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Project as strategy for the valley of death
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Technology, Department of Engineering Sciences, Industrial Engineering & Management.
2015 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Studies of surviving the “Valley of Death” faced by emerging innovations have routinely focused on financial resources, examining the funding gap between basic research and sustained income (Auerswald and Branscomb, 2003). The interest in government support, universities’ technology transfer offices and investors has provided a range of descriptions of the supporting actors in the environment around academic spin-outs (see for example Grimaldi 2011, King and Levine, 1993, Leydesdorff and Etzkowitz, 1995). However, exploration of the various strategies employed by spin-out founders in their innovation journey have been largely limited to descriptions of intellectual property sharing through mechanisms such as technology licensing, collaborations, etc. (see Rothaermel et al. 2007 for an overview). Such descriptions overwhelmingly focus on the mechanism by which financial resources are directed towards the innovation and the inventors are inevitably forced to surrender a large portion of their ownership rights.


This paper instead offers a description of the strategic use of projects to negotiate the innovation journey into and through externally funded pilots. Further, it identifies the key forces relating to state and project partner actors that enable the strategy. The empirical setting for this analysis is the case of a spin-out based on research taking place at Uppsala University. In 2009 the spin-out, without a steady turnover, and a utility company jointly applied for state funding of a pilot project, the largest of its kind to date. The spin-out would execute the construction and the utility would operate the pilot. However, the project was severely delayed and the utility stepped in to control the design and manufacturing, sending a representative every week to the spin-out facility.


The paper seeks to explore how the project thus acted as a space in which the spin-out and the utility were working together, an opening that would not have been possible had the utility been a customer. Missed deadlines could have resulted in a breach of contract, the utility could have pulled out and the spin-out, with equipment and material investment debts and with no other customers lined up, could have collapsed. Instead, by structuring the activity as a project the utility was enrolled in working towards the conclusion, and invested further through the insertion of a project manager into the spin-out. In this case it could be suggested that the forces usually at play in a purchase agreement are changed by the activity taking on the form of a project, forcing the two actors into collaborative action towards their common goal.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
Projects, project management, commercialisation, university spinouts, academic research, finance, resources
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Engineering and Technology
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-265440OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-265440DiVA: diva2:865685
Nordic Academy of Management Conference
Available from: 2015-10-29 Created: 2015-10-29 Last updated: 2016-01-18

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