers of the key role that technological innovation plays in stimulating national and regional economic growth. They have increasingly formulated explicit policies toward innovation and initiated specific measures to assist and to stimulate technological innovations in industry. A broad range of policy measures has been devised. This policy has been fed by a continuous stream of empirical research focusing on factors affecting the establishment and growth of NTBFs. Although each nation emphasizes the use of different policy instruments, all rely on the same general kinds of mechanisms. We divide them into five categories (adapted from Rothwell & Zegveld, 1982):

    1) General: The role and organization of government regulation

    2) Market: Public sector procurement

    3) Financial: Subsidies (R&D, grants, and so on); Tax incentives; and Venture capital

    4) Technical: Scientific and technological infrastructure; Advisory systems and technological information systems; Government-supported laboratories and collaborative research centers; Support for selected technologies; and Patents and licensing system

    5) Management: Management training

    > In this paper, a combination of a financial and management measure for the fostering of technical entrepreneurship in research communities is investigated, namely a scholarship programme. This programme grant scholarships to would-be entrepreneurs (scientists or academics) wanting to start a venture in a high-tech field. In addition, the programme offers supplementary support for needed management training.


    The scholarship-programme was first announced spring 1982 by the Research Council of Norway. The programme has a two-piece goal (Waagø et al., 1993a):

    1) It shall provide scientists and academics wanting to start an NTBF the needed time, competency and money to assess whether the key conditions for launching the enterprise are present or not

    2) It shall contribute to faster commercialization of R&D-results from universities and research institutions through venture spin-offs

    >As indicated by the goal of the programme, the scholarship recipients must, during the programme period, assess whether the key conditions needed for launching the enterprise is present. By key conditions is meant customer relations, personal contacts, resources, technical knowledge and product idea (Reitan & Waagø, 1994). The economic instruments associated with the scholarship programme are:

    1) A one-year scholarship, which can be prolonged for two additional years.

    2) Supplementary support for needed management training, for example education, consultancy assistance and the hiring of a mentor.

    > The programme had relatively many applicants the first years, which can be taken as an indication of the triggering of a latent need for such a measure. However, the number of applicants has decreased remarkably the latest years. In 1984, the number of applicants was 44, while the (temporary) bottom level was reached in 1992, with only 12 applications. This trend is equivalent with the general trend in the rate of establishment of new ventures in Norway, which has decreased considerably since 1988. In accordance with the trend in number of applicants, annual funding has decreased from about 525,000 US$ in 1984 to about 155,000 US$ in 1992.

    The scholarship is not meant to cover operational expenses of the NTBFs or the expenses connected to development projects. Rather, the scholarship is meant to cover the would-be entrepreneurs and his/her families' living expenses during the programme period. The average amount of scholarship awarded is 22,000 US$, ranging from 6,150 US$ to 38,500 US$. The average length of the scholarship period was 10.7 months, ranging from 3 months to 24 months. 53.1% of the scholarship recipients received a scholarship for 12 months.

    The would-be entrepreneurs

    Since the start in 1982, 111 would-be entrepreneurs have taken part in the programme. The average age of the would-be entrepreneurs when entering the programme, was 37 years. They are highly educated, mainly in the technical field (78.8%). Only 6.7% had pure non-technical education (economic or marketing), while 7.3% had a combination of technical and non-technical education.

    Table 1 shows the origin of the entrepreneurs. About a third of them worked at research institutions before joining the scholarship programme, while approximately 45% came from private firms. The rest came from other incubator organizations, such as universities and diverse public offices. 68.9% of the scholarship recipients had left their previous job permanently before entering the scholarship programme, while the rest had leave of absence.


    New business formation is a complex process that is influenced by a wide range of factors. Figure 1, based on Keeble & Wever (1986) and Fischer (1988) offers a useful framework to discuss the process of business formation in some more detail. Five stages are distinguished:

    Stage 1: Idea generation and motives to set up a new business

    Stage 2: Validation and conceptualization of business ideas

    Stage 3: Preparation on start

    Stage 4: Initial implementation

    Stage 5: Stabilization

    These stages have different requirements and exhibit different difficulties and bottleneck's. The scholarship is positioned in stage 3. The scholarship recipients have, thus, been through stages 1 and 2, and are almost ready to launch the venture. Earlier research suggests that the preparation stage of the business formation process is often neglected or not given sufficient priority. Would-be entrepreneurs often concentrate on some key conditions for launching the enterprise and ignore others, resulting in serious problems or failure for the venture (Reitan & Waagø, 1994; Waagø et al., 1993a). The scholarship programme therefore aims to bring into focus the preparation stage as crucial for the later success of the venture.

