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Unlocking the potential of university incubators with digital technologies

New study shows how cost-effective and readily available technology tools can transform the entrepreneurial environment
July 13, 2023
By Kirsten Mei-Ling Fong

Group of people around a table playing with wooden letters as part of a residency at D3 Innovation Hub Concordia's university incubator, District 3 Innovation Hub. Its mission is to nurture and develop multidisciplinary startup teams that harness emerging tech to create businesses with global impact.

Following the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic, universities are under increased pressure to give students the tools to confront rapid societal and technological changes.  

One way they’re responding to this need is through university incubators. Incubators provide students and faculty with resources to translate research into products, make partnerships with industry and contribute to the local economy.  

But there’s room for improvement in how these incubators recruit and interact with incubatees, according to a study co-authored by Arman Sadreddin, assistant professor in the Department of Supply Chain and Business Technology Management and published in the journal Technovation.  

We found there is a knowledge gap in how incubators specifically can use digital technologies to streamline their incubation processes

Sadreddin and co-authors Yolande Chan, Dean and James McGill professor in the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill and Rashmi Krishnamurthy from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, wanted to identify best practices and better understand these incubators’ performance. To do so, they reviewed how a selection of Canadian university incubators used cost-effective and readily available digital technologies, such as social media, mobile applications, analytics and cloud computing (SMAC) to recruit incubatees and provide business support and networking opportunities.

"We found there is a knowledge gap in how incubators specifically can use digital technologies to streamline their incubation processes," says Sadreddin.

‘A significant return on investment’

The authors cite research done during the pandemic that shows business incubators continued to support incubatees throughout the crisis, moving their support online and promoting incubatees on social media. This proved vital to the incubatee’s survival.

They found that university incubators were able to use these technologies to improve their recruitment processes, promote their services to attract potential applicants and expand their geographic reach. They noted that many incubators found social media to be particularly effective for attracting new applicants to the program and building awareness for their services by promoting the successes of their incubatees.

The study also demonstrated that business support, organizational structure and access to resources were enhanced through collaborative tools and mobile technologies. For example, the collaborative platform Slack could be used to share information among team members. Some incubators also found opportunities to offer new services such as online seminars.

Additionally, the researchers found that incubators also used SMAC technologies to foster networking opportunities between internal and external stakeholders including the incubatees, investors, mentors, industry partners, alumni and the general community. Social media and mobile technologies were used to push communications to various stakeholders and enabled access to information on demand. All in all, the shift to digital technologies was a catalyst for innovation and beneficial for both incubators and incubatees, notably helping incubators to provide the support needed for their incubatees to weather the pandemic.

Researchers say these findings show how readily available and inexpensive digital tools can be used within the university incubator environment. They further underline how these tools provide a significant return on investment through enhanced services, improved processes and a more efficient organizational structure.

Read “Digitally-enabled university incubation processes,” in Technovation.

Arman Sadreddin

Arman Sadreddin is an Assistant Professor of Business Technology Management at the John Molson School of Business. His research interests focus on digital entrepreneurship, digital innovation, technology-enabled organizational capabilities and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Arman has published and presented his research in multiple prestigious international journals and conferences. He is also the recipient of the 2022 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Academic Service at John Molson School of Business. Arman holds a PhD and an MSc in Management (Management Information Systems) from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Canada, MASc in Quality Systems Engineering from Concordia University and a BSc in Industrial Engineering from Isfahan University of Technology, Iran.

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