Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Management

A Comparative Study of Two European Business Incubators

Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Management

A Comparative Study of Two European Business Incubators

Article excerpt

The infrastructure geared to supporting SMEs is extensive. This infrastructure includes dedicated government and regional agencies, specialized SME support financiers, science parks, industrial parks, research parks, business s timulation and incubator programs, networking programs, and various kinds of technology development and dissemination initiatives. In Europe, the persistently high levels of unemployment have provided a strong inducement for the rapid expansion of such activity, as SMEs are considered to be efficient in generating new jobs.

After the design and implementation of policy interventions, evaluation normally follows. This has been the case also in Europe, where such evaluation activity has undergone a very rapid expansion during the past few years. For example, the evaluations of science parks are actively encouraged and supported by the European Union. Thus, in spite of its relative youth when compared to the evaluation of social policy interventions, the evaluation of industrial and technology policy interventions is rapidly reaching the status of an established branch of applied social sciences.

In spite of the rapid increase in the number of evaluations, the available material on the successful management of science parks is largely dominated by documents of the so called "success story" type. There is in fact little research that has tried to identify good practices in the management of SME support arrangements in a dispassionate, objective manner. Most of the existing "success stories" have been written by, for example, the managers of SME support arrangements themselves. The "successful" support measures may receive much publicity in the press, in conferences, and in workshops and yet be biased in the sense that the possible influence of local, context-specific factors on "success" is either neglected or is given only limited attention. The success itself is often not defined. While such stories may be inspiring, and often are, their value as sources of learning for managers of SME support arrangements leaves much to be desired.

We believe that there is still a need for empirical analysis that strives to identify and analyze advantageous management practices in the management of SME support arrangements. This is the aim of our study. In particular, we will seek to analyze the constraints imposed by local conditions on local support measures for technology-based SMEs and to identify generally applicable management practices that seem to work well in different contexts. Such management practice lessons, we hope, will be of value for managers of SME support arrangements.

Methods And Scope

The emphasis of this study is on the identification and analysis of effective management practices in the management of SME support arrangements. By "effective practices" we mean management practices that seem to work well in their setting. This judgment is made by the researchers, and it is a qualitative and a subjective one. There is, however, no absolutely objective and reliable metric for measuring the "goodness" of management practices.(1)

The purpose of our study - drawing lessons on management practice for managers of SME support arrangements-makes it necessary to implement clinical and partly participative research methods. Our study is essentially a comparative case study of two cases. The analysis is largely based on qualitative, semi-structured interviews, complemented with participation in meetings and observation of day-to-day management. In addition, performance data and data on the operation of the arrangement is used to complement the analysis. Two cases of SME support arrangements will be compared: one in Finland and one in Sweden. Through the comparison of these two, the present study strives to draw a distinction between context-specific good practices and more universally applicable good practices.The framework for the qualitative analysis of the cases, presented in Figure 1, is designed to help discern the influence of context-specific factors on the configuration and success of local support arrangements for technology-based SMEs. …

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