Corporate Entrepreneurship

So much energy goes into talking about startup entrepreneurship that too little energy, perhaps, goes into talking about entrepreneurship by established companies. Harold Miller's post today opens the door to this conversation: "Austin's experience with IBM is one more example of the importance of retaining the many existing corporate R&D centers in southwestern Pennsylvania, attracting new ones, and building strong bridges between the corporate R&D centers and our research universities and medical center."

That last point, which I've highlighted in bold, is the key one. The general question is how a region like Pittsburgh can leverage its two bases of extraordinary research resources. That usually gets translated into "how can universities do a better job of commercializing the useful research that lives in their labs?" (and sometimes into "how can we support our local base of pioneering entrepreneurs?"). But it's important to ask the established for-profit community the same question: How does an economy motivate its large existing companies -- the PPGs, the Bayers, the Alcoas, and so on -- to behave more entrepreneurially not only with respect to their own R&D, but also with respect to R&D that isn't home grown?

Harold and I have talked about the problem of corporate/university cooperation. As a first cut, we agree: this is both terribly important, and terribly difficult. If it's hard to nurture an entrepreneurial culture among individuals, think how hard it is to nurture a new entrepreneurial culture in an established enterprise. This isn't just a Pittsburgh problem, of course, though Pittsburgh has some particularly painful experience with the failure of established companies to sustain an entrepreurial model. But it's an issue that regional leaders should bear in mind even while time and public energy gets devoted to finding and funding the next great thing.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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