Identifying Key Questions Regarding R&D Collaboration

Our research builds on an analytical framework that includes five key questions used for describing and analysing how start ups collaborate in R&D: Why, When, Who, How and What. The first four questions come from a study of customer involvement based on the industrial network approach (Laage-Hellman, Lind, & Perna, 2014). They were identified by reviewing the literature in this field. Coviello and Joseph (2012, p. 91) focused on small and young technology firms and developed a taxonomy of new product development activities and customer roles in major innovations. They also took their starting point in these five questions. Although both of these studies focus on the involvement of customers, the questions are generic and have relevance also for other types of collaboration partners.

The first question, Why, has to do with the reason for involving external actors. It can be for the purpose of collecting information, gaining access to technology and competencies, testing various objects and getting help with and/or financial support for the development of solutions. Secondly, and related to the When question, firms may choose to involve external actors in different phases of the innovation process (e.g. divided into idea generation, concept development, design and final testing and evaluation). Thirdly, the Who question concerns what types of external actors are involved. Potential partners may differ with regard to their position in the value chain, which technologies or application areas they represent and what organisational characteristics they have. For example, as shown by Coviello and Joseph (2012), characteristics such as inventiveness and creativity are essential when it comes to a small firm’s ability to succeed with major innovations. Furthermore, it is crucial that the customer is able and willing to financially support the product development in an early phase. By contrast, features related to technical expertise or presence on a target market are perceived as less important. Fourthly, there are many different ways in which an external actor can be involved, that is, the How question. For example, some commonly used methods for involving customers are surveys, interviews, workshops, user testing in labs or clinics and field testing. Finally, there is a fifth question, What (Coviello & Joseph, 2012; Laage-Hellman & Rickne, 2014). It pertains to the object of the collaboration in terms of what technologies or products the collaborative activities are concerned with and which aspects are in focus (e.g. when testing). The answers to the What question are very context specific, which probably explains why this question is not dealt with to any great extent in the literature. In a practical situation, however, firms need to make decisions on what the collaboration should focus.

To summarise, we propose five related questions to be used when analysing how start ups collaborate in R&D. By considering why a start up takes part in R&D collaboration, with whom it collaborates, what is in focus and how and when this collaboration takes place, we can identify a set of different R&D collaboration forms.

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