University technology transfer has emerged as an important and standalone research field over the past few decades. Given the great challenges that are involved with transferring science to the market, many universities have established technology transfer offices, science parks, incubators, and university venture funds – an organizational assemblage labelled the technology transfer (TT) ecosystem. By reviewing the extant literature on the TT ecosystem and its components, this paper aims at providing an understanding of the organizational design of the TT ecosystem. Surprisingly, the results of this review show that research considering this ecosystem as a whole is largely lacking. Specifically, the literature on the topic can be typified as atomistic, with a wide range of studies on the various TT components and a dearth of research studying holistically the wider knowledge transfer ecosystem that reflects the evolution and impact of academic entrepreneurship. Consequently, this paper presents an organizational design framework that sets out a future research agenda for studies taking a holistic approach.
This paper aims to address the following research question: “what is the current understanding of the Technology Transfer (TT) ecosystem in the literature, and how can future research systematically extend this understanding?” University science often forms the basis of new and innovative products and may even set the stage for the creation of entirely new industries, contributing significantly to economic development (Christensen, 2013). As a consequence, the commercialization of university research, hereafter referred to as technology transfer (TT), has been a major item on the agenda of university staff, researchers, practitioners, and governments seeking to stimulate TT and enhance national competitiveness (Grimaldi et al., 2011; Muscio, 2010). Subsequently, TT has become highly institutionalized within universities throughout the world (Ambos et al., 2008; Colyvas and Powell, 2007; Owen-Smith, 2003). The TT process is complex, requires significant resources, and involves high levels of uncertainty and risk (Bradley et al., 2013b). Consequently, a TT ecosystem has developed within or close to many research universities across the world in order to support TT (Siegel and Wright, 2007). This paper refers to the term “TT ecosystem” as the set of university affiliated intermediary organizations that are connected by directly supporting TT activities. The various core components of the TT ecosystem (i.e. TT offices, incubators, science parks and university venture funds) act as supporting organizational entities related to TT, and as boundary spanners between the academic environment of the university and the commercial environment of the market (Huyghe et al., 2014). As the literature on these various components is fragmentary, there is a need to review existing studies in order to form a coherent understanding of the TT ecosystem as a whole including its components. While some of these components have existed from as early as the 1950s, it has only been since the 1980s that they have become prevalent (Atkinson, 1994; Campbell and Allen, 1987; Colyvas, 2007; Link and Scott, 2003). Since then, the TT ecosystem has evolved significantly including increased interdependencies between its components, making a structured synthesis of the knowledge on TT ecosystems timely. A particularly relevant theoretical perspective, namely the organizational design perspective, guides this synthesis and the core theoretical elements of organizational purpose, activities, structure, and people and organizational culture are used to structure the literature. The literature review indicates that, despite the richness of the TT literature, it has largely focused on the TT components separately, and has rarely considered the ecosystem as a whole.