Longstanding debates about the role of the university in national culture and the global economy have usually centered on one university, region, or discipline. I propose a new unit of analysis, the "instrumental community," i.e. a community dedicated to developing a particular class of instruments. Such communities span regions, firms, universities, and disciplines. The commercialization of scanning tunneling microscopy and atomic force microscopy between 1981 and 1996 is a striking example of such a community. Analysis of the commercialization of STM and AFM contradicts the positions of both supporters and opponents of academic entrepreneurialism.