    In stage 3, the feasibility of the business idea has to be tested, inter alia, by assessing the market potential of the product or service (Fischer, 1988). In particular, specific information is required in this stage, such as that on the legal and administrative framework in which the new firm has to operate, market potential, possible resources of public assistance (financial and tax incentives, organizational and market counseling) as well as knowledge of and accessibility to finance. In this stage of the business formation process some potential firm founders decide not to start a new firm, either because their plans were not sufficiently realistic or because they became aware of not having the necessary skills and experience.


    To evaluate the appropriateness and the success (both in quantitative and qualitative terms) of the programme, extensive data were needed. Data is taken from a comprehensive evaluation of the Research Council of Norway's scholarship-program for would-be entrepreneurs (Waagø et al, 1993a). The main research instrument was a 24-page questionnaire to be answered by the (former) scholarship recipients, covering the following areas:

  • Data on the business idea, the founders and team

  • Data on the established NTBFs

  • The initiation phase of the scholarship-programme

  • The scholarship period

  • The operations stage (initial implementation and stabilization) of the ventures

    Other data sources were:

  • Interviews with the programme coordinators and members of the selection committee associated with the programme

  • Questionnaires aimed at the mentors that had been used and some would-be entrepreneurs that had got a refusal on the request for a scholarship

  • Archival data

  • Economic data for the established NTBFs (annual reports)

    The population of would-be entrepreneurs that had been funded through the scholarship program since the start in 1982 was 111 (at the time of our study). Some of these had quit during the programme and some were unable to reach by mail. The remaining 96 received our questionnaire. We received 64 responses, yielding a response-rate of 66.7%.


    To evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the scholarship programme, we have applied a model developed by the Science Policy Research Unit, the University of Sussex, England (see Rothwell & Zegveld, 1985). This model can be described as a set of criteria for evaluation of the appropriateness of government measures toward industrial policy. Rothwell & Zegveld (1985) identifies five criteria for the appropriateness of such a programme.

    a) Compatibility

    b) Consistency

    c) Flexibility

    d) Complementarity

    e) Realism

    The first criterion, compatibility, refers to the demand for adjustment between the scholarship programme and other, similar or parallel measures or actors that stimulate the same target groups. According to this criterion, the programme has to pull in the same direction as other related public measures, and moreover harmonize with or supplement them. In our view, the programme as a public means has not performed well according to this criterion. Thinking of the new business formation process as a relay race, there are few or no other public measures or actors to take over the baton when the scholarship programme is ended, even though the need for it is clearly articulated (Ekelund & Hjelde, 1989; Waagø et al., 1993a; 1993b).

    In our view, the situation in Norway can be described as (Waagø et al., 1993a; 1993b):

    1) A predominance of public measures in the pre start-up stage as opposed to operations.

    2) Too little capital for the growth and development of NTBFs in general. Especially seed funding and venture capital is lacking. In addition, the private banks have become very risk averse toward NTBFs the latest years, reflecting heavy losses during the 1980s on such investments.

    3) A predominance of public measures for R&D as opposed to marketing and distribution. Many have suggested that we have got a capital gap in the market introduction and market development stages.

    4) A passive government procurement policy toward NTBFs in relation to for example the United States.

    5) Small industrial milieu, especially technology-based industry, which has declined the last decades.

    6) A shortage of skilled labor in certain parts of the country, especially rural regions. A general trend is that students start to work either in large corporations or the public sector.

    Thus, the conditions for development and growth of the NTBFs are poor. An indication on this is the fact that most of the ventures in this study report great problems with 1) gaining additional capital for growth and development and 2) gaining access to the market in the operation stage. These two problems are clearly related; those with market problems will often meet problems of raising capital. In fact, 84% of those reporting capital problems also report market problems, while 68.4% of those reporting market problems also report capital problems. Interestingly, 65% of those not reporting market problems report capital problems still, supporting the view that access to capital is the major barrier to the establishment and growth of NTBFs in Norway.

    The second criterion for the appropriateness of the programme is consistency. According to this criterion, the measure or programme shall be shielded from short-sighted needs or changes, and be carried out consistent compared with the ground rules set up and the expectations that rule in the market. In our view, the programme has performed rather well according to this criterion (Waagø et al., 1993a).

    Flexibility is the third criterion mentioned by the Science Policy Research Unit. Public measures ought according to this criterion to be flexible to respond to development trends and needs that demand adaptation and adjustment of direction and measures. According to this criterion, the programme has performed very well (Waagø et al., 1993a). It has responded several times to development trends, for example the target group has expanded from public scientists only to include privates as well. In addition, the increased need for supplementary support in the form of mentors and so on, has led the programme coordinators to emphasize this part of the programme.

