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Vertical coopetition in entrepreneurial firms: theory and practice

Birthe Soppe (Centre for Entrepreneurship, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway)
Christian Lechner (School of Economics and Management, Free University of Bolzano, Bolzano, Italy and Toulouse Business School, Toulouse, France)
Michael Dowling (Innovation and Technology Management, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany)

Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development

ISSN: 1462-6004

Article publication date: 11 November 2014




The purpose of this paper is to investigate vertical interfirm relationships with direct competitors – also referred to as vertical “coopetition” – in entrepreneurial firms. Specifically, this study explores the reasons for why entrepreneurial firms engage in vertical coopetition and how they manage this particular type of interfirm relationship. The paper also shed light on the causes for termination of such delicate relational arrangements.


The research design is exploratory. The paper analyze data collected by a survey that was specifically designed for this study. Based on the findings, the paper developed theoretical propositions specifying the conditions under which entrepreneurial firms engage in coopetition, how it is managed, and how it can be sustained.


The findings show that coopetition is a ubiquitous phenomenon for entrepreneurial firms, and mainly arises out of a deliberate strategy. In contrast to large firms, entrepreneurial firms tend to manage coopetitive relationships in a central manner. Termination was common among firms facing high risk or when alternative strategies emerged.

Research limitations/implications

This study provides a fundamental theoretical and evidence-based discussion of vertical coopetition in young firms. By doing so, the authors advance theory development, offer important insights for entrepreneurs seeking to benefit from intercompetitor linkages, and highlight promising avenues for future research.


The paper makes several important contributions to the coopetition literature. The paper develop a definition of vertical coopetition and study the unique aspects associated with it. In contrast to most previous research in this area, the paper focus on entrepreneurial firms. The evidence-based analysis contributes to a better understanding of the reasons for entrepreneurial firms entering and terminating coopetitive arrangements as well as how they manage these types of collaborations. The paper develops theoretical propositions and generate novel insights into the dynamics and issues that arise with coopetition in entrepreneurial firms.



Soppe, B., Lechner, C. and Dowling, M. (2014), "Vertical coopetition in entrepreneurial firms: theory and practice", Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 548-564.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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