This paper provides an empirical investigation of the effects of public funding of academic research on external funding obtained via research contracts, consultancies and «research to order» activities more generally. These informal collaborations between university departments and business are relevant because of their high relational content and consequent spillover effects based on learning by interacting. This study uses data on the population of university departments and research institutes in Italy engaged in research in one of the 14 scientific areas identified by the Italian National Research Council. The results of our analysis show that the availability of external funding has a positive impact on the probability of accessing further external funding and on its amount. We also find some complementarity between the amount of public funding, from both the European Union and the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research and the capability of university departments to collect funding via research contracts and consultancies.