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Start-ups initiating business relationships: process and asymmetry

Lise Aaboen (Department of Industrial Economics and Technology Management, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway)
Leena Aarikka-Stenroos (Department of Industrial Management, Tampereen Teknillinen yliopisto, Tampere, Finland)

IMP Journal

ISSN: 0809-7259

Article publication date: 12 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to develop an understanding of how start-ups initiate business relationships and to identify the subprocesses that characterise business-relationship initiations in a start-up context.


The paper builds on business-relationship initiation models, develops a theoretical framework of relationship initiation and its subprocesses and, in a multiple-case study, applies this framework to seven relationship initiations by start-ups.


The key findings of this study describe the process of business-relationship initiation by start-ups, which comprise six subprocesses. The authors’ detailed and structured initiation-process analyses show how the initiation process occurs in a start-up context and how start-ups develop their relationships. The authors’ analyses also reveal typical patterns and critical issues, such as asymmetry, that characterise start-ups’ business-relationship initiations, particularly with bigger players.

Research limitations/implications

This paper develops a model of the relationship-initiation process, uses it in a start-up context and identifies the critical characteristics, including asymmetry, of start-up initiations; these contributions address both the literature on start-ups and the literature on relationship initiation and development.


This paper is the first to focus on how start-ups initiate business relationships; previous studies of business-relationship initiation have focussed on mature firms. Using the industrial marketing and purchasing approach, the paper contributes to shifting the focus from interactions between resource entities to relationship-initiation processes in the context of start-ups.



Aaboen, L. and Aarikka-Stenroos, L. (2017), "Start-ups initiating business relationships: process and asymmetry", IMP Journal, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 230-250.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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