SME participation in research grant consortia—the emergence of coordinated attention in collaborative innovation

Christoph Grimpe*, Wolfgang Sofka, Andreas P. Distel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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Research funding organizations routinely encourage SMEs to collaborate with organizations of different institutional backgrounds, such as other firms, universities, or research organizations. These collaborations are supposed to involve SMEs in knowledge flows across boundaries and generate innovative solutions to complex problems. However, we know little about how the project partners determine the priorities of their joint research in the first place and how the institutional composition influences priority setting. In this paper, we study attention coordination among SMEs and their partners for the emergence of priorities in joint research grant proposals. Applying content analysis to 207 grant proposals of innovation consortia that have received funding in the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, we find that increasingly diverse consortia shift attention away from technological novelty and market creation towards more consideration for the innovation ecosystem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1567-1592
Number of pages26
JournalSmall Business Economics
Issue number4
Early online date2 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the European Commission for providing us with the data used in this study. The data were provided under the usual rules to protect confidential details of the content of the projects. Koen de Pater and Katarzyna Bitka from DG RTD provided invaluable feedback on earlier drafts of this paper.

Funding Information:
While most literature on collaborative innovation is focused on the outcomes of the projects once they have been started, the planning stage, which precedes the execution stage and in which partners have to agree on the goals and approaches, has been less researched. Within our reasoning, the coordination of attention and joint priorities predetermine to a large extent how a consortium involving SMEs will conduct joint research (cf. Barr, ; Cho & Hambrick, ; Nadkarni & Barr, ). Given the lack of understanding how consortia initially dedicate attention to different priorities and the inconclusive role of institutional composition, we adopt an exploratory approach. Specifically, we make use of privileged access to 207 grant proposals of consortia with participating SMEs that received funding in the European Union’s Horizon 2020 framework program and apply content analysis to the proposal texts to detect meaningful patterns of attention priorities. Subsequently, we relate the identified priorities to the institutional composition and other characteristics of the consortia. Our empirical findings support the notion that the institutional composition of consortia affects their research priorities. Increasingly diverse consortia pay comparatively more attention to the innovation ecosystem at the expense of technological novelty. Consortia also consider defining new markets for the intended innovations (market creation) when they have diverse partners but this effect is curvilinear and diminishes quickly after a certain threshold.

Funding Information:
This study investigates collaborative innovation projects in which SMEs participate, a mainstay of publicly funded research programs (Levén et al., ; Rodríguez et al., ). Based on the analysis of 207 grant proposals funded by Horizon 2020, we identify four attention priorities that consortia dedicate attention to the following: technological novelty, market creation, ecosystem embeddedness, and innovation readiness. Consortia, members need to reach an agreement on the priorities that can be formulated in a proposal and eventually be addressed in the project. We subsequently explain the four attention priorities by the institutional composition of the consortia.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


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