46th Congress of the European Regional Science Association: "Enlargement, Southern Europe and the Mediterranean", August 30th - September 3rd, 2006, Volos, Greece
The idea of setting up university business incubators (UBIs) has recently gained attention in the less favoured regions of the new entrants of the European Union. But the foreign best practices almost always derive from highly developed regions, which makes them difficult to adapt. In the lagging behind regions universities are unable to accomplish such a project without local government support and EU subsidies. Thus university business incubation can and must be interpreted as a local economic development tool. The main objective of present paper is to answer the question whether a UBI programme can be successful in a less favoured region of a transition country or not, and which are the main peculiarities that have to be considered when adapting the patterns of more developed regions. Raising the question is underlain by the observation that the international literature of business incubation pays little attention to the problem of the necessity and feasibility of incubation. First we review the most important findings of literature on UBI's contribution to the enhancement of local university-industry relations with a special emphasis on the service providing function and the spin-off process. Second we interpret the results of an empirical analysis carried out in the Szeged sub-region, Hungary. We examined the expectations of local SMEs towards university-related incubation on a sample of 170. We supplemented this by analysing the entrepreneurial motivations of the students and, as a new feature, PhD students of the University of Szeged on samples of 286 and 134. Moreover we examined the sparse process of spin-off formation with interviews. The attitudes of local SMEs towards incubation are rather heterogeneous but some characteristic patterns can be identified. The analysis of students and PhD students and the interviews reinforced the hypothesis that incubation can only be the second step in enhancing the local knowledge commercialization, a well-developed pre-incubation strategy must be implemented prior to that. In the concluding part on the basis of the literature review and the empirical analysis we point out the factors which are necessary to consider in our opinion when planning and managing a UBI project in a less favoured region.