In the mid-2000s a new program aimed at promoting entrepreneurship has emerged in the U.S. (Miller & Bound, 2011): the accelerator program. Subsequently, this program has spread worldwide and is now considered a universally valid support to entrepreneurship. The venture accelerator, around which there is still no consensus among scholars (Isabelle, 2013), can be considered an evolution of the incubator, although differing from this in several respects (Hoffman & Radojevich-Kelley, 2012). Its goal is to create, through management training, mentorship, networking and funding, the conditions so that, starting from promising ideas, successful firms may arise. In this context, the university seems to have a different role compared to that played within incubators. The role and functions of the university within accelerators, while constituting a topic of great potential interest, are still not getting enough attention from scholars and constitute a promising area of exploration. The aim of this paper is to investigate the mission and functions of the accelerator, with particular focus on the role of universities. Its theoretical roots are found in the literature on new venture creation, the knowledge-based view and the organizational learning. The following research questions are addressed: What is the mission and what are the functions of venture accelerators? What is the role and what are the tasks of universities within accelerators? To address the research questions above, a longitudinal case study is conducted. The case concerns SeedLab, an acceleration program undertaken since 2012, intended to support entrepreneurial teams with a good business idea or technology characterized by innovativeness, whose aim is to establish a company in Italy. In particular, SeedLab selects the most interesting technological ideas, contributes to transform them into entrepreneurial initiatives of potential success, making them attractive to investors. SeedLab is considered an emblematic case of the phenomenon under investigation, since many universities are involved in various ways in the different phases of the program. The main results can be summarized as follows: greater efficacy compared to incubators, orientation to the market and to investors, training, and ability of the universities to participate with specific knowledge to different phases of the acceleration program. The success of accelerators seems to lie in their capacity to: facilitate selective access to the network of knowledge/skills, in order to bridge the gap between ideas and business management skills, and manage the program effectively, according to a project management view. The role and functions of the universities seem to be closely related to the evolution of its mission and of the Technology Transfer Office.
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