The emergence of a new mode of knowledge production, the formation of a ‘Triple Helix’ of university–industry–government, and the advent of the academic entrepreneur – all these different developments point, in one way or another, to the increased attention that is being paid to the economic utilization of publicly funded research. One way to utilize academic research in a commercial manner is to set up university spin–off companies. We shall discuss the phenomenon of academic entrepreneurship in the context of public support mechanisms and incentive structures. One key finding is that support mechanisms do not necessarily promote academic entrepreneurship but further the development of a behavioural pattern that can be associated with the notion of the ‘entrepreneurial academic’– scientists in public sector organizations who are not necessarily interested in setting up a fast–growing company but looking for other avenues in which they can pursue their research interests. Badly targeted support mechanisms can have a negative impact on the growth–pattern of science–based SMEs by providing a distorted set of incentives. We shall discuss some of these support mechanisms in detail and illustrate effects they have had on the development of four research–based ventures.