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An exploratory study of Principal Investigator roles in UK university Proof-of-Concept processes: an Absorptive Capacity perspective

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The increasing emphasis on academic entrepreneurship, technology transfer and research commercialisation within UK universities is predicated on basic research being developed by academics into commercial entities such as university spin-off companies or licensing arrangements. However, this process is fraught with challenges and risks, given the degree of uncertainty regarding future returns. In an attempt to minimise such risks, the Proof-of-Concept (PoC) process has been developed within University Science Park Incubators (USIs) to test the technological, business and market potential of embryonic technology. The key or the pivotal stakeholder within the PoC is the Principal Investigator (PI), who is usually the lead academic responsible for the embryonic technology. Within the current literature, there appears to be a lack of research pertaining to the role of the PI in the PoC process. Moreover, Absorptive Capacity (ACAP) has emerged within the literature as a theoretical framework or lens for exploring the development and application of new knowledge and technology, where the USI is the organisation considered in the current study. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to explore the role and influence of the PI in the PoC process within a USI setting using an ACAP perspective. The research involved a multiple case analysis of PoC applications within a UK university USI. The results demonstrate the role of the PI in developing practices and routines within the PoC process. These practices and processes were initially tacit and informal in nature but became more explicit and formal over time so that knowledge was retained within the USI after the PIs had completed the PoC process.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: School of Management and Economics, Queen's University, Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, Northern Ireland., Email: 2: School of Marketing Entrepreneurship and Strategy, University of Ulster, Jordanstown Campus, Shore Road, Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim, BT37 OQB. ;, Email: 3: Department of Management, University of Ulster, Jordanstown Campus, Shore Road, Newtonabbey, Co. Antrim, BT37 OQB., Email:

Publication date: 2010-11-01

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