The IPL newsletter: Volume 20, Issue 419

News from the IPL


Meeting its Waterloo? Recycling in Entrepreneurial Ecosystems After Anchor Firm Collapse

Ben Spigel & Tara Vinodrai, Entrepreneurship and Regional Development
The ‘recycling’ of people, capital, and ideas within an entrepreneurial ecosystem is a key process driving high-growth entrepreneurship. Skilled workers who leave firms after successful exits or firm collapse bring knowledge and insights that they can use to start new ventures or work at existing scale-up firms. This makes large anchor firms important actors in attracting workers who may subsequently recycle into the local ecosystem. However, there is limited empirical research on recycling into an ecosystem after the loss of an anchor firm. This paper develops a novel methodology using career history data to track recycling into ecosystems. The paper develops a study of Waterloo, Ontario, home to the smartphone manufacturer Blackberry, whose decline in 2008 represented a significant shock to the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. The paper finds that alumni of this firm engaged in very little high-growth entrepreneurship, instead entering the ecosystem as technology employees at high-growth scale-up firms. This was aided by the region’s increased institutional capacity to match skilled workers with new ventures, ensuring the continued success of the ecosystem over time. These findings provide a more nuanced understanding of the role of anchor firms in entrepreneurial ecosystems and how recycling affects the dynamics of entrepreneurial ecosystems.


Robert Luke is Vice-President, Research & Innovation, and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences and School of Interdisciplinary Studies at OCAD University. Robert is also a Senior Associate in the Innovation Policy Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

Interview performed by Travis Southin and Zissis Hadjis on December 4, 2019.

In a sentence or two, describe your area of research. Why is it important and interesting to you? Why did you decide to pursue it?
My research focuses on human centred and participatory design methods as applied to technology development and integration. I am most interested in human-centered knowledge media design, working at the intersections of education and information science to produce useful and useable technology to support education, health, and innovation systems.

Are there any updates from your work or current projects that you can share?
Over the past two decades or so I’ve worked at the interface of private-public R&D in the University, research hospital and college/Technology Access Centre contexts. This has informed current research on Public+Private Partnerships for Research and Development – what I call P3RD. I am working at the moment on understanding how best to design supports to enable more effective P3RD, including collaborative R&D models enabled by technology platforms. This uses mechanisms such as Technology/Solutions Readiness Levels and change management practices to support innovation. I am also currently leading the creation of a consortium of Universities and Technology Access Centres to conduct collaborative and cooperative R&D in concert with industry partners. This is intended to help support the commercialization of university basic research as well as to support industry to tap into expertise in public research performing organizations. The development of the technology platform is a direct output of my work in P3RD, and leverages a (very) early prototype system I built back in 2012.

What impact do you hope your research can have?
My research is primarily focused on what is called Experimental Development. I am less concerned about who has done what than I am about who can do what. This is less about creating new technologies (though I do work on that as well from time to time), and more about enabling technologies/systems/processes to be put into use using careful analysis and human centred and participatory design methodologies. It is my hope that my research continues to have impact. I am proud of having helped take many new technologies, products and services into markets in Canada and globally. And I am more proud of the fact that I have enabled close to 8000 students over the course of my career acquire innovation literacy as a core competency.

What are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing your area of research? What do you think the innovation landscape will look like in 5 or 10 years?
I think the lack of familiarity with anything over Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 4 in Canada is definitely a challenge. For example there’s a common refrain that market research isn’t “real” research, but I think that this kind for research is important because it’s helping translate research into tangible things. I think there are more and more people realizing, certainly at the policy level, that basic research is important and necessary, but that we have not invested in the “transit of intellectual property” from basic research, through applied research and experimental development into market fruition. Within the next decade we will see more collaborative models that support commercializing the ideas developed in our world leading basic research labs by leveraging other public research performers across the continuum of R&D.

