Macquarie University
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Australian university spin-offs: a holistic process model for spin-off creation

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posted on 2023-11-08, 01:29 authored by Athira Bahuleyan

University spin-offs (USOs) are formal channels of knowledge transfer from universities. These ventures commercialize research outcomes, technologies, and ideas generated within universities. They translate research and ideas into marketable solutions, thus creating business opportunities and job creation. Since research commercialization has become the third mission of universities, there has been an increased focus and amount of research on university spin-offs in the past two decades. 

The research on university spin-offs has adopted a variance approach to studying these ventures, their performance, impact, efficiency, and various determinants. However, USO research has scarcely focused on the process aspect of university spin-offs. Extending the existing knowledge on university spin-offs, more recent studies on university spin-offs call attention to the need for an integrated approach to studying the university spin-off process. The variance approach studies have predominantly investigated various determinants impacting the performance, efficiency, creation, and growth of university spin-offs. However, prior research has not yet explored the process that leads to the creation and success of university spin-offs. Therefore, this research focuses on examining the university spin-off phenomenon and the best set of practices that lead to creating successful ventures in universities globally and specifically in Australian universities. 

This thesis addresses essential research gaps in the university spin-off literature through three papers. The three papers include two qualitative papers one quantitative paper using secondary data. The first paper is a systematic literature review of the university spin-off literature, with a particular interest in differentiating the literature into variance approach and process approach studies by examining 94 peer-reviewed articles published between 1987 and 2020. The paper contributes to the USO literature by providing an integrating framework that incorporates the findings on numerous factors from the variance approach studies to three distinct stages broadly identified from the process approach studies. The framework identifies the various individual, institutional, and organizational-level factors that impact the three stages of the spin-off process. The results highlight the need to adopt a holistic approach to studying the university spin-off process. 

The second paper is a qualitative study that adopts a case study approach to examine the university spin-off process holistically. We develop a holistic spin-off process model using qualitative data collected through in-depth semi-structured interviews with 30 participants from university spin-offs originating in Australian universities. The participants include predominantly university spin-off founders and external stakeholders, such as incubation managers, mentors, and commercialization directors. The spin-off model delineates the phases of the spin-off process and identifies the critical enablers and inhibitors at each stage. The findings show that universities function as key enablers while launching these ventures but lose focus when providing support in the later stage. In all stages, professional and personal networks play an essential role as enablers of resource acquisition and team development. This research also found that the department from which the research originates was found to function as an inhibitor to the commercialization process, which led to founders not disclosing their research outcomes early in the process and limiting the interaction and involvement of the department. The founders found universities’ lack of the participation and allocation of resources when these ventures are in their growth phase is a key barrier to growth. The research highlights the need to allocate resources and support services based on the stage of spin-off development, which may vary. 

The third paper is a quantitative study that adopts a two-stage data envelopment analysis (DEA) to investigate the best practices that lead to university spin-off creations in Australia. Using this method, we observe Australian universities and the university spin-offs created to identify the best set of practices in universities that managed to create efficient spin-offs. We use secondary panel data available on Australian universities from the National Survey of Research Commercialization (NSRC), consolidated time series data sets collected by the Department of Education, Skills, and Employment, and other publicly available data sources. 

In DEA, the efficiency of universities in creating university spin-offs is first analyzed, followed by an identification of impact factors on the efficiency of creating university spin-offs. Thus, we identify the best set of practices to develop spin-offs in universities. The thesis contributes to the literature on university spin offs by bringing the findings of two distinct approaches and proposing an integrated framework for future studies. The thesis also contributes to USO process literature by developing a holistic spin-off model and discovering new insights through a comprehensive approach. The findings inform the essential practices and resources to be monitored for effective research commercialization. The policy and practical implications of this study delineate a blueprint for understanding the spin-off formation and development process. The study sheds light on the essential resources and policies for effective research commercialization and identifies the impact of administrative procedures, government measures, and government funding on universities. This study helps universities and individuals to identify and understand the university spin-off phenomenon. 


Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship


Table of Contents

1 Overview of the thesis -- 2 Process and variance research: integrating research on university spin-off evolution -- 3 University spin-off process: a qualitative multilevel analysis based on Australian spin-offs -- 4 Measuring spin-off creation efficiency in Australian universities through data envelopment approach -- 5 Conclusion -- 6 Appendix

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of Management

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Meena Chavan

Additional Supervisor 1

Anna Krzeminska

Additional Supervisor 2

Francesco Chirico


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:






211 pages