    The fourth criterion is complementarity. According to this criterion, public measures should not only be compatible with other programmes and measures, but also the strategic interest and needs to the target groups the programme aims at. According to this criterion, the programme has performed somewhat below what can be expected (Waagø et al., 1993a). Among others, the following criticism has been raised from the scholarship recipients, mentors and other persons interviewed:

    1) There is need for better qualification measures during the programme period, both for qualification of the venture ideas, for example through seminars for development of business plans.

    2) There is need for a better qualification of the would-be entrepreneurs through participation on new venture courses, economic courses, marketing courses, seminars for sharing of experiences and so on. As reported earlier, the scholarship recipients have mainly got technical background, with no or only marginal insight into the commercial aspects of running a business.

    3) The length of the scholarship period should be differentiated according to the needs and nature of each venture and the stage of development when entering the programme.

    4) If there are two or more would-be entrepreneurs associated with one business idea, there is clearly need for scholarship for at least two of them, one to work on the commercial aspects and the other on the technical aspects of the venture.

    5) Direct contact with customers and development milieus, need assessment and marketing research must be stimulated to a higher degree. This competency must be acquired by the would-be entrepreneurs, not with consultants or mentors only.

    All this leads to the conclusion that the measures associated with the scholarship programme today are not sufficient if the programme is to achieve its goals: faster commercialization of R&D results and high quality preparations of the operations stage.

    The last criterion suggested by the Science Policy Research Unit is realism. The policy makers have to realize that a public measure has limited scope. The design of the programme and the use of resources have to be in harmony with what is reasonable to achieve in relation to available knowledge of the conditions for the programme. The use of resources in the programme is relatively low, and the programme is said to be cost-effective. However, the realism is weaker in relation to the work that is actually carried out, and whether this is sufficient for launching the enterprises when the programme period is over.

    In summary, our evaluation of the programme (Waagø et al., 1993a) suggests that the programme performs rather well on two of these five criteria: flexibility and consistency. However, the programme cannot be said to have performed so well according to the criteria of realism, complementarity and compatibility. The total evaluation therefore concludes that there is a need for improvements to defend such a public measure in the coming years.


    We will discuss the success of the programme in two different perspectives, namely the quantitative and the qualitative success perspective. Unfortunately, for many public measures only the quantitative success perspective is discussed. This can lead to serious distortions. Also in many empirical studies regarding high technology small firms, the "number of new firm formations" approach to defining success has been implemented. In particular, in the early 1980s there were a series of government and academic studies of new firms formation levels (cf. Storey, 1982; Fothergill & Gudgin, 1982), in an environment where politicians argued that individual entrepreneurship would be a major means of combating high unemployment through new firm formation.

    It is possibly because there have been few success stories of individual small firms achieving large size, that government agencies have attempted to find evidence of a new entrepreneurial environment through emphasizing the quantity of new firms, rather than the quality, judged in terms of rapid industrial growth (Oakey, 1991).

    The quantitative success perspective

    When discussing the quantitative success of the programme, we will look at three different measures:

  • Start-up rate, i.e., per cent of scholarship recipients starting a new venture

  • Survival rate, i.e., per cent of NTBFs still existent at the time of the study

  • "Commercial utilization rate", i.e., per cent of business ideas utilized commercially at the time of the study

    Of the 64 scholarship recipients in the study, 57 started a new venture as a result of the programme, yielding a start-up rate of 89%. Of these 57 new ventures, 42 were existent on the time of the study, yielding a survival rate of 73.7%. The firms were established between 1983 and 1993, and the average age at the time of the study was 6 years. One half of the firms had been in operation for at least seven years.

    Of course, in all of the existent NTBFs, the business idea is still utilized commercially. In addition, in 50% of those cases where the business had gone bankrupt or no business was founded at all, the business idea is utilized commercially by other businesses. Therefore, of the 64 business ideas assessed during the scholarship programme 53 was still utilized commercially at the time of the study, yielding a "commercial utilization rate" of 82.8%. Figure 2 illustrates the different rates discussed above.

    According to the quantitative success perspective, the scholarship programme has to be categorized as a success. An evaluation of a similar programme in Denmark, see Jakobsen (1992), reported a start-up rate of 81%, survival rate of 57% and a commercial utilization rate of 75%. These figures are also very high.

