Open innovation in science: assessing the formation and function of SME-university collaborations through the proximity matrix

Andrew Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
21 Downloads (Pure)


As university-industry collaboration is regarded as an important practice within the open innovation in Science (OIS) framework, this paper assesses the formation and function of these collaborations using the ‘proximity matrix’, evaluating similarities between actors through evaluating their closeness in terms of distance, network membership, knowledge base and working practices. Through presenting analysis of 22 in-depth interviews with SMEs, the findings outline that the process of SME-university collaboration is driven by the ability of the firms to both access (through social proximity) and understand (through technological and organisational proximity) their university partners. Furthermore, the results also suggest distinct roles for each proximity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-332
Number of pages23
JournalIndustry and Innovation
Issue number2
Early online date12 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
To explore the experience of SMEs in the process of OIS through university collaboration this paper utilises data from twenty-two in depth interviews of SMEs participating in formal collaborative projects with universities via the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme in the UK. KTPs are an important source of funding for supporting industrial R&D in the UK, designed to assist businesses with innovation to promote their growth and competitiveness. The aim of the programme is to promote collaboration between firms and universities, ensuring that the ‘latest academic thinking’ is introduced into the firm to promote innovation. These projects can last between one and three years and are part-funded by a public grant to cover the costs of the project. Public funding for KTPs covers up to 67% of the project’s costs for SMEs, with the remainder funded by the business involved. In return, the business is supported by an academic supervisor from the partner university as well as a full time ‘Associate’, typically a graduate in a relevant discipline, who carries out the day-to-day operations of the project. Indeed, the success of the programme is highlighted by the fact that applications to the scheme has been increasing over the last few years (Johnston and Huggins )

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • open innovation in science
  • proximity matrix
  • SMEs
  • University-industry links
  • Management of Technology and Innovation
  • General Business, Management and Accounting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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