What was the best book (or article) you’ve read recently? Why?
Tough one. It’s a toss-up between “Innovating: A Doer’s Manifesto for Starting from a Hunch, Prototyping Problems, Scaling Up, and Learning to Be Productively Wrong” by Luis Perez-Breva and “Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation” by Daniel Siegel. The first is an excellent textbook of sorts that outlines highly effective methods for the practice of innovation. The second is just an excellent book for understanding the mind. It uses a basis of brain science to unpack the ways in which we operate, and how we can learn better strategies to be a better person.

What advice would you give a new graduate student studying innovation?
Think about the ends of policy. And then think about the people who enact it. Innovation is and has been a buzzword, but it is real and is done by real people. Try to think about how you can contribute to making innovation more inclusive for more people. That and find something you are interested in – you will be diving deep into the issues for at least four years.

2019-2020 IPL Speaker Series


Towards an Integrated Place-based Innovation Policy

Elvira Uyarra, Reader, Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, Manchester Business School, University of Manchester
April 16, 2020, 2:00-4:00pm
Room 108N, 1 Devonshire Place, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy

What Next For UK Science and Innovation Policy?

Kieron Flanagan, Senior Lecturer, Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, Manchester Business School, University of Manchester
May 7, 2020, 2:00-4:00pm
Room 108N, 1 Devonshire Place, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy

Editor's Pick

OECD Launches AI Policy Observatory

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
On February 27th the OECD officially launched the OECD AI Policy Observatory. The initiative is designed as “a platform to share and shape public policies for responsible, trustworthy and beneficial AI.” OECD.AI “aims to help countries and others shape policy and institutional frameworks for the development of trustworthy AI that benefits society as a whole, guided by the OECD AI Principles.”  The homepage includes information on the OECD AI Principles, Policy Areas, Trends & Data, and Countries & Initiatives. Also included is a webcast of the February 27th launch event in Paris, France.

Cities, Clusters & Regions

Regional Studies Association Virtual Special Issue

Regional Studies Association
In anticipation of the RSA Annual Conference 2020, the Regional Studies Association has temporarily allowed free access to a selection of journal articles related to this year’s conference theme of ‘Transformations: Relational spaces, beyond urban and rural.’ The selection includes recent papers organized under the themes of ‘Smart Cities and Region’, ‘The Regional Dimension of Climate Futures’ and ‘Mobilities.’ Free access via this page only until December 31, 2020.

Is Innovation (Increasingly) Concentrated in Large Cities? An International Comparison

Michael Fritsch & Michael Wyrwich, Friedrich Schiller University Jena
This paper investigates the geographic concentration of patenting in large cities using a sample of 14 developed countries. There is wide dispersion of the share of patented inventions in large metropolitan areas. South Korea and the US are two extreme outliers where patenting is highly concentrated in large cities. The authors do not find any general trend that there is a geographic concentration of patents for the period 2000-2014. There is also no general trend that inventors in large cities have more patents than in rural areas (scaling). Hence, while agglomeration economies of large cities may offer advantages for innovation activities, the extent of these advantages is not very large. The authors conclude that popular theories overemphasize the importance of large cities for innovation activities.

Innovation Policy

NIST Seeking Pathways for Including Non-federal Manufacturing Centers in National Network

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is seeking to expand the network of Manufacturing USA centers for innovation, providing pathways for participation from external industry organizations, according to a recent notice in the Federal Register. These “alliance institutes” will not be federally funded, but will essentially function in the same capacity as the federally-funded institutes. However, alliance institutes will still be eligible to receive public service grants — allowing them to provide workforce development services, small- and medium-sized manufacturer outreach, and conduct other typical Manufacturing USA activities. NIST is also looking for public input on alternative funding ideas and opportunities which alliance institutes could access.

Data Driven: Report and Recommendations

Business Council of Canada
Following the release of an issues paper on data policy in the early summer of 2019, the BCC established an advisory panel of technology executives and former regulators led by The Honourable James Moore, former federal Minister of Industry. The advisory panel led consultations with “dozens of leading Canadian companies across the country in a wide variety of industries”, which ultimately led to this report’s 24 policy recommendations, organized by three broad priorities: 1) Protecting Canadians; 2) Supporting a competitive marketplace; and 3) Building data infrastructure. The BCC notes that “this report is the culmination of several years of policy work with the goal of developing a made-in-Canada framework that strikes an appropriate balance between market forces and regulation.”

