Building the Future of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology

University Innovation Ecosystem Benchmark


“Governments across the world are looking to technology innovation as a driver for national economic growth, and to universities as the incubators of this national capacity.” So begins a recent benchmark report conducted by Dr. Ruth Graham under the guidance of Prof. Charles L. Cooney, Robert T. Haslam (1911) Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and Faculty Founder of the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, and José Estabil, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, MIT Skoltech Initiative.

“Innovation happens everywhere, and universities can catalyze the transition of promising laboratory results into viable product technologies for emerging companies. This report persuasively brings together insight from the most highly regarded thought leaders in well-known and up-and-coming entrepreneurial university ecosystems,” said Prof. Charles L. Cooney. “Surprisingly, lessons learned by one university are not shared effectively with other universities. This report is issued to begin to change the slow diffusion of good ideas from one place to another by identifying emerging leaders and the best-practices they have pioneered.”

Conducted between 2012 and 2014, the two phases of the study were informed by interviews with technology transfer scholars, E&I professionals, and thought leaders in the field, each with an in depth knowledge of university-based E&I ecosystems across the world.

Three universities --MIT (US), Stanford University (US), and University of Cambridge (UK), well known for ground-breaking research, teaching, and inventions that impact our daily life-- stand out within the two hundred top universities identified by innovation thought leaders. However, an emerging group of leaders (EGLs), operating in more challenging environments, points the way to practical strategies applicable for regions with less-than-favorable innovation ecosystem conditions. Technion (IS), Aalto University (FI), University of Michigan (US), KAIST (SA), and the University of Auckland (NZ) were recognized as the core group of these EGLs.

Aalto University, the University of Auckland, Imperial College London (UK), and Tomsk State University of Radioelectronics and Control Systems (RU) were selected for further investigation to identify practices, programs, and incentives potentially applicable to universities in emerging economies in general, and to the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) in particular.

Using a case-study approach involving 130 one-on-one interviews, these four universities were profiled in-depth to understand the context within which they developed their Entrepreneurship and Innovation (E&I) capacity.

“Evidence from the expert interviews (Phase 1) and the case study evaluations (Phase 2) pointed to shared success factors amongst the EGL universities, despite differences in their development model as well as their geography, culture and institutional profile,” remarked Dr. Ruth Graham, author of the report. These success factors are:

  • University senior management that actively promote a clear and prominent E&I agenda with students, staff, and the regional community.
  • University departments that promote an academic culture that acknowledges, supports and rewards E&I within a cross-disciplinary context.
  • University-led E&I activity with distributed responsibility across multiple university agencies.
  • Student-led E&I activity within a cohesive, inventive, bold and well-connected student-led entrepreneurial community.
  • External (to the university) E&I community with relationships to the university built on mutual benefits, and with a platform for players to play a visible and influential role in university life.

Key to the success of the adoption of a sustainable E&I agenda, the report notes, is the move to identify metrics that characterize a successful entrepreneurial university through E&I commitment, culture, and capacity - and away from metrics indicating successful commercialization of one or two research-related “blockbusters.”

“The distinguishing building blocks of, and likely development paths for, an entrepreneurial university are also described in this helpful report,” said José Estabil. “These four universities, despite different locations and history, took common paths to establish their well-respected E&I practices in challenging environments, and therefore point to potential solutions that can be applied in the Skoltech context, and can be used by other universities around the world as they develop their innovation infrastructure.”

Creating university-based entrepreneurial ecosystems: evidence from emerging leaders

About the Skoltech MIT Initiative
Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the MIT Skoltech Initiative was established in 2011 to support MIT’s multi-year collaboration in building the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech), a private graduate research university in Skolkovo, Russia. The office coordinates MIT’s support for the design of educational curricula and research programs, innovation activities, administrative policies and structures, recruiting processes, and campus operations and infrastructure. The MIT Skoltech Initiative serves as a dedicated portal connecting the two communities and partners with programs and offices across MIT to foster innovative and entrepreneurial perspectives.