Business Incubation Research

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A Systematic Review of Business Incubation Research

Sean M. Hackett1 2 David M. Dilts

ABSTRACT. This article systematically reviews the literature on business incubators and business incubation. Focusing on the primary research orientations—i.e. studies centering on incubator development, incubator configurations, incubatee development, incubator-incubation impacts, and theorizing about incubators-incubation—problems with extant research are analyzed and opportunities for future research are identified. From our review, it is clear that research has just begun to scratch the surface of the incubator-incubation phenomenon. While much attention has been devoted to the description of incubator facilities, less attention has been focused on the incubatees, the innovations they seek to diffuse, and the incubation outcomes that have been achieved. As interest in the incubator-incubation concept continues to grow, new research efforts should focus not only on these under-researched units of analysis, but also on the incubation process itself. JEL Classification: M13, O2, O31, O32, O38

1. Introduction Incubator-incubation research began in earnest in 1984 with the promulgation of the results of Business Incubator Profiles: A National Survey (Temali and Campbell, 1984). Underscoring the enthusiasm of early researchers, only three years passed before two literature reviews were generated (i.e., Campbell and Allen, 1987; Kuratko and LaFollette, 1987). However, since these early efforts to synthesize and analyze the state of incubator-incubation science, and despite the fact that the body of research has grown considerably 1 Vanderbilt University Management of Technology Program Box 1518, Station B, Nashville, TN 37235 USA E-mail: 2 Vanderbilt University Management of Technology Program Box 1518, Station B, Nashville, TN 37235 USA E-mail:

in the intervening years, a systematic review of the literature remains conspicuously absent. The primary objectives of this article are to systematically review the incubator-incubation literature and to provide direction for fruitful future research. Ultimately 38 studies were included in our review. We included a study in our review if it viewed the incubator as an enterprise that facilitates the early-stage development of firms by providing office space, sharedservices and business assistance. When examining the literature chronologically, five primary research orientations are evident: incubator development studies, incubator configuration studies, incubatee development studies, incubator-incubation impact studies, and studies that theorize about incubators-incubation. While these orientations are not necessarily orthogonal, we employ them as classifications of convenience that we hope will facilitate a discussion of the literature. We have limited the review in several ways. First, we confine our coverage of the literature to studies devoted explicitly to incubators and/or incubation. Although the locus of the incubatorincubation concept is the nexus of forces involving new venture formation and development, new product conceptualization and development, and business assistance (each of which has an established body of research), to expand the scope of the review beyond research explicitly focused on incubators-incubation would make this research project impossible to complete on a timely basis. Second, although practitioner literature has influenced academic research, we center our review on the academic literature, except in cases where the practitioner literature has proven especially influential and has some intrinsic academic face validity. Third, with our long-term research interests in mind, we selected literature that conceptualizes incubators-incubation as a strategy

Journal of Technology Transfer, 29, 55–82, 2004 # 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Manufactured in The Netherlands.


Hackett and Dilts

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