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Education + Training

Emerald Article: Entrepreneurship education in Italian universities:


trend, situation and opportunities
Donato Iacobucci, Alessandra Micozzi

Article information:
To cite this document: Donato Iacobucci, Alessandra Micozzi, (2012),"Entrepreneurship education in Italian universities: trend,
situation and opportunities", Education + Training, Vol. 54 Iss: 8 pp. 673 - 696
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Entrepreneurship education in
Italian universities: trend,
situation and opportunities
Donato Iacobucci and Alessandra Micozzi

Italian
universities

673

Department of Information Engineering, Management and Automation,


Polytechnic University of Marche, Ancona, Italy
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to provide an analysis of the present situation and recent
evolution of entrepreneurship education in Italian universities and to discuss whether these courses
and curricula match the demand for entrepreneurial competences.
Design/methodology/approach The empirical analysis is based on a census of entrepreneurship
courses and curricula run by universities. The information collected through the internet refers to the
academic years 2003-2004 and 2009-2010.
Findings Compared with the situation observed in the USA and in other European countries,
entrepreneurship education in Italy is rather underdeveloped. Only a few universities have courses
or specific curricula dedicated to entrepreneurship. The courses are concentrated within business
faculties while very few exist in science and engineering faculties. The slow pace with which Italian
universities are keeping up with the global trend in entrepreneurship education at university level
seems in vivid contrast with the need for the Italian economy to change its industry structure from the
so-called traditional to high-tech sectors. The paper discusses the reasons for this situation.
Research limitations/implications The paper does not evaluate the impact of entrepreneurship
education. A suggestion for future research could be to analyze the role of these courses in
encouraging entrepreneurial activity of students.
Practical implications Entrepreneurship education at university level can play an important role
in the Italian economic system, fostering the creation of new business in knowledge-intensive sectors.
Social implications The exploratory analysis of the state of entrepreneurship education in Italy
suggests the need to develop these courses and spread the presence, especially in the science and
engineering universities.
Originality/value The paper covers a lack of research on the attitude of higher education
institutions towards entrepreneurship education in Italy.
Keywords Italy, Universities, Curricula, Entrepreneurialism, Entrepreneurship education,
University courses, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurial competences
Paper type Research paper

1. Introduction
The economic and institutional transformations experienced by the main
industrialized countries during the last few decades have led to a re-evaluation of
the entrepreneurs role in economic development and wealth creation (Acs et al., 2008).
Some researchers are convinced that the greater entrepreneurial vitality is one of the
factors which explains the superior performance of the US economy in generating
innovation and employment when compared with that of European countries (Acs
et al., 1999). It is a popular opinion that the recent changes in demand and technology
within the main industrialized countries have determined the transformation from
the regulated economy of the 1950s and 1960s, dominated by managerial firms to the
entrepreneurial economy of the 1980s and 1990s, dominated by small firms
(Audretsch and Thurik, 1999). Since the end of the 1970s there has also been a shift in

Education Training
Vol. 54 No. 8/9, 2012
pp. 673-696
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DOI 10.1108/00400911211274828

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attitudes towards the entrepreneurial role in society: Connotation of the term


entrepreneur began to shift from notions of greed, exploitation, selfishness, and
disloyalty to creativity, job creation, profitability, innovativeness, and generosity
(Vesper and Gartner, 1997, p. 406).
Other authors underline the importance of entrepreneurial activity because new
firms make two indispensable contributions to market economies. First, they are an
integral part of the renewal process that pervades and defines market economies.
Entrepreneurial firms play a crucial role in the innovations that lead to technological
change and productivity growth. In short, they are important for competition because
they are able to change market structure. Second, new firms are the essential
mechanism by which millions of people, including women, minorities and immigrants,
access the pursuit of economic success (Kuratko, 2005).
Growth in entrepreneurship research over the past decades has expanded the scope
of entrepreneurial studies. Nevertheless, they remain focused on two main issues:
opportunity recognition and new venture creation (Ucbasaran et al., 2001). Despite the
differences in definitions, theoretical approaches and cultural contexts, the widespread
feeling among researchers and politicians is that entrepreneurship plays an
increasingly important role in the development and adaptation of economic systems
at local and national levels (Wennekers and Thurik, 1999). Several documents by
the EU and OECD have emphasized the importance of entrepreneurship for the
development prospects of their member countries (European Commission, 2008;
OECD, 2001).
As a result of these changes, during the last 25 years there has been an explosion of
interest in the entrepreneurship field in the USA that has led to the institution
of courses and degrees at several levels (undergraduate and graduate). The spread of
entrepreneurial courses and the institutionalization of the field have also promoted the
creation of research centres, academic journals and associations. Most European
countries have followed the same trend, although with some delay. Courses about
entrepreneurship have grown steadily in all the main European countries. Moreover, an
increase in the presence of entrepreneurial courses in university curricula has also been
advocated by governmental studies (European Commission, 2008). Starting from the
Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Employment, EU has issued several recommendations
to promote a new entrepreneurial culture across Europe and to foster knowledge-based
innovations. The new EU strategy for research and innovation (Horizon 2020) stresses
the importance of bringing new ideas to market and promoting a new entrepreneurial
culture which will be also achieved by incorporating entrepreneurship education in the
existing curricula (Cotoi et al., 2011).
Recent studies show that entrepreneurship education does play a significant
role in promoting the spirit of entrepreneurship among students. Those who have
attended entrepreneurship courses are more likely to start their own business than
other students (Packham et al., 2010). Other studies have pointed out that
entrepreneurship education, especially in scientific and technological universities, is
crucial to enhance entrepreneurs innovation skills in a context that changes rapidly
(Menzies and Paradi, 2003). Despite the importance of entrepreneurship education, the
link between education, training, the intention of students to set up a new firm and
making entrepreneurship as their career is a complex and under-investigated process
(Nabi and Holden, 2008).
Considering the increasing attention paid to entrepreneurship research and
education, the Italian situation is rather anomalous. Until a decade ago there were

neither courses of entrepreneurship in Italian universities nor permanent teaching


