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Can profit and sustainability goals co-exist? New business models for hybrid firms

Fernando G. Alberti (Institute for Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness, LIUC - Universitá Cattaneo, Castellanza, Italy)
Mario A. Varon Garrido (Institute for Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness, LIUC - Universitá Cattaneo, Castellanza, Italy)

Journal of Business Strategy

ISSN: 0275-6668

Article publication date: 16 January 2017




This paper aims to discuss hybrid organizations whose business models blur the boundary between for-profit and nonprofit worlds. With the aim of understanding how hybrid organizations have developed commercially viable business models to create positive social and environmental change, the authors contend that hybrids are altering long-held business norms and conceptions of the role of the corporation in society. Building on an analysis of the most updated literature on hybrid organizations and with the use of case study approach, the purpose of this paper is to derive managerial lessons that traditional businesses may apply to innovate their business models.


This paper has a practical focus to help organizations to develop successful business strategies and design innovative business models. It applies emerging thinking on hybrid business models to provide new insights and ideas on the use of business models as tools for innovating and delivering value. To comply with this, first, the authors discuss the distinctive characteristics of hybrids and the hybrid business model through a concise but comprehensive review of all the literature on hybrid organization, which is still very recent. Second, we relied on a short case study that introduces information technology and digital innovation as the premises of the emergence of a new hybrid business model that adds additional elements to traditional business managers on how to learn from hybrid organizations’ avenues to innovate their business models.


In this paper, the authors aimed to shed light on the management of any organization or initiative that aims to embrace multiple and competing yet potentially synergistic goals, as is increasingly the case in modern corporations. Spotting hidden complementarities of antagonistic assets can be arduous, time-consuming, costly and risky, but businesses driven by innovation may want to keep a close eye on the expanding hybrid sector as a source of future entrepreneurial opportunities. To this regard, hybrid social ventures have the potential to shed light on ways to innovate traditional business models. The essence of studying hybrids is that firms may learn how to innovate their business models in ways that go beyond current conceptualizations, making their mission profitable, rather than making profit their only mission! The research design (literature analysis and case study) allowed the authors to disentangle different innovative business models that hybrids suggest highlight strengths and weaknesses of such business models, understand strategies and capabilities associated with hybrids and transpose all these lessons learned to traditional business managers who constantly struggle for innovation.

Research limitations/implications

The main implication is that hybrid organizations may serve as incubators for new practices that can gain scale and impact by infusion into existing corporations. The authors can assist to a process of “hybridization” of incumbent firms, pushing the boundaries of corporate sustainability efforts toward strategies in which profit and social purpose share more equal footing.

Practical implications

Firms interested in benefiting from antagonistic assets that can have a dramatic impact on their business model innovation may want to consider some lessons: firms can attempt to build antagonistic assets into their mission, asking themselves what activities they can undertake with the potential to create (or erode) social, environmental and economic value and how these activities might be mediated by the context/environment in which they operate; they can partner with hybrids to benefit from them and absorb competencies from them, so to increase their likelihood to generate value-creating activities and to impact on wider range of stakeholders, including funders, partners, beneficiaries and communities; they can mimic hybrids on how to innovate their business model through the use of the “deliberate resource misfit” dynamic capability, mitigating negative impacts and trade-offs and maximizing positive value spillovers, both for the firms themselves and for the community.

Social implications

Sharing know-how with hybrids opens up to ways to innovate business models, and hybrids are much more open to sharing lessons and encouraging others to copy their approaches in a genuine open innovation approach.


The main lesson businesses can take away from studying hybrids is that antagonistic assets – and not only profitable complementary ones, as the resource-based view would suggest – do not have to be a burden on profits. Hybrids ground their strategy first and foremost on their beneficiaries, thus dealing with a bundle of antagonistic assets. The primary objective of hybrids is thus to find imaginative ways of generating profits from their given resources rather than acquiring the resources that generate the highest profit. Profit is the ultimate goal of traditional businesses’ mission, but by making profit their only mission, firms risk missing out on the hidden opportunities latent in antagonistic assets. Learning from hybrids about how to align profits and societal impact may be a driver of long-term competitive advantage.



Alberti, F.G. and Varon Garrido, M.A. (2017), "Can profit and sustainability goals co-exist? New business models for hybrid firms", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 38 No. 1, pp. 3-13.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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