    The qualitative success perspective

    When discussing the qualitative success of the programme, we use the following six measures:

  • Level of turnover and annual growth in turnover

  • Level of net income before taxes and accumulated net income before taxes

  • Number of employees and annual growth in number of employees

    Figure 3 indicates that the average annual turnover is relatively low the first years of operations. The year of start-up, it is approximately 92,300 US$. Average annual turnover grows fast, 81.5% from year 1 to year 2 and 60% from year 3 to year 4, and reaches about 770,000 US$ in year 4 after start-up. Turnover rices until year 8, however, most of the NTBFs are small at start-up, and stay small throughout the first years of operations.

    Average annual net income before taxes (NI) is negative for most of the NTBFs the first years of operations, see figure 4. On the average, annual NI is negative until year 5. After that, the annual NI rice slightly for those NTBFs that are still existent. Average accumulated NI is negative all the 8 first years after start-up. Maximum negative accumulated NI is -390,000 US$ at year 5.

    These figures are somewhat surprising, considering the high survival rate reported earlier. In fact, as much as 65.6% of the NTBFs in the study still exists after 5 years. The reported tendency is according to other studies, showing that Norwegian NTBFs do not experience any positive cash-flows before 8-10 years after start-up (Hjelde et al., 1988). However, using median figures rather than average, the results are somewhat better. The "typical NTBF" is characterized by a small negative NI the first couple of years, and zero or small positive NI later in the process. In Norway, we call these firms "the living dead", suggesting that they never will be any success stories, they must fight for their survival every year. 73.5% of the NTBFs have negative NI in the start-up year, while about one half have negative NI in year 2-5. When reaching year 6 after start-up, a majority has positive NI (69.6%), and in year 7 only 14.3% have negative NI.

    The NTBFs in our study have few employees. On the average, they have only got three employees in the start-up year, including the founder(s). 22.2% of the scholarship recipients start their ventures alone, and do not hire any persons the first years. In year two, 45.5% of the ventures still have only 1 or 2 employees (including the founder). After year 2, the average number of employees grows, reaching a top level of 8.3 employees in year 4. After that they experience a slight decline, but in year 7 a new top level is reached, with 10.5 employees on the average.

    For number of employees, as shown for turnover and net income before taxes, the median figures are lower than the average ones. In fact, the trend in number of employees is quit similar to the trend in turnover shown in figure 4. Both turnover and number of employees decline slightly in growth-rate in the years 4-6 after start-up, but continue to grow after that. Most of the NTBFs do not contribute substantially to employment. This is in line with several other studies (cf. Oakey, 1991; Keeble & Kelly, 1988). Also considering the turnover and net income before taxes, we conclude that according to the qualitative success perspective the scholarship programme cannot be seen as a huge success.

    However, NTBFs can be very important for the long run process of industrial renewal in a country like Norway. Given that it is possible to strengthen the long run competitive position through high technology, the Norwegian government ought to stimulate to a higher level of NTBFs. A strengthening of the competitive position can only be achieved, however, through a higher qualitative success of the NTBFs, judged in terms of rapid industrial growth.


    While NTBFs apparently play an important role in the innovation performance of new industries, and interact with large firms in complicated chains of production, their short to medium term contribution to sectoral employment is, at best, moderate as seen in this and other studies. In particular, the aggregate number of jobs created in the above surveys, the average employment size of small firms, and the incidence of individual growth from small firms into large enterprises, are generally meager contributions to employment, when set against the potential for job gains and losses across all manufacturing industries.

    The small innovative firms considered in this paper are by policy makers seen as vital to the long-term industrial future of Norway. However, it appears that policies adopted to encourage their establishment will be relatively ineffective when success is measured in qualitative terms. It is important that such firms should have the most favorable environment in which to become established and grow, but an appropriate environment is provided by factors largely outside the control of regional or local authorities. All governments want to stimulate industrial innovation. Unfortunately, the task is not easy; no one program or set of policies has proven to be overwhelmingly and consistently successful. Government encouragement may be a necessary but not sufficient condition for the success of new firms. Yet, countries continue to attempt to stimulate and assist NTBFs.

    One of the critical implications for industrial policy is therefore the creation of an environment in which NTBFs can flourish. In our view, indirect incentives through an efficient supporting infrastructure are much more important than direct financial support.

    The incubator role - critical for the long-term supply and qualitative success of NTBFs?

