Document Type



This item is available under a Creative Commons License for non-commercial use only




Policy makers in developed economies see merit in supporting the innovative abilities of technology entrepreneurs. It is hoped that from these highly–educated entrepreneur(s), new technology and service–based firms (NTBFs) can emerge. Indeed empirical evidence suggests that it is fast-growing young innovative firms which provide the bulk of new employment growth (Henrekson & Johansson, 2010; Storey & Greene, 2010). Start-up incubators are one of a number of micro-policy interventions with which states attempt – primarily through publically funded higher education Institutions - to support technology entrepreneurs to develop and commercialise their innovations. Incubator numbers have grown globally from their first appearance in the US in the 1950’s (for urban renewal purposes) to over 2,300 in the US and Europe currently. Since 2000, the number of incubators in US has almost trebled whilst the number in Europe has more than doubled (Bruneel et al, 2012). This latter growth has been driven primarily by technology start-up incubators, with these university – based incubators seen as important growth engines for developing knowledge economies and local and regional economic development (Etzkowitz et al. 2000, Link & Siegel, 2007). Technology start –up incubators are typically located in or near universities as they generally fall under the universities knowledge transfer remit. They typically focus on the research strengths of the university and offer a range of services to academic entrepreneurs and other incubatees such as shared office accommodation, shared support services, business support (hard), business advice (soft) and network provision (Bergek & Norman, 2008). Incubation programmes attempt to contribute to enterprise sustainability and the professional and entrepreneurial development of participants through buffering, which protects participants from the external environment (for a defined period), enabling them to develop their own internal resources; and bridging, which facilitates firms in building sustainable competitive advantage through the acquisition of external resources and networks (Amezcua et al. 2013). ). This paper outlines the methodological and data-related challenges associated with attempting to evaluate the contribution of start-up incubator services and supports to value-adding outputs, outcomes and impact. It advocates theory-based evaluation (TBE) methodology as a possible solution for effective evaluation (and policy learning) in complex research settings such as this, where a study is unable for a variety of reasons, to meet the stringent requirements of an experimental design e.g. random assignment, establishment of counterfactuals, control groups etc. TBE will deliver findings on the contribution of the multiple factors influencing a result showing whether the incubation process in a study made a contribution to an observed result and in what way? Mixed methods research designs and data analysis approaches are particularly suitable for TBE studies. An exploratory case study is used to illustrate the proposed TBE approach.