When does university research get commercialised? Creating ambidexterity in research institutions

Journal of Management Studies

We examine the tensions that make it difficult for a research-oriented university to achieve commercial outcomes. Building on the organizational ambidexterity literature, we specify the nature of the tensions (between academic and commercially-oriented activities) at both organizational and individual levels of analysis, and how these can be resolved. We develop hypotheses linking specific aspects of the organization and the individual researcher to the likelihood of their research projects generating commercial outcomes, and we test them using a novel dataset of 207 Research Council-funded projects, combining objective data on project outcomes with the perceptions of principal investigators. We show that the tension between academic and commercial demands is more salient at the level of the individual researcher than at the level of the organization. Universities show evidence that they are able to manage the tensions between academic and commercial demands, through for example their creation of `dual structures§. At the individual level, on the other hand, the tensions are more acute, so that the people who deliver commercial outcomes tend to be rather different to those who are accustomed to producing academic outcomes.