National incubator programme 2003–14
– an initial analysis of programme logic
The report shows that the impact of the incubators has increased over time. This can be seen above all in the greater influx of ideas that have been evaluated. Their capacity to take in ideas has also grown over time. Both the capacity to evaluate more ideas and to process more ideas that have been accepted by the incubators has increased more than the operational costs. In this regard, the activities can be said to have become more cost-efficient over time.
The original aim was to increase the number and growth of research-based companies. However, the assessment of Growth Analysis is that it is not possible to determine whether this aim has been attained.
The Government’s assignment to Vinnova in 2013 to assume responsibility as of 2015 for the national incubator programme states that Growth Analysis will be given the task of evaluating said programme in the future. Growth Analysis has therefore started the work of describing the contents and development of the incubator programme and of conducting a number of analyses on the material the agency has obtained from Vinnova. The report aims to compile and analyse the documents that describe the purpose of the programme, which consequences the programme is expected to have and which measures the programme has carried out.
The most important result of the report is the compilation of documented basic information, which had not previously been performed. Between 2003 and 2014, the national incubator programme has distributed operational funding to a selection of Sweden’s incubators. The funded incubators have had a total turnover or approximately SEK 1.2 billion over this period, of which around SEK 800 million was from public funds.
The documented basic information that Growth Analysis has been working with raises the issue of which documentary requirements programmes like the national incubator programme should have to fulfil, on the one hand for reporting back to the Government and on the other for future and independent evaluations. The reporting on the programme to the Government and Vinnova can be described as undeveloped. As early as in the first proposal for the establishment of an incubator programme in 2002, there are several ambitious areas specified for the development of suitable follow-up areas and outcome measurements, but these ambitions have not been realised in later programmes. There is no documented feedback on the original grounds for the programme. And as these grounds have not been defined in any measurable way, it is difficult to follow up on the fulfilment of the programme’s intentions.
The material also confirms the description given by Almi of a “drift” of the programme’s intentions, i.e. the programme’s development and organisation follows a trend that is not part of a strategy. It could essentially be concluded that the expansion of the programme has been carried out with a different focus than the actual reason for the programme’s existence. This “drift” is not necessarily a problem, if it can be shown that it is motivated and that the original aim of the programme has been fulfilled or has simply become irrelevant. However, no such conclusion can be drawn from the documentation that Growth Analysis has examined.
The focus on documented sources implies limitations in the analysis of the program logic. Further work needs to be done in order to identify essential parts of the programme which have not yet been documented. At best, this will lead to a better understanding of what is of special importance to the need for documentation in the future.
Conclusion, suggestions and recommendation
Growth Analysis is of the opinion that it is reasonable for public support programmes to develop over time. In the best case, this is the result of a learning process. However, Growth Analysis believes that public programmes to promote innovation and entrepreneurship should be documented in such a way that an outside observer is able to understand which factors have motivated a new programme design. Growth Analysis is of the opinion that the documentation provided has such shortcomings as to raise the question of whether the public agencies should formulate a better documentation practice.
Growth Analysis is furthermore of the opinion that programmes such as the national incubator programmes are often unclear initially with regard to expected outcomes. However, the goal of all public programmes must be to, after a certain learning period, develop suitable evaluation criteria.