The innovation performance of new entrants in emerging technological fields
Clean energy technologies, which are important alternatives to fossil fuel-based energy technologies, have generated a lot of interest among practitioners and academics. Most clean energy technologies can be described as being in the ‘emerging’ phase of the technology life cycle, i.e. the technology is still immature, technology adoption is low and the prospects of technological failure are high. Within the context of emerging technological fields, studies have typically focused on the role of de novo entrants, i.e. new firms with no prior technological activities in other technological fields, in driving the wave of technological change forward. However, the role of de alia entrants, i.e. firms with pre-existing technological activities in other technological fields, has been largely overlooked. This is surprising, because in the majority of emerging technological fields, incumbent firms have been responsible for important breakthroughs in technological development. For example, in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, 3M has developed revolutionary durable polymers for use in fuel cells, while General Electric (GE) has made important discoveries that improved the materials used to build wind turbine blades. In this research, our broad objective is to investigate what factors trigger de novo and de alia entrants to generate impactful new technologies and products, focusing on their similarities, but also differences.
Presently, we have insufficient understanding of the conditions under which de alia entrants outperform de novo entrants in terms of quality and quantity of new technologies and products introduced. One stream of research proposes that the experience that de alia entrants have generated in other technological fields feeds into innovation strategies within emerging technological fields by means of improving the search for useful solutions. This research argues that experienced firms have a better sense of where useful opportunities are located in the environment and how they can be exploited, avoiding costly trial-and-error processes that lesser-experienced firms have to execute. Another stream of research, in contrast, claims that this prior experience may stifle the innovation output of de alia entrants in emerging technological fields. Experience entrenches firms within specific ways of thinking, constraining their ability and motivation to identify and realize novel opportunities in the environment.
Considering this paradox, we have initiated a research project in which we analyze under what conditions the effects of experience in other technological fields can be more effectively leveraged by de alia entrants in emerging technological fields, potentially yielding higher innovation performance. With support from Misum (Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets), we will collect extensive quantitative data (regarding firm-level financial information, patenting activities, new products introduced) and qualitative data (interviews with leading practitioners and researchers) to perform these analyses. The findings of this research are expected to yield valuable insights into the value-creation strategies of different firms, with high relevance for both academics and practitioners.