University technology transfer offices: The search for identity to build legitimacy
Technology transfer offices (TTOs) are of strategic importance to universities committed to the commercialization of academic knowledge. Within the university, TTOs’ relationship with academics and management is single agent-multiple principal. When two principals exist in an agency relationship, conflicting expectations can naturally arise. We explore how TTOs build legitimacy by shaping identity with university academics and management. In undertaking this research we draw on 63 interviews with TTO executives across 22 universities in the Ireland, New Zealand and the United States. We find that TTOs use identity-conformance and identity-manipulation to shape a dual identity, one scientific and the other business, with academics and management respectively. We show how this combination of identity strategies is ineffective for legitimizing the TTO. We propose that TTOs’ identity shaping strategies are incomplete and need to incorporate a wholly distinctive identity to complement and reinforce preliminary legitimacy claims made through conformance and manipulation. We discuss the potential implications of these findings for scholars, TTO executives and university management.
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