The frequent and intermittent need for new scientific knowledge has resulted in an increasing focus on links between industry and academic institutions. This has been particularly pronounced in the flows of knowledge between the two partners, which may lead to considerable diffusion of scientific and technical knowledge, particularly into the small firm sector. This development could be of particular benefit to smaller peripheral economies, which have demonstrated low levels of indigenous industrial technological development. As a result, universities could become increasingly important for local economic development in smaller countries on the periphery of Europe. However, a greater understanding is required of the pro‐active role that the university itself can play in developing strong linkages with industry, particularly through mechanisms such as the Industrial Liaison Office (ILO). In particular, there needs to be an examination of the strategies and policies that are undertaken to increase the process of technology transfer from academia into local indigenous business within smaller countries. This paper will therefore examine the role that universities play in the regional economic development in two contrasting small countries of Europe, namely Sweden and Ireland. Drawing on interviews with key individuals in the processes of technology transfer between academia and industry (including ILOs), as well as secondary data, it will examine the general role and function of the industrial liaison office and how this has changed. It will also discuss the involvement of the university in different types of industrial links, the main opportunities and barriers to the development of links between university and industry, the benefits to the university from industrial links, and the perception of industry’s assessment of the relationship with universities. The research will provide valuable insight into the role of universities in developing innovation and entrepreneurship within the smaller and peripheral countries of Europe and will determine whether these universities are undertaking a pro‐active role in encouraging the growth of innovative indigenous industry. This may have significant policy implications, especially with regard to the development of specific regional programmes to encourage academic‐based entrepreneurship.