Building absorptive capacity to organise inbound open innovation in traditional industries
The discussion on open innovation suggests that the ability to absorb external knowledge has become a major driver for competition. For R&D intensive large firms, the concept of open innovation in relation to absorptive capacity is relatively well understood. Little attention has; however, been paid to how both small firms and firms, which operate in traditional sectors, engage in open innovation activities. The latter two categories of firms often dispose of no, or at most a relatively low level of, absorptive capacity. Open innovation has two faces. In the case of inbound open innovation, companies screen their environment to search for technology and knowledge and do not exclusively rely on in-house R&D. A key pre-condition is that firms dispose of “absorptive capacity” to internalise external knowledge. SMEs and firms in traditional industries might need assistance in building absorptive capacity. This paper focuses on the role of collective research centres in building absorptive capacity at the inter-organisational level. In order to do so, primary data was collected through interviews with CEOs of these technology intermediaries and their member firms and analysed in combination with secondary data. The technology intermediaries discussed are created to help firms to take advantage of technological developments. The paper demonstrates that the openness of the innovation process forces firms lacking absorptive capacity to search for alternative ways to engage in inbound open innovation. The paper highlights the multiple activities of which absorptive capacity in intermediaries is made up; defines the concept of absorptive capacity as a pre-condition to open innovation; and demonstrates how firms lacking absorptive capacity collectively cope with distributed knowledge and innovation.