President’s Corner – Has ‘Creative Destruction’ Been Outlawed?

Henry Etzkowitz
International Triple Helix Institute
Palo Alto
*email address protected*


A new stage is emerging beyond the high-tech regional innovation model, extrapolated from the start-up inception process (Etzkowitz and Klofsten, 2005) that, in part, reprises the late nineteenth century growth of industrial trusts. The early twenty-first century version is not intra- industry, with a few large firms controlling each industry, but rather cross cuts the gamut of established and emerging high technologies. A new wave of concentration forms a “mega-oligopoly” that cross cuts and subsumes existing and emerging innovation fields, potentially repealing the law of creative destruction.

Son Alex, financial analyst with Gurtin Municipal Bond Management, San Diego, (recently acquired by PIMCO Newport Beach, a subsidiary of Allianz, Munich), recently emailed, “What do you think about new vs. existing research universities? Can you invest in a mediocre or lagging one and have it turn into a Stanford or a Carnegie Mellon or Georgia Tech?

A certain up to mid-twentieth century mediocre and lagging Palo Alto school became the contemporary global academic cynosure through a series of post-war initiatives. These projects built upon a longer history of government and industrial support and a virtually unique entrepreneurial academic subculture, present from its 1891 founding (Etzkowitz, 2019). Talent development coupled with an external resources attraction strategy, leveraged a university-industry interaction tradition. Stanford Provost Frederick Terman’s brilliant post-war implicit entrepreneurial university development strategy involved simultaneously hiring several professors tightly focused on emerging research areas, so-called ”steeples of excellence” with both theoretical and practical potential, e.g. steroid chemistry. Learning from war-time MIT, Stanford focused on acquiring federal research resources in the post war via the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), a model derived from MIT’s Radar development “Rad Lab” experience. Founded in cooperation with local technical industry, SRI
expanded upon long-term interaction from the university’s founding.
Industrial interaction, including but not limited to spin-offs, inadvertently led to the invention of the Science Park (Etzkowitz, 2002). However, the principles inferred by Terman from the Stanford experience were often replicated elsewhere on the mistaken assumption that the Park was, on the one hand, a causal innovation driver rather than a result of a longer term Triple Helix process (Massey, Quintas and Wield, 1991) and its suburban format as requisite rather than happenstance (O’Mara, 2006). The International Association of Science Parks ( recently expanded its remit to include “Innovation Areas”, restructuring the classic Science Park role to accommodate a burgeoning repertoire of public, private and hybrid innovation support structures (Pique, Birbegal-Mirabent and Etzkowitz, 2018). Upon retiring Terman consulted in exporting the Stanford model, for example, to Korea (KAIST) where it took hold, and to New Jersey in a proposal for a Big-Pharma based university, where it did not (Kargon and Leslie, 1994).
Carnegie Mellon and Georgia Tech are relatively new as academic and economic and social development powerhouses, each with distinctive regional stories and institutional development strategies. Carnegie Mellon was transformed by an intellectually driven strategy, created through the merger of the respective Carnegie and Mellon engineering and arts based institutes and schools. Psychologist/computer scientist Herbert Simon’s “satisficing” intellectual vision spread throughout the university, providing a unifying framework for disciplinary development, exploring the implications of the computer, theoretically, and practically attracting significant support from DARPA and other agencies. Together with the University of Pittsburgh’s health sciences spin-offs and high-tech successors to a superseded steel industry, the city has recovered much of its employment loss. Indeed, Google recently arrived, hiring a significant proportion of Carnegie Mellon’s DARPA originated computer science department, gaining global leadership in advanced robotics. The department’s classic specialty derived from the post-Sputnik university-government informally agreed upon division of labor in Computer Science among DARPA, Berkeley, Stanford, MIT etc. Thus, Siberia’s TUSUR University and US academic computer science share a common foundational impetus in the Soviet space achievement’s celebration and shock.
The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) originated in the post-civil war era, as the spearhead of an industrial development strategy to create a “New South”. Georgia Tech developed its research capabilities by creating a research institute willing to take on mundane industrially oriented federal R&D contracts, other schools were not interested in, then building more broadly on this base. All have in common an implicit or explicit university-industry government Triple Helix strategy, whether University-industry/University-Government converging double helices in Silicon Valley or a university-government double helix, focused on creating an industrial sphere in Georgia or an implicit Triple Helix in Pittsburgh and an explicit one in pre-war New England, in all but label.