positions in this field. In a comparison made in 1996, about the chairs in
entrepreneurship in the main European countries, Italy came up with 0, together with
Denmark and Hungary, far from the first ones in the list: the UK with more than
12 chairs, France and Finland with 11 (Frank and Landstrom, 1997). Moreover, while in
almost all European countries entrepreneurial courses continued to grow, in the second
half of the 1990s, the Italian situation remained practically unchanged up to the
beginning of the last decade. Nor is the situation different when we examine research
rather than teaching in this field. In 2003, there was only one research centre dedicated
to this field (at the Bocconi University in Milan). At present, there are only a few: the
Centre of Youthful Entrepreneurship at the University of Verona, the Centre of
technological innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Bologna, the
Entrepreneurial Lab, research and service centre, at the University of Bergamo and
the Centre for entrepreneurship and innovation at the Universita` Politecnica delle
Marche.
Given the situation described, this paper has the following aims: review the
presence and characteristics of entrepreneurship courses and curricula in Italian
universities; analyse their evolution during the last decade; discuss the limitations and
opportunities of entrepreneurial education at university level in Italy. The paper covers
a lack of research on the attitude of Italian higher education institutions towards
entrepreneurship education.
The paper is organized as follows. Section 2 reviews the literature on the presence
and trends in entrepreneurial education at international level. Section 3 gives
information about methods and data. Section 4 reports the results of the empirical
survey about entrepreneurship courses in Italian universities. Section 5 discusses the
reasons explaining the limited presence of entrepreneurship courses in Italian
universities and makes some proposals about their characteristics and diffusion.
Section 6 draws the main conclusions.
2. Trends in entrepreneurship education
One of the first reviews of entrepreneurial courses in the USA, made at the end of the
1970s, indicated that there were around 130 curricula with one or more entrepreneurial
courses, more than ten times the 1967 figure (Vesper, 1982). They were concentrated in
the schools of business and engineering. During the 1980s and 1990s, curricula with
entrepreneurial courses increased steadily: 250 in 1985, 370 in 1992, around 400 in
1995. In 1997, there were about 50 universities in the USA which offered four or more
courses in entrepreneurship, allowing students to obtain degrees or to major in this
field (Vesper and Gartner, 1997). The number of colleges and universities that offer
courses related to entrepreneurship in the USA has grown from a handful in the 1970s
to 1,600 (Katz, 2003; Solomon, 2007). In the same period there was a steady increase in
the number of permanent chairs in the USA in the field of entrepreneurship, an
indication of the fact that it had emerged as a discipline in its own right. This is also
testified by the creation of research centres, academic associations and academic
journals dedicated to this field. It has been stated that in the USA, at the end of the
1990s, there was a complete educational infrastructure, consisting of more than 300
endowed positions, more than 100 centres, more than 40 refereed academic journals
and more than a dozen professional organizations (Katz, 2003, p. 295).
Katz (2003) believes that the entrepreneurship education industry has entered its
mature stage in business schools, while there is still scope for growth in schools of

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engineering, agriculture and science. Other authors disagree with this conclusion and
feel that there is still scope for expansion even in American business schools (Kuratko,
2005). Whatever the opinion about the life cycle state of entrepreneurship education
in the USA, researchers agree on the fact that it is still a growing field.
Compared with the abundance of studies and research on the problems of
entrepreneurship education in the USA there are fewer works dealing with the subject
outside the USA. This reflects the delay with which entrepreneurship education has
developed outside the USA, and the fact that in no other countries (with the possible
exception of Canada and the UK) has it reached a degree of development comparable
with that observed in the USA.
Citing previous surveys on the topic, Ibrahim and Soufani (2002) note that at the end
of the 1990s there were 53 Canadian universities offering courses in entrepreneurship
and small business management. This survey reveals that Canadian
entrepreneurship courses tend to focus more on the pre-venture creation process and
less on the management of established small businesses. According to the authors,
another weakness is the insufficient spread of entrepreneurship courses in engineering
schools, given the roles young engineers could play in developing new technology
firms.
Outside North America, the UK is probably the country that has the highest number
of courses and programmes dedicated to entrepreneurship education. The relevance
attached to the issue is documented by the presence of studies addressing the
effectiveness of entrepreneurship courses and curricula (Matlay, 2008). Recent
literature explores the challenges and considerations of how new and innovative
entrepreneurship education programmes may be included into UKs higher education
institutions (Smith et al., 2006) and the impact that entrepreneurship education can
have on entrepreneurial outcomes (Matlay, 2008). Entrepreneurship courses and
programmes are also present in most north European countries: Sweden, Finland, the
Netherlands, Ireland, etc. Some universities in these countries host internationally
recognized entrepreneurship research centres and also PhD programmes in
entrepreneurship.
Interest in entrepreneurship education has also increased considerably among the
transitional economies of east European (Mitra and Matlay, 2004) and Asian countries
(Dana, 2001).
A study on Polish students found that they had limited prior entrepreneurial
experience and expectations and welcomed the opportunity to undertake enterprise
education. The findings suggested that an equal proportion of male and female
students aged 18-24 favoured a future entrepreneurial career ( Jones et al., 2008).
Moreover, a quarter of all respondents welcomed an immediate entrepreneurial career
after graduation and found value in the development of a business proposal. The
findings suggested that entrepreneurial education informs entrepreneurial intent and
career aspirations.
Concerning Asian countries, in general the design of business school curricula in
these countries has followed the traditional model, based on functional expertise
(strategy, human resource management, marketing, finance, etc.). Nevertheless,
courses about entrepreneurship, new venture creation and business planning have
become more and more common in undergraduate and Masters curricula. China is a
particularly interesting case given the exceptional growth rate of its private sector
in the last decade. It was not until the mid-1990s that MBA courses were introduced in
Chinese universities. According to a survey conducted in 2002, there were 56 business

