This paper studies the relationship between the features of managerial board, ownership structure and firm performance of a particular type of new technology ventures: the academic spin offs. These are mainly small and medium firms, focused on high technology, research and innovation, that involve private and public actors in their ownership structure. Literature shows that these firms play an important role for economic growth of a country, however in Italy a high degree of academic spin offs doesn’t survive for a long time. Managerial competences, corporate governance attributes and financial structure could explain these phenomenon. This study observes a sample of Italian academic spin offs established in the last five years: primary data on corporate governance, industry, ownership structure, financial aspects are taken from the National Register of Firms, University (parent organization) and company website. Statistics show relevant relations between firm performance and corporate governance attributes and confirmed, after the start-up, the inefficiency of the board of directors in which there is an overlapping between academic-founder and manager, suggesting greater openness to outside expertise.
Composition, managerial style and competences are important elements for the efficiency of managerial board and for the firm performance. During the last decade, research on corporate governance shown that the real problem, for a good governance practice, is linked more to the access to critical resources that to agency conflicts between ownership and management (Van Gils, 2005; Roe 1994). Strategic and managerial competences of CEO, financial resources and partnerships are strategic for the development of the firms (James, 1999; Bianco and Casavola, 1999), especially in those contexts where competitiveness is based upon knowledge and innovation and where capital markets are not very developed and not very dynamics. In knowledge-intensive sectors, also attribute of corporate governance may represent critical resources, able to influence the firm performance and its survival (Renders et al, 2010). For this reason designing the structures of governance, the primary goal becomes searching for more effective solutions to engage stakeholder who bring expertise, critical know-how, financial resources and strategic relations (Rajan and Zingales, 2000). Small and medium enterprises are the most representative firm model in Italy, where the corporate governance structure presents a high degree of ownership concentration, CEO duality and overlapping between manager and founder. These features reduce the agency problems, but bring out the need to have extensive knowledge and expertise, in order to have a rapid, efficient and flexible decision-making process, considering the actual challenges of enterprises, especially within dynamic sectors. Based on resource dependency theory (Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978), this study analyzes a particular type of SME: the academic spin offs. These are technology or research-based ventures, that involve private and public actors in their ownership structure, where there is often an overlap between the roles of founder, manager and academic researcher, who continues to carry out its research activities within the university, reconciling with great difficulty the managerial duties.