Oswego School of Business professor Sarfraz Mian’s expertise, experience and extensive network came together to author the first-ever textbook on entrepreneurial and startup support through business and technology incubation.

In serving as lead editor of “The Handbook on Research on Business and Technology Incubation and Acceleration: A Global Perspective,” Mian drew on the pioneers and prime movers he has developed from decades working in this field. 

“Compared to some college majors, it's a relatively new field, and there is no comprehensive handbook which covers all the incubation mechanisms,” Mian said of the product’s germination during his sabbatical. “I thought this would be great to be the first to put something together and serve the field.”

He secured Edward Elgar Publishing, one of the top publishers in business and economics, which released the book in April as part of its Research Handbooks in Business Management series.

The idea of a business incubation center began in Upstate New York, when in 1959 in Batavia, New York, Joseph Mancuso bought the abandoned 850,000-square-foot Massey Ferguson factory after its closing cost 2,000 people their jobs. Mancuso provided office space, some business coaching, financing help and shared space -- and the “incubator” tag came when one of the first clients was a chicken hatchery, Mian noted.

In the more than 60 years since, incubators and technology parks around the world have hatched thousands of fledgling businesses.

“For economic development, there is a need for innovation, as without innovation, you cannot move forward,” Mian explained. “This is where you can do research and development, and find assistance for something that is not an overnight process.”

Through the ‘70s and ‘80s, partnerships with research institutions like Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology “laid the foundation of the technology-based business incubation industry, which is closely linked with the ‘entrepreneurial’ research universities,” Mian wrote -- until today the concept is embraced everywhere by colleges, economic development proponents and policymakers.

Expert sources

Mian was lead writer for the introduction, penned the first chapter, “Whither modern business incubation? Definitions, evaluations, theory and evaluation,” created the framework for the book, and then began reaching out to top experts in the field to build out the chapters.

For the book’s overview, Mian tapped David Audretsch, a distinguished professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) at Indiana University and a top researcher and author, to put the impact of the movement into an economic perspective. “He's such a known person at this time worldwide that people are proposing him for the Nobel Prize,” Mian said.

Henry Etzkowitz, a Stanford research fellow highly influential for his Triple Helix theory for business incubation series, wrote a chapter on “The movement from incubator to incubation in the entrepreneurial university: past, present and future.” Mian invited Etzkowitz as the keynote speaker for the college’s 2017 Business Incubation Conference.

Some participants have local and regional roots. David Hochman, the founding director of the Business Incubator Association of New York State and its leader for more than a decade, explained why the Empire State was a leader in this movement. .Nasir Ali, president of Upstate Venture Connect and former head of the Syracuse Technology Garden, wrote about the role of incubation in transforming the Greater Syracuse Region to an innovation economy. Marnie LaVigne, the president and CEO of Launch NY who spoke to Oswego’s December 2019 Commencement, contributed a chapter on how venture development organizations incubate high-growth technology startups. 

The book’s 29 chapters include a national and international focus, examining incubator research and practices in Pakistan (a chapter Mian co-authored), India, Japan, China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, several parts of Europe and around Latin America.

Seeking a more global effort led to Mian taking on a pair of co-editors in Magnus Klofsten of Linköping University in Sweden and Wadid Lamine of the University of Ottawa.

Personal expertise

Mian has published several books on entrepreneurship and some of the most-cited journal articles on business incubation, and has championed making entrepreneurship part of the Oswego curriculum.

Writing the book dovetailed with the development of Oswego’s entrepreneurship minor, which in a little more than a year became the biggest minor in the School of Business with more than 100 students, Mian said.

The art students, the business students, the technology students, the science students, the philosophy students, they're all in our classes,” Mian said proudly.

Mian visited MIT in his research and explored their incubation facilities and entrepreneurship teaching program and its academic minor, the latter of which he found adaptable into Oswego’s curriculum.

I am now teaching the capstone course of our entrepreneurship program, and one of the sessions is on business incubation and it came from this book,” Mian said. In that course, Management 490, students have to pitch their ideas, and the book provides an example of how they can operationalize their ideas and potentially bring them to market.

In addition to use in business classes, professionals and policymakers should find the handbook a useful comprehensive resource.

“For the entrepreneurs themselves to see where they want to grow their businesses and get support through different incubation mechanisms, it would be useful,” Mian said. “And also for researchers of economic development and policymakers.”

Mian has had invitations to speak about the book at universities and conferences, including Hochman potentially interviewing him for a Business Incubator Association of New York State conference this summer, as the organization is interested in helping him launch the book.

As Mian nears his 30th year of working at Oswego, he’s pleased to see “a college-wide movement” where he is invited to speak with classes ranging from art to engineering to technology. With the support of the college and willingness to adapt, he knows many of the building blocks are there to make its support for entrepreneurship even more vibrant.

“We have a very strong group of alumni we've been interacting with and hopefully, we will enhance our co-curricular part of building entrepreneurship,” Mian said. “We are already active in developing excellence in the classroom and beyond.”