The potential for universities to contribute positively to business innovation has received much attention in recent years. While the determinants of university-business cooperation have been examined extensively, less attention has been given to the mediating influence of proximity in this relationship. The analysis in this paper builds on the UK business innovation survey (2002–2005) by incorporating measures of the university research environment for each of the 16,500 businesses surveyed. These measures allow us to look beyond business-level characteristics as determinants of the geography of university cooperation and account for the character of the local university environment. Measures include the distance from each business to its nearest university, the quality of local university research and the density of the university research environment. The findings suggest that significant differences exist between those businesses that cooperate with local universities and those that cooperate with non-local universities. These differences relate to business size, sales profile, location, absorptive capacity and innovation activity. In addition, we also find that if a business is located close to a research excellent university, cooperation tends to remain local, however, the distance between businesses and the nearest university is not a significant determinant of university-business cooperation and further, the higher the concentration of universities in the business locale, the more likely businesses are to cooperate with non-local universities.