schools in China that ran accredited MBA programmes (Li et al., 2003). Like MBA
programmes in other countries, also in China courses tend to focus on functional skills.
Nevertheless, a survey conducted on top 26 business schools found that six of them
offered business venturing programmes and five of them focused on entrepreneurship
modules (Li et al., 2003). Recent literature shows that entrepreneurship education in
China is not widespread and that there is a need to improve entrepreneurship curricula,
entrepreneurship competition and entrepreneurship research. However, the situation is
rapidly improving (Mason, 2011).
Studies on entrepreneurship education in Malaysia (Ismail et al., 2010; Cheng et al.,
2009) conclude that the current practice is ineffective in matching students skill
expectations with their skill acquisition and that a new approach is needed.
In a comparative study on entrepreneurship education in Europe, USA, Asia and
Latin America, Mason (2011) shows that socio-economic factors (such as culture,
policy, economic development, history) have an influence on entrepreneurship
education. In advanced countries, it is viewed as a well-established instrument to foster
entrepreneurship, while in other regions entrepreneurship education is a young
discipline, and there is a need to set up an effective model.
Walter and Dohse (2009) show how the effect of entrepreneurship education on
students entrepreneurial intentions is influenced by the mode of education. It also
depends on role models or work experience of individuals and is contingent on the
regional context. This is confirmed by a study by Corduras Martinez et al. (2010):
entrepreneurship training is effective when there is a receptive and fertile socio-economic
context with adequate infrastructure, economic stability and technological progress. The
authors also analyse several aspects of entrepreneurship education and training in
38 countries that they divide, according to GEM classification, in factor-driven, efficiencydriven and innovation-driven countries. They show that in general entrepreneurship
education and training improve the awareness of entrepreneurship, increase self-efficacy
and intentions and have a positive influence on opportunity identification and reduce fear
of failure. However, in developed economies entrepreneurship education and training
increase entrepreneurial activity, while in factor- and efficiency-driven economies,
investment in education and training does not have the same effect.
Not only must the economic and social context be considered when developing
entrepreneurship education and training policy, but according to the endogenous theory
of growth, economic development is linked with knowledge spill-overs that are
localized (Ellison and Glaeser, 1999). Regions differ in their knowledge stocks and R&D
investment that generate knowledge spill-overs. Given that knowledge spill-overs
generate entrepreneurial opportunities, some regions offer more opportunities than
others (Reynolds, 1994; Audretsch and Fritsch, 2003), and this influences the impact of
entrepreneurship education. For this reason there is a need to contextualize the analysis
of the characteristics and impact of entrepreneurship education. Compared with other
industrialized countries there is a lack of knowledge about the Italian situation. This
paper has the following aims: provide a first assessment of the entrepreneurship courses
and curricula in Italian universities and their recent evolution; discuss the problems and
future opportunities of entrepreneurship education in Italian universities.
3. Data and methodology
The definition and content of entrepreneurship education remain controversial. It is
still a debated question whether entrepreneurship can be considered a science or an
art and to what extent entrepreneurship can be taught or not.

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In this paper, we adopt the following definition: Entrepreneurial education is the


process of providing individuals with the ability to recognise commercial opportunities
and the insight, self-esteem, knowledge and skills to act on them. It includes
instruction in opportunity recognition, commercialising a concept, marshalling
resources in the face of risk, and initiating a business venture ( Jones and English,
2004, p. 416).
The empirical analysis is based on a census of entrepreneurship courses and
curricula run by Italian universities; we included in the census all courses and
curricula that explicitly referred to the issues identified in the previous definition. The
information collected and analysed refers to the academic year 2009-2010. We also
provide a comparison with the situation in the academic year 2003-2004. In so doing we
follow an approach used in other studies (Nabi and Holden, 2008).
The survey is mainly based on data and information collected through the internet.
We have taken advantage of the fact that the information about the curricula offered by
Italian universities is collected and organized in a centralized database by the Italian
Ministry of Education and Scientific Research. The database is publicly available
and allows a search by keywords. Once a course or a curriculum was identified, we
used the internet to collect additional information about it. The internet source is
appropriate for the aim of this study as all Italian universities supply information on
their curricula and courses through this medium. All universities give basic
information about the courses on their web site, and most of them also supply detailed
information about the content of the courses. The information was collected in 2004 for
courses run in the academic year 2003-2004. This academic year was chosen as it
coincides with the full implementation of the reformed university curricula. The survey
was repeated in 2010 for the same courses and curricula run by universities in the
academic year 2009-2010. In some cases, the internet survey was supplemented by a
direct collection of material on the courses.
This period of analysis is particularly interesting given the fact that at the
beginning of 2000 the Italian university system experienced a complete reorganization
of students curricula. With the exception of medicine and architecture, which retained
a curriculum of six and five years, respectively, in all the other fields curricula are
based on a three-year first degree (Laurea Triennale) and a two-year postgraduate
degree (Laurea Magistrale). Universities are also allowed to offer Master courses at the
end of the undergraduate degree (first-level Master) or at the end of the second-level
degree (second-level Master)[1]. After completing the 3 2 curriculum students can
access doctoral programmes.
A common problem of surveys about entrepreneurship courses is the separation of
courses and curricula specifically devoted to entrepreneurship from those referring,
more generally, to small business or innovation. In the analysis we included all those
courses and curricula that specifically referred to entrepreneurship. We also retained
courses and curricula on small business and the management of innovation when they
have a significant part dedicated to entrepreneurship issues.
4. Entrepreneurship education in Italian universities
Tables I and II show the list of entrepreneurship courses offered in Italian universities
in the academic year 2003-2004 at graduate and postgraduate levels, respectively. The
same information for the academic year 2009-2010 is provided in appendices A and B,
respectively. Table III presents a synthesis of that information by comparing the
situation in the academic year 2003-2004 with the one in 2009-2010. Given the small

Entrepreneurial dynamics and


business projects
Business planning

Economics
Economics
Economics
Economics
Economics
Engineering Start-up laba
Economics
Economics
Economics
Economics
Economics
Economics
Engineering Management of innovation

University of Bologna

University of Bologna

University of Bologna

University of Bologna

University of Bologna (Forl`)


University of Florence
University of Modena and
Reggio Emilia
University of Perugia
University of Urbino

University of Urbino

University of Naples

PG in management of firms risks


FD in management (entrepreneurship
and small firms)
FD in management (entrepreneurship
and small firms)
FD in managerial engineering

