The Triple Helix thesis is that the potential for innovation and economic development in a Knowledge Society lies in a more prominent role for the university and the hybridisation of elements from University, industry and Government to generate new institutional and social formats for the production, transfer and application of knowledge. This vision encompasses not only the creative destruction that appears as a natural innovation dynamics (Schumpeter, 1942), but also the creative renewal that arises within each of the three institutional spheres of University, Industry and Government, as well as at their intersections. The Triple Helix concept relies thus on three main ideas: (1) a more prominent role for the University in innovation, on a par with Industry and Government in the Knowledge Society; (2) a movement toward collaborative relationships among the three major institutional spheres, in which innovation policy is increasingly an outcome of interaction rather than a prescription from Government; (3) in addition to fulfilling their traditional functions, each institutional sphere also “takes the role of the other” performing new roles as well as their traditional function. Institutions taking non-traditional roles are viewed as a major potential source of innovation in innovation.
The enhanced role of the University in the Knowledge Society arises from several specific features. First, the recent addition of the academic ‘third mission’ - involvement in socio-economic development, next to the traditional missions of teaching and research, is the most notable, being compared to a “second academic revolution” (Etzkowitz, 2003). This is to a large extent the effect of stronger government policies to strengthen the links between universities and the rest of society, especially business, but also an effect of firms’ tendency to use universities’ research infrastructure for their R&D objectives, thus indirectly transferring part of their costs to the state which provides a large part of university funding (Slaughter and Leslie, 1997) Slaughter, S., Leslie, L.L., 1997. Academic Capitalism, Politics, Policies and the Entrepreneurial University. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore.. Collaborative links with the other Triple Helix actors have enhanced the central presence of universities in the production of scientific research over time (Godin and Gingras, 2000), disproving former views that increasing diversification of production loci would diminish the role of universities in the knowledge production process.
Secondly, the university’s continuous capacity to provide students with new ideas, skills and entrepreneurial talent has become a major asset in the Knowledge Society. Students are not only the new generations of professionals in various scientific disciplines, business, culture etc., but they can also be trained and encouraged to become entrepreneurs and firm founders, contributing to economic growth and job creation in a society that needs such outcomes more than ever (see, for example the case of StartX, Stanford’s student start-up accelerator, which in less than a year trained 90 founders and 27 companies, or the Team Academy - the Entrepreneurship Centre of Excellence of the JAMK University of Applied Sciences in Jyväskylä, Finland, where students run their own cooperative businesses based on real-life projects). Moreover, universities are also extending their capabilities of educating individuals to educating organizations, through entrepreneurship and incubation programmes and new training modules at venues such as inter-disciplinary centres, science parks, academic spin-offs, incubators and venture capital firms (Etzkowitz, 2008; Almeida, Mello and Etzkowitz, 2012).
Thirdly, universities’ capacity to generate technology has changed their position, from a traditional source of human resources and knowledge to a new source of technology generation and transfer agent, with ever increasingly internal organizational capabilities to produce and formally transfer technologies rather than relying solely on informal ties. Rather than only serving as a source of new ideas for existing firms, universities are combining their research and teaching capabilities in new formats to become a source of new firm formation, especially in advanced areas of science and technology. Universities increasingly become the source of regional economic development and academic institutions are re-oriented or founded for this purpose.
The entrepreneurial university takes a pro-active stance in putting knowledge to use and in broadening the input into the creation of academic knowledge. Thus it operates according to an interactive rather than a linear model of innovation. As firms raise their technological level, they engage in higher levels of training and in sharing of knowledge. Government acts as a public entrepreneur and venture capitalist, in addition to its traditional regulatory role in setting the rules of the game. The interaction between linear and reverse linear dynamics results in the emergence of an interactive model of innovation. Globalization becomes decentralized and takes place through regional networks among universities as well as through multi-national corporations and international organizations. As universities develop links, they can combine discrete pieces of intellectual property and jointly exploit them. In current international competitive circumstances, innovation is too important to be left to the individual firm, or even a group of firms, the individual researcher or even a cross-national collaboration of researchers. Innovation has expanded from an internal process within and even among firms to an activity that involves institutions not traditionally thought of as having a direct role in innovation such as universities.