Firm success is often associated with the development of better products. Private firms undertake applied R&D seeking market advantage, by capitalizing on the freely accessible results of basic research. But unpatentable basic research often fails to address applied R&D open problems. What is the role of the incentives in improving the innovative performance of an economy by matching partially motivated public researchers to their mission? Sometimes government-funded research projects are mission-directed, and yet in many cases the public sector academics indulge in carrier-driven research. An innovation system where, as in the United States, basic research is also driven by patents implicitly sets an ex-post incentive to the researchers guided by invisible hand. For a public innovation system – like the European one – designing an incentive scheme to motivate public researchers is of key importance for fostering the performance of the economic system. This paper extends the Schumpeterian multisector growth model with vertical innovation by highlighting a link between the degree of ‘targetness’ of public research and aggregate innovation. A positive effect of social capital is also proved.