Cultivating a Culture of Innovative University Engagement for Local Entrepreneurship Development in Rural and Distressed Regions

Michael William-Patrick Fortunato, Theodore R. Alter, Paloma Z. Frumento, Juliane M. Klos



Universities are commonly considered to be primary drivers of new innovations, and thus supportive of high-growth knowledge spillover businesses (Audretsch & Lehmann, 2005).  Even the university atmosphere and its embrace of idea exchange can be considered archetypical of a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem through which innovators act and interact regularly.  However, even with these behavioral advantages on their side, many universities remain focused on developing innovations as outputs of their scholarly efforts, rather than concentrating on the processes of innovation within the university itself.  This is particularly true when it comes to the development of social and community innovations, through which universities can serve as central catalysts of innovation beyond the university borders.  This article presents an alternative perspective of university-based innovation, suggesting that universities must first innovate upon their own culture and institutional structure, revising the role played by the university in the public space.  We suggest that university faculty and staff must step outside their roles and, quite often, allow their academic expertise to take a subordinate role to citizen-driven entrepreneurial expertise in the surrounding community.  Several principles for enhancing this conversation and negotiation between citizen and expert knowledge are presented here, along with ways that universities can embrace public scholarship to fundamentally alter the relationship between experts and citizens.  The article illustrates how to transition from an expert-driven model toward a citizen-expert co-creation model of innovation and entrepreneurship, and draws upon a multiple case study in the U.S. states of Maine, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to offer empirical support from the perspective of entrepreneurs.  Our findings are then applied toward envisioning the publicly-engaged university as a potential driver and co-creator in the development of local knowledge and entrepreneurial ventures, especially in lagging and rural regions.

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International Journal of Social Science Studies   ISSN 2324-8033 (Print)   ISSN 2324-8041 (Online)

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