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Open innovation in SMEs: Collaboration modes and strategies for commercialization in technology-intensive companies in forestry industry

Kaisa Henttonen (School of Business and Management, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Lappeenranta, Finland)
Hanna Lehtimäki (Business School, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland)

European Journal of Innovation Management

ISSN: 1460-1060

Article publication date: 8 May 2017




This study examines how technology-intensive small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) engage in open innovation. The purpose of this paper is to add to the literature on open innovation in SMEs, which has received considerably less attention than open innovation in large companies. Also, the study adds on the literature on open innovation in the commercialization phase.


A multiple case study of 13 technology-intensive SMEs in forestry sector was conducted. The forestry sector in Finland was chosen as a target context, there were many innovative pioneering SMEs operating in the industry and because the sector was going through significant changes.


Three multi-firm collaboration modes in the commercialization phase were identified: networks with a lead partner, equal partnership, and partnership for external technology commercialization. The study shows that in SMEs, open innovation is used for commercialization rather than research and development. The main conclusion of the study is that the mode of collaboration in commercialization is determined by the core competence of the firm and the strategy for open innovation.

Practical implications

The study results imply that SMEs benefit from opening up their innovation process in the commercialization phase. The firms in this study employed a blend of strategies that capitalized on their internal strengths. They collaborated actively with external firms and outsourced from specialists. This way they were able to compensate for their internal weaknesses and gain competitive advantage.


The study extends our understanding of open innovation by providing a detailed analysis of how open innovation takes place in the commercialization phase of innovation process. Also, the study extends understanding of the strategic use of open innovation in SMEs by showing how SMEs balance the risk of losing their competitive advantage built on innovation and the benefit of creating a broader competence base with partnerships.



Henttonen, K. and Lehtimäki, H. (2017), "Open innovation in SMEs: Collaboration modes and strategies for commercialization in technology-intensive companies in forestry industry", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 329-347.



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