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From services dealers to innovation brokers: How open innovation paradigm affects incubator activities. Evidence from Italy

Marika Macchi (Dipartimento di Scienze per l’Economia e l’Impresa, University of Florence, Florence, Italy)
Ugo Rizzo (Department of Economics and Management, University of Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy)
Laura Ramaciotti (Department of Economics and Management, University of Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy)

Journal of Intellectual Capital

ISSN: 1469-1930

Article publication date: 7 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the strategies business incubators (BI) adopt in respect to the creation of incubatee intellectual capital, and it focuses in particular on links between BI structural capital and the creation of incubatee relational capital (RC). By crossing IC literature with the open innovation paradigm the authors consider the incubator as an innovation intermediary and the authors investigate how different incubator strategies of knowledge exchange take place within and across incubator boundaries. The main issues the authors seek to explore regard the mechanisms by which incubators shape the exchange of knowledge within and across their boundaries and the rationale underlying such an approach.


The analysis is based on a multiple case study research involving five Italian incubators. Primary and secondary data were gathered through interviews with each incubator managing director and with relevant actors.


The analysis allows us to propose a theoretical framework and to highlight how different structural capital shape heterogeneous processes by which incubatees build their RC. The authors find that important differences in RC formation are present both at an exchange of knowledge level within the incubator, and across incubator boundaries.

Research limitations/implications

The main limitations of this study regard the generalizability of results. This is mostly an exploratory work and further research based on quantitative rather than qualitative analysis, would provide stronger evidence in order to validate the results with respect to the population of incubators and consequently lead to more precise policy implications.


The analysis points to the importance of recognizing different BI approaches regarding the mechanisms by which incubatees develop their RC, and allows us to gain a knowledge-based conceptualization of incubators. This definition moves beyond the more diffuse classification based on public vs private and sectoral specificities, and introduces some new insights for further research.



The authors wish to thank the managers and staff of the incubators and of the Italian Association of Incubators, who helped and supported us in this research project. Marika Macchi is grateful to the PIN Scrl – Polo Universitario Città di Prato and NGSP – Next Generation Science Parks – sub-project in DISTRICT+ Project (as a part of International Cooperation Program INTERREG IVC) lead by Tuscany Region for financial support.


Macchi, M., Rizzo, U. and Ramaciotti, L. (2014), "From services dealers to innovation brokers: How open innovation paradigm affects incubator activities. Evidence from Italy", Journal of Intellectual Capital, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 554-575.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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