22 February 2023

How do entrepreneurial universities engage and collaborate with rural communities?

NICRE-funded research

Entrepreneurial universities have expanded their mission role to support and foster innovation and entrepreneurship within and outside their institutional boundaries, writes James Cunningham, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Newcastle University Business School.

Consequently, entrepreneurial universities have responded to this mission expansion in various ways for example with the creation of different entrepreneurial architectures such as knowledge transfer offices, incubators, entrepreneurship research centres, accelerators and science parks. Moreover, they have created dedicated university roles designed to enhance and build strong and effective collaborations with external stakeholders in fostering and supporting innovation and entrepreneurship.

However, there is little empirical evidence of how entrepreneurial universities engage and collaborate with rural communities which is what I’m going to explore in research funded by the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE).

Focus of study

Collaborations between entrepreneurial universities and businesses through knowledge and technology transfer have beneficial impacts. Such collaborations can be through formal and or informal channels.

However, such engagements and collaborations can be impeded by barriers – organisational, structural, resources, process etc. Such barriers can make it challenging for entrepreneurial universities to engage with rural businesses and communities and vice versa.

Against this background, our team’s main focus for this project, one of seven commissioned by NICRE, is to examine how entrepreneurial universities and rural communities engage and collaborate, in fostering and supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, as there is a lack of research attention and focus on this issue.

To address this, we are going to undertake a systematic literature review to assemble what we know given the literature fragmentation. The themes that emerge will contribute to the development of a Delphi study of engaging with a variety of ecosystem actors to explore and identify what are the:

  • motivations for engagement and collaborations
  • pre-existing factors that contribute to effective engagement and collaboration
  • barriers to engagement collaborations
  • accessibility challenges and opportunities between entrepreneurial universities and rural communities concerning fostering innovation and entrepreneurship.

Using the findings from our systematic literature review and our Delphi study, this will frame an examination of some international case studies of how entrepreneurial universities engage and collaborate effectively with rural communities in fostering and supporting innovation and entrepreneurship. Our final phase is the creation of a toolkit to support the planning of effective and sustainable entrepreneurial university and rural-based actor engagement and collaboration.

Our overall focus for this project is generating evidence and insights that will be of practice benefit and use to universities and rural communities that support the building of effective and sustainable collaborations.