Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research
1997 Edition


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Lois S. Peters
Nancy Miller Frank

Lally School of Management and Technology
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, NY 12180

Telephone: 518-276-2977
Fax: 518-276-8661

Principal Topics

Growth in public/private relationships in new business formation have been an outgrowth of federal and state technology policy encouraging the transfer of publicly funded research findings to the commercial sector.  The federal technology transfer effort is a post cold-war phenomenon designed to maintain defense competencies while simultaneously addressing a new concern?economic security.  A key aspect of American policy in this regard has been a focus on facilitating new high tech business formation.  The role that federal and state funded research plays in the creation and/or development of new technologies and product prototypes?technologies that can be of substantial benefit to the commercial sector?is significant.

In spite of potential economic benefit from these labs, characteristics unique to publicly funded institutions provide significant barriers to entrepreneurship.  Technology transfer is a complicated management process requiring theoretical knowledge and practical skills which still needs to be explored.  Much of the work considering technology transfer and high tech firms has focused on the role of small high firms in transfer of technology to large established firms through strategic alliances.  While public laboratories have fostered the formation of new business and have participated in entrepreneurial growth, there is the perception that such activity is less than optimal.

A clearer definition of technology transfer management practices with regard to opportunity recognition and reduction in public private partnership risk in cases where business resources are scarce (the situation of many new and fast growning high tech firms) should provide opportunity to develop better federal technology policy and new insights into entrepreneurial practices.  This paper focuses on technology transfer practices between publicly funded research laboratories and technology based entrepreneurial firms.  The framing questions for the study are:  (1) What entrepreneurial practices are required when new business formation and growth arises out of public private technology transfer; (2)  How do technology characteristics or states (conceptions, innovation tools, prototypes) impact the relative importance of interpersonal, legal and economic dimensions of governance structures. (3) What special management practices are required to spawn public private technology transfer to technology based entrepreneurial firms.


Data for this study comes both from survey responses and semi-structured interviews.  Interview data was supplemented by secondary data sources including archival data such as transcripts from congressional hearings, other published reports and literature investigating the evolution of technology transfer relationships between research institutions and their industrial partners.  The interview sample reflecting snowball referrals consists of 80 technology transfer experts from both federal and state public laboratories and representatives of 20 entrepreneurial firms.  Pilot survey questionnaires given to both high tech firms and public laboratory representatives have been completed.  By the time of the conference it is expected that we will have initial results from the full survey.

Major Findings

Preliminary findings highlight the dynamic interpersonal relationship between parties to a technology transfer interaction.  Partners 1) jointly seek clearly defined technological goals,  2) recognize mutually compatible outcome goals and benefits.  Factors that facilitate and encourage this dynamic relationship can enable technology transfer in both the public and the private sector by allowing  1) the awareness, growth, and development of mutual technological interests, and  2) the awareness, growth, and development of mutual interpersonal/interorganizational factors, such as trust, respect, and confidence.  Final analysis of data will be presented at the conference.


The value to practitioners of this study is evident in the enthusiastic participation of many small high tech firms who state their belief in the importance of excellence in technology transfer management practices.  The results of the study should provide insight into how these firms can gain needed resources.  It should provide insight into a better understanding of how to gain a better return to our great public investment in research and in public policy initiative by providing entrepreneurs with better guidelines of using technology transfer in business formation and growth and policy makers a better foundation for designing effective public policy.


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