Innovation ecosystems are characterized by a variety of complementary actors and relationships among them. Universities are considered a key player in innovation ecosystems for their ability to generate knowledge and qualified expertise for entrepreneurial innovation. While much attention has been paid to mature ecosystems characterized by cutting-edge technologies, the role of less established universities in less innovative regions, characterized by a lack of relationships, family-owned firms, difficult university-industry collaborations, but great potential, has remained very much underexplored. Based on a longitudinal case study of a young university in Italy, this paper aims at contributing to the existing literature by looking at the role of the university in defining actors’ positions and relationships in establishing an innovation ecosystem. In doing so, we contribute to the existing literature in several ways. First, we highlight that the formation of an innovation ecosystem in a small area highly depends on the university’s potential of disrupting established relationships, creating new ones and, thus, playing an active role in designing the ecosystem. Second, we provide a process-based view for understanding the establishment of an innovation ecosystem through the evolution of interactions, roles, and activities. Finally, we describe the micro-dynamics characterizing innovation ecosystem emergence and institutionalization and we show that bottom-up approaches are possible as well.
Research Professor. Director at Learning Change Project – Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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