PG in management
PG in Firms governance
PG in management and consulting

PG in management (firm and


innovation)
PG in management (firm and
innovation)
PG in management (firm and
innovation)
PG in management (firm and
innovation)
FD management engineering

PG in management

Several FD and PG curricula


FD in management

Curriculum

Optional

Optional

Compulsory
Compulsory

Compulsory
Compulsory
Compulsory

Optional

Compulsory

Compulsory

Compulsory

Compulsory

Compulsory

Optional
Optional

Access

Professor
External
contract
External
contract
External
contract
Professor
External
contract
Professor
Professor
Professor
na
External
contract
External
contract
Professor

10
5

6
5

na

4
6
4

Professor
Professor

6
5

Credits Tenure

Notes: FD, first degree (three-year first degree or Laurea); PG, postgraduate degree (two-year postgraduate degree course or Laurea magistrale). aThis is
not a real course but a laboratory activity to assist students in developing a business plan

Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurial start-up
Start-up and development of
firms
Analysis of business start-up
Entrepreneurship and small
firms
Business start-up

Start-up and small firm


management
Private equity and venture
capital
Management of innovation

Business planning
Entrepreneurship development

Economics
Economics

Bocconi University
LIUC Castellanza Free
University
Polytechnic University of
the Marche
University of Bologna

Course title

Faculty

University

Italian
universities

679

Table I.
Italian universities
offering entrepreneurship
courses (2003-2004)

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number of courses, no statistical analyses have been carried out, but only a qualitative
analysis of their content and their position within the curriculum was made.
Concerning the first academic year analysed (2003-2004), only a few universities in
Italy offered entrepreneurship courses, when there were researchers interested in the
field. Most of them (Bologna, Ancona, Urbino, Modena and Reggio Emilia) are located
in the so called third Italy, i.e. that part of Italy dominated by small firms. The
only university located in the southern part of the country offering a course on
the management of innovation is the University of Naples. Only the Universities of
Bologna and Urbino offered more than one course in entrepreneurship. These
universities had curricula specifically dedicated to entrepreneurship or innovation.

University

Table II.
Universities offering
a curriculum in
entrepreneurship
(2003-2004)

Faculty

Curriculum title

Polytechnic
Economics
University of the
Marche
University of
Economics
Naples II

Level

Students

Entrepreneurship and Master (one


management of
year)
innovation
Entrepreneurship and PhD
innovation
programme
(three years)

Starting
year

15 (degree in
management and
engineering)
4

2003
2002

Schools
2003-2004

2009-2010
Business
Business
and
and
economics Engineering Other Total economics Engineering Other Total

Table III.
Entrepreneurship
education in Italian
universities

Courses
Courses in
entrepreneurship
Courses in
management of
innovation
Courses in business
planning
Total
Curricula
Entrepreneurship and
market
Entrepreneurship and
innovation
Total
Master and PhD
Master in
entrepreneurship
Master in innovation
PhD in
entrepreneurship
Total

28

32

13

4
15

1
2

5
17

8
68

15

1
1
2

1
1
2

31
45

1
2

9
85

2
3

2
3

4
5

4
7

11

In the case of Bologna it was a two-year postgraduate course in management with a


curriculum called Firm and innovation. In Urbino there was a specific curriculum
within a three-year first degree called Entrepreneurship and small firms. In all other
cases entrepreneurship courses were part of curricula in general management.
Looking at the content of the courses, most of them were dedicated to the various
aspects of start-up: how to develop a business plan and how to raise funds. Two
courses were dedicated to the management of innovation in existing firms, with
specific emphasis on the development of new ventures. Only three courses dealt with
the general aspects of entrepreneurship, from its role in the economy to the specificity
of entrepreneurship as opposed to management. However, even these courses devoted
a significant amount of time to business planning.
Above all, three aspects characterized entrepreneurship courses in Italian
universities in 2003-2004:
(1)

they were present almost exclusively in economics and management faculties;

(2)

their main focus was on the start-up of new businesses; and

(3)

their main aim was to transfer knowledge and competences to the development
of the business plan.

Only two universities offered a specific curriculum in entrepreneurship. Marche


Polytechnic University (Ancona) started a first level Master programme in
Entrepreneurship and management of innovation in 2003. It was addressed to
students with a first degree (three-year course) in management or engineering. Despite
the title, within the curriculum there were just a few modules addressing specific issues
associated with entrepreneurship (management of innovation, business planning). The
rest of the Master was organized around traditional management functions (strategy,
marketing, finance, accounting, etc.).
The PhD programme in Entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of
Naples II appeared to be the only one specifically devoted to the subject during the
academic year 2003-2004. This PhD programme was not confirmed in the following years.
The situation changed during the second half of the decade. Compared with the
situation in 2003-2004, in the academic year 2009-2010 there was a significant increase
in courses and in the number of schools offering entrepreneurship courses both at
undergraduate and graduate levels. However, the main issue of these courses
continues to be the management of innovation rather than entrepreneurship as such[2]
(see Table III).
Only a few universities offer a specific curriculum on entrepreneurship. LUISS
University (Rome) provides a curriculum in Entrepreneurship and market within the
first degree in economics and business. The University of Valle DAosta offers a first
degree in Entrepreneurial development of tourism districts; the Universities of Bolzano
and the University of Molise offer postgraduate degrees in Entrepreneurship and
innovation. The other courses in entrepreneurship, management of innovation and
business planning are offered by economics and engineering schools within their
general first degrees or postgraduate degrees. Apart from the latter schools, the School
of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Verona offers a laboratory of
entrepreneurship, while the School of Political Science at the University of Milan
provides a course in business planning.
The proportion of courses in entrepreneurship and innovation offered by business
and economics schools[3] and engineering schools remained almost the same during

