This study analyses two different geographical settings in a comparative perspective where higher education institutions have played an important role in the modernization of industrial manufacturers. Both settings – the cities of Alcoy (Spain) and Tampere (Finland) – are historically important centres of industry, which showed a down-turn in production, but now aim to be new kinds of innovation hubs in their respective areas. A historical analysis, based on secondary data, is presented as a means to understand the recent resilience and evolution of both regions, in terms of their capacity for facing societal challenges in different periods, such as the growth of inequalities, the creation of new related industries, the globalization process and the financial crisis. An emphasis is placed on the complex relationships among geographical, institutional and individual dynamics that enable the commissioning of heterogeneous innovation processes for resilience. The variety of cooperation and competition linkages identified through qualitative interviewing among local actors in different periods allows us to show practical guidelines with the objective of not inventing the future of the university without being sure lessons have been learned from past successes and failures.