The purpose of this paper is to investigate how resource-constrained, knowledge-intensive firms capitalise on the knowledge from collaboration with big-science centres. It pays particular attention to what kind of knowledge a firm obtains and how it can be efficiently used in exploring and exploiting opportunities in international markets.
The empirical basis for the study is a longitudinal case study of knowledge-intensive Estonian companies that collaborate with the European Space Agency (ESA). A rich data set was collected over three years.
By studying the inward and outward activities of the two case companies collaborating with the ESA, the authors found that the internationalisation process of these firms had unique characteristics. Their international expansion was not driven by increasing market knowledge and reducing risk or uncertainty, but by resource seeking for research and development efforts. It was a cyclical, non-linear process, which was advanced by co-creation, learning and exploitation of the emergent knowledge, leading to an improved network position and identification of further opportunities.
The focus was on knowledge-intensive, resource-constrained firms and their collaboration with big-science centres. The transfer of the proposed framework to another context may not be straightforward. The authors relied on informants from the firms, thus ignoring the view of their partner, the big-science centre. It may be that because of this perspective, the authors did not capture some aspects of the collaboration. A broader range of cases would have provided more powerful support to the findings. Although the cases were sufficient for theory refinement and building a tentative framework, they also call for further cases that would clarify whether these conclusions would be valid for other companies.
Collaboration with big-science centres provides companies with access to diverse types of knowledge. However, its impact on the future success in internationalisation also depends on other factors, such as the firm’s absorptive capacity and technological competence.
Governments invest substantially on the development of big-science centres with the expectation that they would have significant knowledge spillovers on the technology development. A more qualitative approach to impact assessment opens new ideas how to develop their activities and in particular their collaboration with SMEs.
The study reassesses the theory on the internationalisation process of the firm and gives voice to companies which have been marginalised in earlier research.
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