    How then, can the fostering of technical entrepreneurship in research communities be more effective, so that the qualitative success of the venture spin-offs is raised? Our own research (Reitan & Waagø, 1994; Waagø et al., 1993a) shows that for NTBFs, the type of incubator is very important for subsequent success, in line with several other studies (e.g. Roberts, 1991; Feeser & Willard, 1989; Cooper, 1985). The university or research institution as an incubator can, when playing a proper role, hinder many of the problems NTBFs experience later, and, thus, strengthen the qualitative success of public new venture creation measures if the different measures are coordinated and adjusted to the target groups' needs and interest.

    In Coopers (1985) model, universities and research institutions could be defined as incubators, as they must have had some role in influencing its staff to start a business. However, it is the nature of this role that is important. Many in this and other studies describe the role of the incubator in negative terms or complain about lack of support, thus academics and scientists may not be being offered the opportunity to be enterprising. It is evident that while academics and scientists build up expertise in their chosen field in universities and research institutions, if this expertise is to be put to greater commercial advantage universities must be more proactive. Just "being there" is not enough. Part of the role of universities and research institutions must be to provide academics with experience in the business world to allow them to translate their technical expertise in commercial terms (Weatherston, 1993). To what extent this occurs in institutions could be a limiting factor on spin-off formation. In general, there are five major areas that universities and research institutions need to address if they are to provide an environment capable of supporting academic entrepreneurs (Weatherston, 1993):

    1) A policy statement from the university on all technology transfer issues.

    2) Fostering a supportive attitude in administration and colleagues.

    3) Business training needs to be made available to academics.

    4) There should be flexible contracts and concern for intellectual property rights for academic entrepreneurs.

    5) The provision of seed capital funding.

    In Norway, there has been a trend toward the establishment of large "spin-off" programmes the latest years. These are supported by state level government, and situated in research communities. Besides the scholarship programme discussed in this paper, they can provide the needed infrastructure, guidance, seed financing, network and so on in the pre start-up and early operation (initial implementation) stages. The use of mentors is important, together with structured qualification programmes aimed at strengthening the quality both on the would-be entrepreneurs and the business ideas. A typical list of activities from such a programme is shown in table 2 below. As can be seen, the scholarship and supplementary support (mentors and consultants) is supplemented by a wide range of activities and measures, providing the basis for higher quality preparations for start-up. The shattered area consists of the instruments offered by the ordinary scholarship programme. The other activities are supplementary instruments. We believe that such an approach will result in more qualitative success of the ventures being launched. Probably, the quantity of new ventures will be lower, but it is the quality that is the most important success criterion in the long run.

    However, although technology transfer from universities to enterprises has an important role to play regarding the economic exploitation of technological progress, the universities should never forget that their primary task continues to lie in the field of scientific education and fundamental research. The universities should not be allowed to degenerate into engineering or business consultancy bureaus, thereby losing sight of their proper tasks.


    Cooper, A.C. (1985) The role of the incubator organizations in the founding of growth-oriented firms. Journal of business venturing. (1)

    Ekelund, T. & Hjelde, A.K. (1989) Behovet for teknologibaserte nyetableringer (The need for technology-based firms: in Norwegian) Oslo: Resource Policy Group. Report 739

    Feeser, H.R. & Willard, G.E. (1989) Incubators and performance: a comparison of high- and low-growth high-tech firms. Journal of Business Venturing. (4): 429-442

    Fischer, M. M. (1988) Business formation and regional development. in Small and Medium Size Enterprises and Regional Development by Giaoutzi, Nijkamp & Storey (eds.): London: Routledge

    Fothergill, S. & Gudgin, G. (1982) Unequal Growth. London: Heinemann

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    Jakobsen, L. (1992) Højteknologiske iværksættere - erfaringer fra Stipendieordningen (High-tech entrepreneurs: experiences from the scholarship-programme: in Danish). Århus: DTI.

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    Reitan, B. & Waagø, S.J. (1994) Pre Start-up Preparations: clarifying the key conditions for launching the enterprise. Paper presented at the 8th workshop of Recent Research in Entrepreneurship (RENT VIII). Finland: Tampere

    Roberts, E.B. (1991) Entrepreneurs in High Technology: lessons from MIT and beyond. New York: Oxford University Press

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    Waagø, S.J., Reitan, B. & Biti, J. (1993a) Evaluering av Norges Forskningsråds Etableringsstipendordning (Evaluation of the Research Council of Norway's scholarship-programme: an evaluation: in Norwegian). The Norwegian Institute of Technology. Report 43

    Waagø, S.J., Ørjasæter, N.O. & Reitan, B. (1993b) Take-off NTH. Trondheim: The Norwegian Institute of Technology. Unpublished report

    Weatherston, J. (1993) Academic entrepreneurs. Industry & Higher Education. Dec.: 235-243

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