Entrepreneurial universities as agents of social change

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis


Entrepreneurial universities (EUs) are institutions that contribute to the economic development of their regions with innovations and the creation of spin-off companies. However, the relevant scientific literature on entrepreneurship and innovation has begun to question the commercial approach of EUs given the increasing number of social problems they could be addressing.
Similarly, such literature is still scarce in explaining the performance of EUs in settings where academics count with little support for entrepreneurship and innovation. Therefore, in this dissertation, we argue that EUs can become agents of social change and still achieve their entrepreneurial goals by embracing social entrepreneurship. To that end, in this dissertation, we conducted a mixed-methods type of research (quantitative-qualitative) by applying the theory of
human capital, the theory of planned behavior, and a micro-processes approach to data collected in the countries of Belgium, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uganda (93 semi-structured interviews, and 149 surveys) in order to support our arguments. Regarding our findings, first, we found that universities can leverage their existing institutional missions to promote a social orientation that impacts the university community. Second, at the institutional level, we suggest that the legitimization of social entrepreneurship in EUs contributes to the emergence of non-commercial forms of entrepreneurship that can promote social change. Third, at the individual level, we found that EUs can stimulate the social orientation of the university community by exposing them to scenarios in which they help others (e.g., Community service learning). Fourth, at the collaborative level, we found that university-industry joint undertakings in developing contexts are often driven by the interest of both parties in addressing social issues. This dissertation holds implications for policymakers inside and outside universities as it explains
and proposes mechanisms to address social issues by leveraging EUs existing institutional and missional infrastructure. We also offer implications for theory, as we demonstrate empirically that there are non-commercial forms of entrepreneurship in the university context that do not depend on the creation of intellectual property, thus triggering the scientific discussion in the academic entrepreneurship literature. On the other hand, we also extend the literature on university-industry collaboration as we explain the individual micro-processes involved in joint undertakings that pursue social goals in developing contexts. Finally, we offer implications for practitioners, as we empirically demonstrate the determinant role of EUs in the emergence and sustainability of social enterprises.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Dentchev, Nikolay, Supervisor
Award date29 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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