The concept of the entrepreneurial university advocates the importance of the economic and societal impacts of universities through, among other things, the creation of spin-offs. With regard to supporting the early growth of spin-offs, literature has consistently emphasized the role of spatial and social proximity to universities in providing access to resources and facilitating technology transfer. However, little is known about the relationship between universities and their spin-offs, especially after incubation programs have been completed. Using a sample of 100 spin-offs from two universities in Europe, we develop several hypotheses predicting the motivation to maintain proximity to universities and the impact on performance. The findings suggest that factors such as research orientation, entrepreneurial orientation and market hostility encourage spin-offs to maintain proximity to universities. However, spin-offs experience diminishing returns in performance as commercial activities are reduced due to them over-pursuing proximity. More specifically, spin-offs with a high entrepreneurial orientation perform strongly if they are able to balance their level of proximity to universities. Our study contributes to the current discussion on the role of the university in supporting entrepreneurial activities and sparks a new debate on how to support the long-term growth of spin-offs, including differentiation in support according to entrepreneurial orientation, as well as flexibility in support.