2020-21 Departmental Plan

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada
This recently released report articulates the 2020-21 departmental plan for Canada’s Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.  The report contains detailed information on the department’s planned results and resources for each of its core responsibilities, which are organized under the themes of 1) People, Skills and Communities; 2) Science, Technology, Research and Commercialization; and 3) Companies, Investment and Growth. The report also includes figures on actual, forecast and planned spending for each of ISED’s core responsibilities.

Statistics & Indicators

No matter which way you look at it, tech jobs are still concentrating in just a few cities

Mark Muro, Brookings Institute
This report summarizes recent data on the trend of increasing concentration of technology jobs in a small number of cities in the U.S. The report notes that “the top five metro areas with the highest shares of the nation’s digital services industry accounted for 28% of all of these jobs nationwide in 2018, while the top 10 encompassed 44.3%.” Similarly, the same top 10 metro areas captured almost half (47.9%) of the the United Stats’ new tech jobs from 2010 to 2018. Five cities in particular—San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Austin, Texas—captured 28% of all new digital services job growth and increased their share of the nation’s core tech employment by 1.8 percentage points.​

Policy Digest

Laggard Firms, Technology Diffusion and its Structural and Policy Determinants

Giuseppe Berlingieri, Sara Calligaris, Chiara Criscuolo and Rudy Verlhac, OECD
While a growing body of literature studies the distinction between top performing firms and the rest of the productivity distribution, “very little is known about the characteristics of firms that operate at the very bottom of the distribution.”  These ‘laggard firms’ are defined as firms belonging to the bottom 40% of the productivity distribution in each country, industry and year.” This report uses the novel OECD MultiProd dataset, which is based on the full population of firms (or a representative re-weighted sample). 

Analyzing the main characteristics of laggard firms and their contribution to aggregate productivity, this report highlights four main results:

  • Laggards are on average smaller and younger than median firms, and represent a significant share(about 30%) of total employment.

  • The composition of the group reflects firm dynamics and is related to business dynamism through firm entry and exit.

  • Increasing the productivity of laggards to the level of the median firm (i.e., by about 60%) could,on average, increase aggregate productivity by roughly 6%.

  • The productivity growth of laggards is on average higher than in the rest of the distribution. In line with neo-Schumpeterian growth theory, the report confirms the expected positive relationship between laggards’ distance to the (national) frontier and their productivity growth, and additionally shows that this catch-up effect is more pronounced for younger firms.

The report articulates the following obstacles to the diffusion of technology and knowledge: the lack of skills, the cost of investment in both ICT and complementary intangible assets, as well as the lack of absorptive capacity. The authors then note that the following policies may be efficient in removing these barriers and in lifting the bottom of the productivity distribution:

Skills policies

  • Low levels of skill mismatch are linked to a higher speed of catch-up, while a higher share of under-qualified workers are linked to a slower catch-up. Empirical evidence suggests that lifelong learning – through training of working adults or through active labour market programs – has the potential to increase the speed of catch-up, especially in industries that are more digital or skill intensive.

Financing policies

  • The report also suggests that more favourable financial conditions for SMEs, as reflected in the higher share of outstanding loans to SMEs and lower interest rate spreads between large and small firms, may help laggards catch up faster in more digital and skill intensive industries. This in turn indicates that relaxing financial constraints may help overcome the financial barriers to technology adoption.

Innovation policies

  • Direct government support to business expenditures on R&D is associated with faster catch-up. The authors note that as direct funding of R&D projects through grants, subsidies or procurements may effectively raise firms’ absorptive capacity, these might be more effective policies for firms with a growth potential to access support, rather than R&D tax credits.