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this period. In academic year 2003-2004, 13 courses were offered by eight schools of
economics v. two courses offered by two schools of engineering. In academic year 20092010, 68 courses were offered by 42 schools of economics v. 15 courses offered by nine
schools of engineering.
Concerning the Master programmes, Table III shows that there was a significant
increase in the supply of curricula during the observed period. However, these Masters
are proposed mainly by schools of economics, and most of them refer to the
management of innovation. Only the University of Bologna and the University of
Bolzano propose a Master in Innovation within engineering faculties.
5. Discussion
The limited presence of entrepreneurship courses and curricula in Italian universities
does not mean that the issue of entrepreneurship is completely neglected in their
activities. Recognizing the importance of favouring entrepreneurship, several Italian
universities have started a number of extra-curricular initiatives dedicated to stimulating
the start-up of new firms, especially among students and researchers. The most
widespread activity in this area is the organization of business plan competitions. Within
these competitions courses on business planning are normally offered. In all cases these
initiatives and courses continue to be outside the official university curricula[4].
The reasons for the scanty presence of entrepreneurship courses and curricula in
Italian universities and their slow growth after the university reform that started in
2001 can be analysed by referring to the two sides of the market: demand and supply.
We think that in the Italian situation the latter factor is definitely more important than
the former. Moreover, we also believe that the actual supply of courses and curricula
does not always respond to the demand for entrepreneurial competences not only in
quantitative but also in qualitative terms. The slow pace with which Italian
universities are following the global trend in the development of entrepreneurship
courses and curricula depends on two main factors related to the supply side: the
presence of a cultural tradition that does not favour entrepreneurship education, and
the rigidity of the Italian university system when changing courses and curricula.
As regards the cultural traditions prevailing in the Italian university system, the one
that has the greatest impact is the separation between theoretical and practical
knowledge, the former being considered superior to the latter. Universities are the places
where theoretical knowledge is developed and transmitted, with less attention paid to its
practical use. This is reflected not only in the content of courses but also in the teaching
methodology which is almost exclusively based on lectures (ex cathedra) with little
consideration for the active role of students. This situation is somewhat different in
engineering faculties, given their technical orientation. In Italy, the distinction between
theoretical and practical knowledge regards not only each discipline but is also
associated with the difference between the humanities and technical and scientific
subjects, as the former is considered superior because of the more practical orientation of
the latter[5]. The pre-eminence given to theoretical rather than practical knowledge and
the association of the former with the humanities is responsible for the diffidence
towards new fields of knowledge, especially when they have a practical orientation and
are not easily reconciled with the codified branches of knowledge.
Besides these general reasons, another important factor is the rigidity of the Italian
academic system, resulting from its strict definition of the content of scientific fields
and the codification of scientific sectors within which courses and curricula are
designed. This classification of scientific domains is officially defined and each

researcher and course must necessarily refer to one of them[6]. The contents of these
subfields are established at national level by a ministerial decree and have not been
changed since 1999. Remaining within the boundary of a chosen subfield is very
important for young researchers as the recruitment and career system is based on
these disciplinary fields. Interdisciplinary work receives no incentives, especially in the
case of young researchers who still have to go through various stages of their career
that, with rare exceptions, will be carried out within the same disciplinary field. None
of the disciplinary definitions within economics and business mention the subject of
entrepreneurship. This does not exclude the possibility for academics belonging to
these fields to study entrepreneurship but it exposes young researchers to the risk
of investing in a non-recognized field.
Until the application of the new curricular system in 2001, not only disciplinary
fields but also the names of courses and curricula were defined at national level. This
excluded any possibility of introducing entrepreneurship courses that were included as
possible subjects. This situation changed with the application of the reform. Since
2001, universities have been free to choose the names of curricula and courses.
However, for the latter, the disciplinary field it belongs to must be indicated as this is
important to identify the academics who can run them.
Since entrepreneurship is an interdisciplinary field, it does not come as a surprise
that the courses on this subject offered in Italian universities belong to different
disciplinary subfields of management and economics. Some of them also belong to the
field of managerial engineering. As long as the system retains this rigid definition of,
and separation between, disciplinary fields it will be difficult for entrepreneurship to
became a recognized field for research and teaching.
One of the factors explaining the scanty presence of entrepreneurship courses in
engineering and science curricula is that schools do not have a tradition of co-operation
in organizing university curricula. As a result, schools lacking competences in this
field (as is the case of engineering and other scientific schools) are reluctant to acquire
them from other schools.
To summarize, on the supply side, the main obstacles to increase courses in
entrepreneurship offered by Italian universities are: (a) centralization and
organizational inertia of the higher education system; (b) diffidence about practical
knowledge in higher education; c) only few academics are committed to the subject; (d)
lack of co-operation between schools[7].
On the demand side, a factor that determines the low presence of entrepreneurship
courses could be the result of a cultural bias of Italian university students:
most graduate students get degrees in humanities and attend university with the aim
of starting a career in the public sector or as a professional. According to the latest
data provided by the Italian Statistics Agency (ISTAT), in the academic year
2009-2010, 44.3 per cent of the students got their first degree in humanities, compared
with 41.1 per cent in scientific fields and 14.6 in economics and statistics. Moreover,
within the scientific fields about half of the graduates belong to the sectors of medicine,
pharmacy and architecture that are traditionally oriented towards professional careers.
As far as the aims and contents of entrepreneurship courses are concerned, the
recent trend and present situation in Italian universities raise two main issues:
(1)

the role of education as opposed to training; and

(2)

the adequacy of university courses to address the needs of the economic


system and the changes in entrepreneurial and management models.

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With regard to point (a), the prevalence of courses on business planning seem too
short-term oriented, i.e. stimulating the start-up of firms, rather than addressing a
more long-term aim of raising the entrepreneurship awareness and capabilities of
individuals. For this reason some university courses overlap with the proliferating
initiatives of other private and publics institutions (such as chambers of commerce,
local authorities and business associations) dedicated to entrepreneurship training,
that typically focus on business planning skills.
Together with developing specific skills for business start-up, entrepreneurship
education in universities, especially those at first degree level, should pursue the
following objectives:
(1)

enhance knowledge about the phenomenon of entrepreneurship and its role in


the economic system and in society as a whole;

(2)

favour a positive attitude to entrepreneurship and, in turn, to promote


entrepreneurship as a useful and respectable career prospect for graduates;
and

(3)

develop those competences, like relational and leadership competences, that


can contribute to the development of entrepreneurship.

