Thursday, 7 June 2012

The university role in the innovative leadership of small to medium sized enterprises: Towards “universities for a modern renaissance” (UMR)

an article by James Powell (University of Salford and University of Glasgow) published in International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research Volume 18 Issue 4 (2012)


Society now expects the universities it funds to work with citizens and communities to enable them to flourish in sustainable ways. One particular aspect of this concerns support for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) which, more than ever, need universities to help them cost effectively be innovative, and at the leading edge, for markets which are now global in outreach. The purpose of this paper is to focus on the kinds of approach and leadership that academics must put into their academic practices, in order to creatively and constructively lead local partnerships – partnerships that will be both successful and sustainable.
In total, 185 rigorous case studies were undertaken of successful university outreach activity in 30 universities across Europe. Senior staff of those universities used their collective judgement to determine the 16 ’best leaders” of these projects in terms of entrepreneurial skills and wealth-creating impacts. These leaders were then thematically interviewed and videoed, and their immediate staff indicated what leadership characteristics best described them. All data were content analysed. Then the best practice approaches, which actually helped SMEs, were elicited and the qualities of the 16 leaders were revealed.
Best practice projects, from all studied, clearly showed a “virtuous knowledge sharing” cycle, where holistic and co-creating inter-disciplinary team-working was the norm. Teams of academics and SME partners in these projects worked extremely closely together to co-produce “real world” solutions. While often “reluctant leaders”, the academics who normally drove these entrepreneurial projects to success had all of the characteristics often ascribed to leaders, as described in the general leadership literature. However, in the case of these university reach-out leaders, these entrepreneurial academics had a particular focus in striving to be “democratically empowering”; their aspiration was to ensure innovative skills were successfully passed onto others in their teams, including their external partners, to enable powerful and collective co-creation.
Social implications
This paper has profound social implications, especially in our present global financial extreme, as it focuses on the kinds of leadership that academics should put into practice in order to work more creatively and effectively with local SME partnerships. The approach has also shown how such leadership can also lead to successful social enterprises in their own right.
The working of universities with SMEs is very much a Cinderella area in higher education research. The approach described in this paper deals with this topic in an evidential and highly innovative way. It uniquely heralds, and describes in some detail, a new kind of university which strives to co-identify problems worthy of exploration with local partners, the kind of co-learning that engenders co-creation and co-design, and also the co-production with local SMEs that can lead them to survive and to flourish. This has recently been recognized by the PASCAL International Observatory for place management, social capital and learning regions, which has adopted the approach in its “Universities for a Modern Renaissance programme”.

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