The socio-economic role of universities towards the local context in which they are embedded can be realized through many channels: offering a good endowment of highly educated and productive people; transferring research content and results through patent licenses and new enterprises; attracting talented human capital and high tech enterprises. The academic creation of new enterprises has attracted much attention in the economic literature, given its recent development and heterogeneity. Understanding the academic spin-off’s nature (origin, potential growth and impact) can help in understanding its role in socio-economic development. In this paper, the attention is focused on Italian academic spin-off which received an accreditation from their university. Empirical results show that the academic spin-offs are mainly "hybrid" companies, with a low need of funding and of managerial skills. The attitude to become a Schumpeterian entrepreneur is not so diffused, even though an evolution towards an entrepreneurial business is present and is accompanied by relevant relations with industrial companies. In terms of sectors, there is coherence with other empirical results: the main sources of knowledge are engineers and ICT. The success of our spin-offs seems to be rooted in the creation of links with other actors, and in the adoption of strategies that are able to connect networks of separate actors. The role in terms of national development the spin-off can play is that of stimulus and counseling, rather than becoming a direct player in production.
Keywords: Third Mission, economic development, academic spin-off