Specifically, by referring to Johannissons (1991) taxonomy, educational programmes


on entrepreneurship should aim at developing the following levels of learning:
.

entrepreneurial attitudes, values and motivation;

ability to develop networks and relational skills in general;

creativeness and intuition; and

knowledge of institutional facts about entrepreneurship.

In a more general perspective, entrepreneurship education should help students


increase their entrepreneurship awareness and enlarge their perception and vision of
social and institutional facts. At a more advanced level (Master and postgraduate
courses) students can acquire the technical abilities (use and scope) for the evaluation
of new business opportunities and for new venture creation. At present, only a few
courses reflect these contents and aims.
In our opinion, the construction of an educational model for university courses
requires to avoid any mechanistic type of teaching that gives only techniques and
ignores the entrepreneurial attitude of students. According to Gibb (1993) teaching
methods should not just transfer knowledge, but contribute to the developing of
entrepreneurial skills and attitudes. The author suggests to adopt a focus on life
experience, on action (pragmatic/intuitive mode) and on ideas (reflexive/intuitive
mode). Action learning, learning by doing, learning by experience, learning by
mistakes represent the paradigm to build up a teaching method that improves ones
attitude in problem solving and fosters students entrepreneurial skills.
In addition to stimulating an entrepreneurial career in university students, we are
also convinced that entrepreneurship education should aim at a more general change in
the entrepreneurial attitudes and culture of small Italian firms. Italy is characterized by
the presence of small firms. The main problem for those firms is that they are not
oriented towards innovation and growth. The question is not just stimulating start-up
and self-employment but also orienting new entrepreneurs towards businesses with
higher risks and higher growth potential.

Evidence from entrepreneurship courses reveals that they fail to address these
problems. They pay little attention to developing transversal competences (like
relational competences) while focusing on technical skills. One of the transversal
competences which should be largely developed to solve the problem of the
dimensional trap of small Italian firms is the psychological attitude towards risk.
The entrepreneurship courses in Italian universities seem more oriented towards
stimulating student self-employment rather than proposing new social and economic
roles for the entrepreneur. A modification in the latter direction would be helpful in two
ways: first, it would contribute to the long-term change in the cultural attitude of
entrepreneurs; second, it could develop a pro-active attitude of managers and
employees within existing firms.
A further reason for the scarce presence of entrepreneurship courses in Italian
universities and for their orientation towards self-employment could be related to the
widespread belief that entrepreneurship is not a set of learnable skills but rather a
personality trait, and therefore impossible to transfer by teaching. Empirical research
shows that entrepreneurial competences (not associated with functional skills) are
acquired through experience, where informal mechanisms, long-term relationships and
firm-specific competences prevail. However, entrepreneurship education could play a
role in promoting these competences by focusing on psychological, behavioural and
relational competences[8].
Besides the content of entrepreneurship courses, entrepreneurship education should
be aware of, and address, the present needs of the Italian economic system. The Italian
entrepreneurial system is characterized by the following weaknesses (Minniti, 1999):
(1)

Italy has one of the lowest entrepreneurial rates among innovation oriented
countries, and declining during the last decade (Kelley et al., 2011);

(2)

after start-up, firms tend to remain small, rather than pursuing rapid grow;

(3)

the latter feature is also the result of the pervasive family ownership and
control in small firms; and

(4)

new businesses are concentrated in traditional sectors while there are too few
start-ups in high-tech sectors.

One of the ways to stimulate start-ups in high-tech sectors could be by spreading


entrepreneurship courses in engineering and science faculties. Even in this case they
should not be exclusively focused on business plan development (entrepreneurship
skills) but rather on enhancing entrepreneurship attitudes and awareness
among students. The aim of stimulating start-ups could be better fulfilled by
postgraduate training programmes and structures, such as business plan
competitions, incubators, etc., which can be addressed to more specific targets and
be focused on specific fields.
Entrepreneurship education in scientific and technical schools could play a specific
role in promoting academic spin-offs and their growth prospects. Since 2003, there has
been an increasing spread in this phenomenon in Italian universities and other public
research institutions. An analysis of the survival and growth of Italian spin-offs has
identified two main problems: the imbalance of the sponsor team towards technical
skills and the lack of entrepreneurial figures. The lack of personnel with management
skills could be balanced by recruiting staff with appropriate characteristics. On the
contrary, what cannot be balanced is the motivation for entrepreneurship, since it is

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closely connected with the motivation of the promoters (Iacobucci et al., 2011).
Entrepreneurship education could play a decisive role in fostering the number of
spin-offs and their growth.
6. Conclusions
The economic slowdown experienced by many industrialized countries has
re-evaluated the role of entrepreneurship in promoting economic growth. As a
result there has been an increase in research on entrepreneurship and the development
of a wide array of policies and measures to promote and support entrepreneurship.
Among these measures there is the diffusion of entrepreneurship education and
training.
The aim of this paper was to analyse the recent trend and present situation of
entrepreneurship education in Italian universities. We conducted our study starting
with the premise that entrepreneurship is something that can be stimulated and
learned. Moreover, literature provides evidence of the positive relationship between
entrepreneurship education and the number of venture start-ups.
The empirical analysis highlights several weaknesses in the present situation of
entrepreneurship education in Italy:
.

The development of entrepreneurship courses is a recent phenomenon, almost


absent until 2000.

The diffusion of entrepreneurship courses in recent years has mainly involved


faculties of business and economics. This is due to a supply side bias as in
these schools there are academics who have skills to teach entrepreneurship.
On the contrary entrepreneurship courses are more effective and needed in
technological and scientific schools.

Another weakness concerns the content of the courses: entrepreneurship


education can include start-up technicalities but also the development of
personal attributes and skills that form the basis of an entrepreneurial mind set
and behaviour: creativity, sense of initiative, risk-taking, autonomy, selfconfidence, leadership, team spirit, etc. Entrepreneurship education should raise
the awareness of students about entrepreneurship as a possible career options
besides providing specific business skills and knowledge on how to start a
company and run it successfully.

