Universities in the Internet startup ecosystem

What is the aim?


Understanding the current situation

This research project seeks to better understand the influence of universities on Internet startups by adapting entrepreneurship and computer science theories. By gaining an insight into the role of universities, improvements can be made to the way entrepreneurial activities, especially in addition to hard commercialisation routes, can be measured and evaluated.

Guiding positive development

Understanding the relationship between universities and startups is also being seen as crucial for the further development of the ecosystem. By having an awareness of the influence of universities and higher education, not just academia itself, but also entrepreneurial support programs such as startup incubators or accelerators can use this information to optimize their own initiatives.


Why is it important?

In the United Kingdom the Internet economy has developed into one of the largest industry sectors and further growth is predicted. Overall, the Boston Consulting Group has stated that the Internet economy has the ability “to deliver more value and wealth to more consumers and citizens more broadly than any economic development since the Industrial Revolution”. However, despite the fact that the Internet itself has been widely researched already, the Internet as an economy is not yet well understood.

It has therefore been suggested that further attention needs to be paid to this sector in order to enable and support future growth in this sector.

Therefore, in an academic setting, the Research Councils UK have included this sector within their priority areas in the United Kingdom and the commercial potential of the research in this field has also attracted funding from other public bodies. Generally, over the next few years, government funding in this industry sector is predicted to stay at this relatively high level. Ultimately, this raises the question about the impact of the funded activities.

Discovering relationships

Universities and the Internet startup ecosystem

When it comes to economic impact, previous research has criticised the emphasise that is currently being given to, what can be refered to as “hard commercialization”, technology transfer activities in forms such as university spin-outs and patenting.

While it has been recognized that those activities are an effective way for some disciplines to collaborate with industry, it has also been argued that they only represent a small part of the variety of interactions that take place. This research project is particularly focused on the following relationships.


It is part of a university's core mission to educate the future workforce but what role does university education actually play in the Internet startup ecosystem and what relevance does it have?


In an effort to increase economic impact, universities are increasingly investing in entrepreneurial support programmes but do they have any relevance in the Internet startup ecosystem?


Direct commercialisation pathways are popular due to their potential of delivering high returns and their ease of impact measurement. However, do they have any relevance for Internet startups?

This is how it will be done

Quantifying entrepreneurial activity

When it comes to the role of universities in the overall startup ecosystem, a large number of institutions have put policies and infrastructures in place for supporting student venture creation. However, while investments are being made in these initiatives, institutions have been found to have difficulties of assessing the entrepreneurial output of their programs, which ultimately causes problems when assessing the overall effectiveness of their efforts. The lack of reliably monitoring entrepreneurial activities within higher education institutions has also been identified by other researchers and the need for being able to demonstrate the entrepreneurial impact of higher education institutions is ultimately also important for receiving further investments in this sector. Nevertheless, it has also been recognized that there are difficulties to be overcome in order to collect reliable data about entrepreneurial activities.

Our milestones

This research project is aiming to quantify entrepreneurial activity by using a big data approach based on entrepreneurial theories. This research project commenced in June 2012 and will be for a total duration of three years.

  • Stage 1: Reviewing existing literature
  • Stage 2: Developing methodology
  • Stage 3: Collecting and analysing data
  • Stage 4: Reporting findings

About this project

  • University of Nottingham / Thesis

    This inter-disciplinary research project is conducted by Daniel Ratzinger as part of his doctoral thesis at the University of Nottingham. The expected finishing date for the thesis is September 2015. He has previously obtained a BSc in Computing and an MSc in (Digital) Marketing Communications. While he has primarily specialised in the area of the Internet as a communications channel he also has more than ten years of professional experience within this environment.

  • Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training / Support

    Daniel Ratzinger is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/G037574/1) and by the RCUK’s Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute (RCUK Grant No. EP/G065802/1). His research is based at The Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Nottingham University Business School and the School of Computer Science at the University of Nottingham.

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We would welcome to hear from you. If your are interested in this research project and would like to get in contact with us, please use the form or the contact information below.

Horizon CDT, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, NG8 1BB, UK
+44 (0)115 823 2316
+44 (0)115 823 2518
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