The (Unknown) Providers to Other Firms' New Product Development: What's in It for Them?
For every inbound activity by a firm in open innovation, a reciprocal outbound activity by another firm must be generated. The reciprocal outbound activities range from transferring of knowledge and ideas to solutions delivered to other firms' new product development projects. This paper names the firms that produce the reciprocal outbound activity for “providers,” and is the first to empirically investigate such providers of ideas, solutions, and technologies for other firms' open innovation activities. The literature review shows a surprising shortage of research on who the providers are, how they engage with other firms, and not least what potential benefits can be achieved from supporting other firms' innovation activities. The paper uses a quantitative survey on Danish small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) carried out in 2010 to identify the providers, the role they take on, and the main benefits the providers gain. This paper finds that firms that are providers are indeed an under-researched and important phenomenon for firms' innovation activities. Compared to receivers of knowledge, the providers are younger, have a higher R&D intensity, adopt more open innovation practices, have higher absorptive capacity, and fewer barriers toward knowledge sharing as demonstrated by the NIH and NSH syndromes. Finally, although only tentatively, the paper finds that the provider firms are more product innovative compared to nonproviders. The paper further finds that more projects, more embedded relationships, and mutual rather than one-way exchange relationships significantly raise the probability that a firm experiences a substantial benefit from providing to other firms' new product development projects. The overall ambition of the paper at this point is to inspire other researchers to pursue the agenda on the provider perspective for future research. To support such research, the paper suggests a broadening of the research perspectives from the receiver of knowledge, in the literature on interorganizational relationships and open innovation, to include the provider, and even suggests some preliminary ideas for such research. Hence, the contribution of this paper lies not only in opening a new research topic but also in identifying some first characteristics of the phenomenon adding a substantial perspective to the literature on open innovation and interorganizational relationships. The paper formulates three indicative recommendations for managers that consider becoming a provider to other firms' NPD.