The role of universities in this context is to develop new knowledge and methodologies
for teaching and carrying out research on entrepreneurship rather than simply starting
a course. One possible solution could be to establish entrepreneurship centres that can
be hubs within the universities for research and teaching in the entrepreneurship field.
Indeed, we think that entrepreneurship courses are more effective when they are
included in a set of actions and measures (like the creation of industrial liaison offices,
incubators, etc.) developed inside and outside the university to promote entrepreneurial
culture and foster start-ups by former students.
Up to a few years ago, the entrepreneurial courses offered in Italian universities
were more a result of the individual initiative of researchers and professors rather than
a deliberate strategy of their member institutions. This is a problem because one of the
conditions to foster the entrepreneurial spirit through entrepreneurship education is
that this has to be the result of a strategy and a collective effort not only by university
institutions but which also involves other neighbouring institutions.

The non-systematic way in which most of the attempts at developing


entrepreneurial education were developed within Italian universities makes it
difficult to evaluate their results. We are convinced that a major role of
entrepreneurship education, as previously suggested, might affect entrepreneurial
attitudes and motivations of university students and, as a result, raise the quantity and
quality of entrepreneurs especially in high-tech sectors. However, we cannot draw
conclusions about the most effective ways to obtain these results, given the specificity
of the Italian situation. Further empirical research should be addressed to single out
the most important and long-standing experiments in entrepreneurship education and
to evaluate their results in terms of new venture creation and development. This
evaluation should take into consideration not just the number of new entrepreneurial
ventures but also their quality in terms of sector of activity and value creation. Our
research agenda includes the above-mentioned analysis as well as a more thorough
analysis of the content of entrepreneurial courses and its relation with the developed
entrepreneurial skills and competences.
Notes
1. Before the reform, Masters were not recognized as part of the official curricula offered by
Italian universities. Master courses (especially in the field of management) were (and are)
offered by a large number of private and public institutions, sometimes associated with
universities. The reform has not changed this situation. In order to distinguish the Master
courses offered by universities from those offered by other institutions, the former are called
University Masters. Unlike other Master courses, that have no regulation whatsoever,
University Masters are subject to some general rules set down by the law: for example, they
require a one-year workload.
2. Appendix 1 provides a full table of courses, faculties and curricula.
3. In Italy, economics and business are traditionally offered within the same school. For
simplicity, the term school of economics will be used to refer to schools of business and
economics.
4. As a result of a specific act issued in 1999, during the last decade Italian universities have
paid increasing attention in promoting and sustaining academic spin-offs (Iacobucci et al.,
2011).
5. The high school which is still considered the best within the high school curricula is the
Classical Lyceum where preeminence is given to classical humanities (ancient Greek,
Latin, literature and arts). Despite its name, even in the Scientific Lyceum there is a
preeminence of humanities (Latin, philosophy and history) over scientific subjects. Technical
schools, called Industrial Technical Institutes, although normally considered good schools
to achieve a technical background, were traditionally considered not suitable for university
entry. Until 1968 only students from the two lyceums were allowed access to universities.
6. As an example, the field of economics and business is divided into 13 subfields spanning
from political economy (01) to econometrics (05), accounting (07), finance (09), etc.
7. This situation is expected to change after the introduction of a recent reform (2010) that is
expected to produce substantial changes in the organization of Italian universities. One of the
main changes is the increased role of departments in the organization of research and
teaching activities and the abolition of schools. At present there is no evidence whether this
will or will not favour more disciplinary interchanges in the design of university curricula.
8. Concerning this point of view, Gorman and Hanlon reported, [y] most of the empirical
studies surveyed indicated that entrepreneurship can be taught, or at least encouraged, by
entrepreneurship education (Gorman et al., 1997, p. 63).

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Italian
universities

689

Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economic science
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics

Luiss University

John Cabot University

Luic-Castellanza Free
University
Luic-Castellanza Free
University
Luic-Castellanza Free
University
Cattolica University

University of Bolzano

University of Bolzano

University of Bolzano

University of Bolzano

Luiss University

Del Sannio University

Bocconi University

Entrepreneurial strategy
Entrepreneurship and management of
SMEs and no profit companies
Introduction to entrepreneurship

PG in economics and management


PG in market and strategy

(continued)

Education to entrepreneurship

FD in business law and economics

PG in business administration

Education to entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship B

Entrepreneurship and development of


SMEs
Entrepreneurship A

Entrepreneurial values and managerial


behaviour
Entrepreneurship and fostering of new
companies
Entrepreneurship and venture capital

Laboratory company start-up

Corporate start-up and development

Course title

FD in business economics, curriculum management

PG in entrepreneurship and innovation

PG in entrepreneurship and innovation

PG in entrepreneurship and innovation

FD in economics and business, curriculum


entrepreneurship and market
FD in management of tourism, sport and events

PG in business economics

PG in management

FD in economics and business, curriculum


entrepreneurship and market
PG in management

Curriculum

690

University of Florence

Faculty

Table AI.
Italian universities
offering courses in
entrepreneurship and
related fields, 2009-2010

University

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Appendix 1

Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics

John Cabot University

University of Bologna

University of Urbino

University of Valle
Daosta
University of Urbino

University of Salerno

Tor Vergata University

University of Catania

University of Cassino

University of Bologna

University of Bologna

University of Bologna

University of Molise

University of Florence

University of Florence

Faculty

University

PG in economics and management

(continued)

Strategic control of innovative companies


and start-up

Entrepreneurship and SMEs

PG in marketing and communication


PG in economics and management

Entrepreneurship and SMEs

FD in entrepreneurial development of tourism districts

Entrepreneurship, start-ups and business


planning
Start-ups and entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship and tools to develop a


new company
Management of innovation and
entrepreneurship
Creative economics and entrepreneurship

Economics of innovation,
entrepreneurship and SMEs
Social entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship and innovation (II)

Start-up and management of innovative


companies
Entrepreneurship and tourism

FD in economics

PG in economics and management

PG in management

PG in management and corporate finance

PG in economics and management

PG in economics and management of cooperative and no


profit companies
PG in management

PG in entrepreneurship and innovation

PG in management

Entrepreneurship and innovation (I)

Entrepreneurial management

PG in business administration
PG in management

Course title

Curriculum

Italian
universities

691

Table AI.