An initial reaction that Triple Helix was marginalized at the 2018 Manchester conference is superseded. Left out of plenary speaker lineup, neglected even at a plenary panel ostensibly on the future of Triple Helix, speakers discussed the supersession of the entrepreneurial nineteenth century’s civic university predecessor in a ‘back to the future” Einsteinen reversal of time is the coming academic model. Indeed, a warning of heightened attention to publication metrics at a London Workshop several years ago, inspired the International Triple Helix Institute’s Global Entrepreneurial University Metrics (GEUM) initiative, kicked off by a founding Workshop sponsored by US NSF at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies, Leiden. GEUM has been put into practice most strongly in Brazil, in a University of São Paulo PhD student led book project presenting a reputational analysis of accession to the entrepreneurial university model (Neves and Mancos, 2016). A longitudinal comparative survey of academic entrepreneurship is underway, with a second wave of data collection in process, supported by FAPERJ (Almeida, 2015). A co-authored white paper is available as a Working Paper at and is open to reader’s suggestions for a revised version to be presented at the upcoming 4th GEUM Workshop in Rio de Janeiro prior to publication as a Triple Helix manifesto (see Addendum).
We were informed at the session addressing the future of the Triple Helix that the model has not yet been realized in Ethiopia following the 2006 Addis Ababa Workshop. Yet the 2006 event brought together representatives of a complement of new universities to discuss their future remit. The entrepreneurial university concept was introduced as an alternative to the Ivory Tower, realizing the intention of the workshop’s originator, the late Ethiopian Ambassador to the United Nations and former Rector of Addis Ababa University. As it happened, representatives of this university also participated in the Workshop and expressed interest in the Triple Helix. We may hope that greater progress will be achieved now that a more conducive environment has been achieved with the establishment of peaceful conditions in the region. The upcoming Cape Town conference, announced in Manchester for 4-6 September 2019 will display the state-of-the-art in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent. We also look
forward to learning about progress elsewhere in Africa where the Triple Helix and related innovation concepts have taken hold in workshops in Algeria (Saad and Zawdie, 2011), the Zambia innovation meeting sponsored by the East African Common market, the Kenya Triple Helix Summit and the Lagos Innovation Workshop, led by Calestous Juma, Professor of Practice at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Visiting Professor at MIT.
Son of Kenya, technology activist, diplomat and publisher, early in his career, a key figure in the emerging field of Innovation Studies and friend of Triple Helix, Calestous Juma sadly passed prematurely in 2017. A Call for Cape Town, 2019, led by Dr James Dzisah, University of Ghana, Leggon, proposes a panel and papers to discuss Calestous Juma’s work, for example, his radical proposal to introduce biotechnology into traditional African agriculture. Raise the level of traditional practice, rather than follow received development dogma superseding agriculture by industrialization (Juma, 2017). We may thus revert to an appreciation of the Manchester conference, recognizing the Triple Helix as a key concept of innovation studies, realizing the triple open access remit of the Triple Helix Journal, open to all innovation perspectives, as well as free to authors and readers. Indeed, we may table for consideration whether the Triple Helix Association should reflect its growing remit by expanding its name to the Triple Helix and Innovation Studies Association.