The report also outlines a framework for a policy mix to promote productivity of laggard firms organized around supply-side and demand-side instruments:

Demand-side policies focusing on potential adopters

  • Raise awareness about new technologies and develop firms’ absorptive and investment capacity via
    awareness raising schemes, collaboration and networks, labour mobility, and trade and GVC participation

  • Developing firms’ absorptive and investment capacity via the education system, training policies (especially for low-skilled), financial support, R&D support, ICT infrastructures, and data access

  • Favouring positive return to adoption and reducing risks and uncertainties via competition policies,  entrepreneurship policies, insolvency regimes, normalisation and standardisation procedures, and addressing market failures (networks effects,technological lock-in)

Supply-side policies that stimulate innovation and the development of suitable and affordable technologies

  • Fostering production and sharing of knowledge via public research, science-industry linkages,  collaboration, open innovation, and comprehensive strategies for the development of GPTs

  • Enabling experimentation and bringing innovations to the market via R&D support, entrepreneurship policies, financial support, IP system, ICT infrastructures, data access, test beds and regulatory sandboxes, and open innovation


The Organisation, Economics and Policy of Scientific Research

Munich, Germany, 23–24 April, 2020
The Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition, the Technical University of Munich and BRICK-Collegio Carlo Alberto are organising the annual workshop “The Organisation, Economics and Policy of Scientific Research” at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. Submissions are accepted until 15 January 2020, with particular focus on: Evaluation of science policy; Role of gender and family in scientific research; Organising research activities in universities, PROs and private R&D labs, Spillovers from scientific research, Collaboration and research networks, Scientific careers and mobility, and the Role of ethics, trust and replicability in science.

Policies, Processes and Practices for Performance of Innovation Ecosystems (P4IE)


Ottawa, Ontario, 12-13 May 2020
The Partnership For the Organization of Innovation and New Technologies is organizing the first ever ‘‘Policies, Processes and Practices for Performance of Innovation Ecosystems” (P4IE) international conference on 12-13 May 2020 in Ottawa. Organized around eight highly relevant tracks, the conference offers participants the opportunity to discuss the impact of various technologies, practices, processes and policies, on innovation ecosystems, and the best means by which to design collaborative environments. The goal of the conference is to explore ways to strengthen Canada’s innovation through innovation ecosystems.

Rethinking Clusters: Place-Based Initiatives for Inclusive, Innovative and Reflective Societies – 3rd International Workshop on Cluster Research


Valencia, Spain, 14-15 May, 2020
The Polytechnic University of Valencia and the University of Valencia, in collaboration with the University of Padova and the University of Firenze, organize the 3rd International Workshop on Cluster Research. As in the past editions, the event aims to to bring together some of the world’s leading scholars working on clusters, networks, ecosystems, platforms and regions. The conference gathers scholars from economic geography, innovation studies, regional science, as well as those working on economics and management, sociology or network theory.

DRUID20 Silver Anniversary Conference
Copenhagen, Denmark, 15-17 June, 2020

DRUID celebrates 25 years as one of the world’s premier academic conferences on innovation and the dynamics of structural, institutional and geographic change. DRUID is proud to invite senior and junior scholars to participate and contribute with a paper to the DRUID20 SILVER ANNIVERSARY CONFERENCE, hosted by Copenhagen Business School. Presenting distinguished plenary speakers, a range of parallel paper sessions, and an attractive social program that celebrates DRUID’s 25 years, the conference aims at mapping theoretical, empirical and methodological advances, contributing novel insights, and help identifying scholarly positions, divisions, and common grounds in current scientific controversies within the field.

Canadian Science Policy Conference

Ottawa, Canada, 23-25 November, 2020
The CSPC 2020 call for panel proposals is now open. The 12th Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC 2020), will be held in Gatineau Quebec on November 23-25, 2020 at Hilton Lac-Leamy. Presenters are invited to submit proposals in a variety of presentation formats that revolve around any of the conference themes. Deadline for submitting panel proposals is extended to April 17th, 2020.

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This newsletter is prepared by Travis Southin.
Project manager is David A. Wolfe.