The one thing the study does find to be consistently associated with high-tech start-ups is the presence of star scientists — not the ideas, which can be copied, but the scientists themselves. This seems to be the one way in which a university can be used as an engine of business growth.
Landing the best scientists in the world can start a place on the way to economic superstardom. The catch is, there are not many superstars and they mainly want to be near one another.
The study covered 1981-2004 but identified only 1,838 scientific superstars. That is about the same number of people who played in Major League Baseball over that period.
Framed that way, trying to make some town into the next Silicon Valley by attracting the best scientists is rather like trying to start a new baseball team and turn it into the New York Yankees.