Three overlapping dynamics are superseding ‘creative destruction,’ (Schumpeter, 1911) heretofore accepted as a virtual inevitability over-riding ‘path dependency,’ a technical process that seemingly had the ability to shape industrial sectors, reinforcing less than optimal technological paradigms (David, 1985).
1. Silicon Valley is reinvented as a political economy without borders as ever increasing flows of intellectual, social, human and financial capitals converge to be hybridized, networked and rebranded for redistribution from this global hub.
2. A relatively few firms, experiencing overweening growth, have attained the ability to greatly influence, if not control the direction of innovation, not only in their respective spheres, but in any and all existing and emerging high tech fields given their multitudinous resources. For example, Apple recently had US 256 billion cash in hand while Google reported slightly less than 100 billion (Levy, 2017). Certainly there are other players, but presaged by Intel in chip development, a very few firms have not only taken leadership in their respective fields, but gained the ability to enter and establish strong positons in other high tech fields e.g. Google in autonomous vehicles.
3. Even if the stock market or larger economy suffers a serious downturn, short of depression, these firms have the ability to pursue acquisitions and in indeed enhance their hegemonic ‘competitive’ position as less well-off firms are constrained to downsize or actively accept acquisition in part or whole, under such stringent conditions.
Despite Amazon having its headquarters in Seattle, the recent conflation of Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook as a neo Silicon Valley infuses a geo-technical metaphor with a classic economic meaning. Oligopoly occurs when a relatively few firms control a predominant share of an industrial field, by their very presence, with or without communication.
What is new is that a relatively small set of firms, outside of the authoritarian empires of Russia and China, are attaining the ability to control the pathway of technological and economic development, not only through their technical capabilities, but thorough their financial ability to acquire potentially competing firms and hire talent globally. A ‘mega-oligopoly’ may be attaining hegemonic control not just over a single industry, as in classic oligopolies, but of a series of inter-related related and emerging high-tech industries.
Should this development continue apace, the Schumpeterian economic law of “creative destruction” may be subject to repeal by firm-based agglomeration, tolerated by government and acquiesced by academia. Whereas new high-tech competitors, whose technical base if not organizational impetus often derived from academia with government support, heretofore disrupted and superseded existing industries and firms; a new generation of oligopolistic firms appears to have attained the ability to move into and potentially dominate any new field that emerges. They buy out potentially competitive start-ups at what appears initially to be super-inflated prices only to be later seen as a bargain as they provide new growth and expansion opportunities for their purchasers (Think Google and YouTube; Facebook and Instagram).
Oligopoly thus shades into monopoly, if not reined in publicly as in the US, the ‘Gilded Era’ of Trusts, where dominance was typically confined to a particular industry like oil and steel. Who are the contemporary Louis Brandeis, Theodore Roosevelt and Karl Compton’s to lead the battle against concentration trends, legally, politically and scientifically? The partial exception to mega-oligpolization are international competitors given a safe space to grow in Russia and China. These protective policies are in sharp contrast to the European Union, where anti “state aid” rules largely preclude supporting European competitors to the likes of Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple, leaving even relatively modest European technology initiatives, like the current one in AI, to be significantly populated by local branches of the US high-tech hegemons.
Alternatively, expectations of a moderate downturn may spiral negatively out of control as tariff wars escalate, reprising the US Smoot Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, and retaliatory trade chilling measures, that deepened an already sharp downturn, causing the international economy to seize up and virtually come to a halt. In the face of modest downturn, the “New Silicon Valley” shows no signs of pulling back with pre-emptive layoffs, as GM has done, or reducing hiring nor slowing down land acquisition in the Bay area and other innovation conurbations. Indeed, there is every indication that Google and Apple’s projected expansion in San Jose, the putative capital of Silicon Valley, may finally turn hype into reality. It may be expected that the Mega-Oligopoly will take advantage of any downturn, short of a second Great Depression, to double down on expansion, as new entrants find it more difficult to compete under stringent economic conditions. In such a regime, any single institutional sphere may be unable to resist the repeal of creative destruction. We may hypothesize that the Triple Helix is a potential engine of ‘creative destruction renewal,’
impeding technology monopoly dynamics from gumming up the works of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Almeida M. (2015) Faperj, Foundation for Supporting Research in the State of Rio de Janeiro. Award #26/010.001846/2015.
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Working Paper Series

WPS 1, 2017
Metrics for the Entrepreneurial University
Main authors: Henry Etzkowitz, Alexander Bikkulov, Anne Kovaleinen, Karl Heinz Leitner, Seppo Poutanen, Denis Grey, Lena Leonchuck, Justin Axelberg, Guilherme Ary Plonski, Mariza Almeida.
Other contributing authors (in alphabetical order of first name): Charisse Reyes, Elaine C Rideout, Emanuela Todeva, Emilio Alvarez-Suescun, Giustina Secundo, Kanetaka Maki, Liana Kobzeva, Marina van Geenhuizen, Mosi Weng, Huub Mudde, Robert Tijssen, Tatiana Pospelova, Yuzhuo Cai



Published by the Triple Helix Association  –  ISSN 2281-4515


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