Business and
Economic Science
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics

Del Sannio University

University of Padova

University of Bergamo

University of Insubria

University of Cagliari

Bocconi University

University of Florence

Luic- Castellanza Free


University
Cattolica University

University of Bolzano

Luiss University

Luiss University

Luiss University

Luiss University

FD in economics and management, curriculum


international economics and management

FD in economics, curriculum in economics and


management
FD in business economics

PG in management

FD in business economics and management

PG in management

PG in business economics, curriculum economics and


management
PG in market and strategy

FD in economics, market, financial broker, curriculum


political economics
FD in economics and business, curriculum
entrepreneurship and market
FD in economics and business, curriculum
entrepreneurship and market
FD in economics and business, curriculum e-business
and management of information systems
PG in entrepreneurship and innovation

(continued)

Management of innovation and projects I


and II (entrepreneurship)
Economics of networks and management
of innovation

Management of technology, innovation


and operations
Economics and management of
technological innovation
Management of innovation

Laboratory innovation

Innovation, brand and licence

Innovation and product development

Economics and management of


innovation
Economics and management of
innovation and networks
Innovation management

Economics and management of


innovation
Economics and management of
innovation
Economics and management of
innovation
Management of innovation

PG in business economics
FD in business economics, curriculum marketing

Course title

Curriculum

692

Luiss University

Faculty

Table AI.

University

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54,8/9

Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics

University of Pavia

University of Trieste

University of Macerata

University of Verona

University of Torino

University of Salerno

Tor Vergata University

La Sapienza University

La Sapienza University

University of Perugia

University of Perugia

University of Perugia

University of Perugia

University of Perugia

University of Perugia

Faculty

University

PG in economics and management of innovation

PG in management

PG in management

PG in economics

PG in economics and innovation management

FD in economics and management

PG in economics

(continued)

Economics and management of


innovation
Management of innovation

Economics and management of


innovation
Leadership and innovation management

Economics and management of


innovation
Management of innovation

Management, innovation and


internationalization
Management of innovation

Management of innovation

PG in economics and management


FD in economics, finance and corporate law

Management of innovation

PG in finance and statistics

PG in management

FD in financial economics

FD in economics and corporate law

Economics and management of


innovation
Economics and management of
innovation
Economics and management of
innovation
Management of innovation

Management of innovation

PG in economics and management


FD in business economics

Course title

Curriculum

Italian
universities

693

Table AI.

PG in engineering management
PG in engineering management
PG in engineering management

Engineering
Engineering
Engineering
Engineering
Engineering

University of Sannio
Polytechnic University
of Marche
University of Bologna
University of Padova
University of Palermo

University of Perugia

University of Perugia

FD in engineering management

FD in engineering management

(continued)

Management of innovation and projects


Economics and management of
innovation
Management of innovation projects
Management of innovation and projects
Statistical methods for risk management
and innovation
Economics and management of
innovation
Corporate management and management
of innovation

Business plan laboratory

Business planning

PG in financial markets and innovation


FD in management

Business planning

PG in economics and management of innovation

Business planning

PG in economics and management

Corporate strategies and business


planning
Business planning

Business planning

PG in international management

FD in business economics

Business planning

PG in management

PG in valuation methods, forecast and control of


social-economic systems
PG in engineering management
PG in automation engineering

University of Chieti

Roma Tre University

University of Trieste

University of Trieste

University of Venezia

University of Modena
and Reggio Emilia
University of Modena
and Reggio Emilia
Tor Vergata University

Management of innovation

PG in financial markets and innovation

Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Management
Science
Engineering
Engineering

University of Trieste

Course title

694

Curriculum

Faculty

Table AI.

University

ET
54,8/9

Engineering
Engineering
Engineering
Engineering
Engineering
Engineering
Engineering
Engineering
Sport and exercise
science
Political science

University of Perugia

Tor Vergata University


University of Siena
Polytechnic of Milan
Polytechnic of Milan
Polytechnic of Milan
Polytechnic of Milan
Polytechnic of Milan
University of Verona

in engineering management
in engineering management
in engineering
in ICT engineering
in engineering management
in automation engineering
in engineering management
in motor Science

FD in business economics, curriculum European


economics

PG
PG
PG
PG
PG
PG
PG
FD

PG in engineering of materials

Curriculum

Business planning

Management of innovation and


competitive European strategies
Management of innovation and projects
Management of innovation and projects
Management of innovation
Management of innovation and projects
Management of innovation and projects
Start-up of technological companies
Start-up of technological companies
Entrepreneurship laboratory

Course title

Notes: FD, first degree (three-year first degree or Laurea); PG, post-graduate degree (two-year postgraduate degree course or Laurea magistrale)

University of Milan

Faculty

University

Italian
universities

695

Table AI.

ET
54,8/9

696

Appendix 2

University

Schools

Title

University of Bolzano

Business and
economics
Engineering
Business and
economics
Engineering
Business school
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics
Business and
economics

Entrepreneurship and innovation

University of Bolzano
University of Bologna, Ferrara,
Modena-Reggio Emilia, Parma
University of Bologna
Sda Bocconi
Bocconi University
University of Palermo
University of Pavia
Table AII.
Italian universities
offering a master in
entrepreneurship and
related fields (2009-2010)

University of Trento and Scuola


superiore SantAnna, Pisa
University of Verona
European University of Rome

Innovation engineering
Culture of innovation, market, start-up
Innovation engineering
Entrepreneurship and strategies
Economics and management of
Innovation and technology
Management of innovation in SMEs
Social entrepreneurship and territorial
governance
Innovation management
Management of innovation
Management of innovation and change
management

About the authors


Donato Iacobucci holds a BA (University of Urbino), MBA (ISTAO) and PhD (Entrepreneurship)
(Stirling). His main research interests are in the fields of business groups, small and mediumsized enterprises and entrepreneurship. Donato Iacobucci is the corresponding author and can be
contacted at: iacobucci@univpm.it
Alessandra Micozzi holds a Degree in Economics and MBA (ISTAO) and is a Phd student in
Applied Economics. Her main research interests are in the fields of entrepreneurship,
entrepreneurship education, technological transfer and academic spin-offs.

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