Open Innovation Moves in SMEs: How European SMEs place their bets?

Antonis Livieratos, George Tsekouras, Wim Vanhaverbeke, Antonis Angelakis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although Open Innovation (OI) may be a source of opportunities for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), it also represents risks. How SMEs manage the balance between potential benefits and associated risks remains an overlooked topic in the literature. In parallel, recognizing the need for a more fine-grained level of analysis, we introduce the concept of OI moves to disentangle the OI projects of SMEs. An ‘OI move’ is defined as the set of managerial decisions and actions that are executed to reach specific innovation outputs in the framework of a collaboration with a single partner that is conducted as a part of an OI project. An OI move consist of the combination of two building blocks: a) the type of partner chosen to innovate with - ‘ who is the SME innovating with ’ and b) the exploitation mode - ‘ who is exploiting the result ’. Using the OI move as the level of the present analysis, we argue that different OI moves have the potential of delivering different benefits, but they also represent different levels of risk. To that end, the aim of our research is to explore how SMEs weigh benefits and risks at the level of OI move. On the basis of a unique data set of 106 in-depth case studies of innovation projects carried out by innovative SMEs located in Europe, 500 OI moves were identified. Clustering the extracted OI moves based on a typology formed by the combination of the type of partners and the exploitation mode revealed: a) benefits sought, b) risks encountered c) the type of partnership chosen.

Findings of the study rely on the attention-based view of the firm as it provides an interesting lens through which OI is executed. Three main findings derive from the study. First, an SME initiates an OI move not only on the basis of the potential economic return. Albeit, it is the ‘attention capital’ required to create and capture value that is the SMEs’ starting point in considering an OI partnership. Second, we find a ‘paradox’: SMEs tend to practice OI because they lack resources, but it is precisely the lack of resources that makes them reluctant to enter into attention-intensive OI partnerships even if return can be substantial. Third, OI moves involving communities and crowds are a ‘new playing field’ for SMEs. Because of their novelty, SMEs are reluctant to initiate such an OI move even though case-based evidence in our research demonstrates that SMEs using such collaborative forms can be quite successful.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102591
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research is based on data collected by the INSPIRE project ( H2020 project under grant agreement No 691440 ) funded by the European Commission . The authors would like to thank the following people for their collaboration: Alexander Frimout, Arvydas Sutkus, Åsa Lindholm Dahlstrand, Cade Wells, Christine Robinson, Daria Podmetina, Donald McLeon, Efi Bakogianni, Ekaterina Albats, George Apostolakis, Jose Christian, Justyna Dabrowska, Maria Augusta Mancini, Martin Wallin, Matjaz Vidmar, Muhammad Usman, Olivia De Ruyck, Pari Patel, Paris Rallis, Stijn Smet, Victoria Cochrane, Viola Helynranta and Yiannis Geragotelis. Special thanks to Victoria Cochrane and Yiannis Geragotelis for their role in bringing this research team together.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd


  • Open innovation
  • SME
  • Multiple case study
  • Open innovation typology
  • Exploitation mode
  • Attention-based view of firm
  • Open innovation move


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