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Framing Open Innovation in Start-Ups’ Incubators: A Complexity Theory Perspective


  • Cinzia Battistella

    () (Department of Information Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, University of Siena, 53100 Siena, Italy)

  • Alberto F. De Toni

    () (Polytechnic Department of Engineering and Architecture, University of Udine, 33100 Udine, Italy)

  • Elena Pessot

    () (Polytechnic Department of Engineering and Architecture, University of Udine, 33100 Udine, Italy)


Recently, concepts and principles from the Complexity Theory (or, generally speaking, the complexity sciences) have been applied as a perspective for capturing the influence of the context, interaction, and adaption in the innovation processes, such as the ones enabled in the business incubators. The purpose of this paper is to implement a frame of reference for understanding the start-ups’ incubator as a complex system where innovation, learning, and self-organization take place. We build on the interfaces between the Complexity Theory (i.e., complexity sciences) and Open Innovation literature to identify principles, patterns, and conditions that frame the incubation practices as simple rules aimed to sustain the innovation process towards the creation of new ventures. Results from the multiple case studies conducted in five incubators show that the features of variety, nonlinear interaction, interdependence, autonomy, and emergence of the incubation process framed as a complex system are enabled in different ways by the combination of the open innovation practices and services provided by the start-ups’ incubators, including the provision of physical infrastructure, access to funding streams, experts/entrepreneurs networking, education/workshops, mentorship, and advice.

Suggested Citation

  • Cinzia Battistella & Alberto F. De Toni & Elena Pessot, 2018. "Framing Open Innovation in Start-Ups’ Incubators: A Complexity Theory Perspective," Journal of Open Innovation: Technology, Market, and Complexity, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 4(3), pages 1-14, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:joitmc:v:4:y:2018:i:3:p:33-:d:162452

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Albino, Vito & Carbonara, Nunzia & Giannoccaro, Ilaria, 2006. "Innovation in industrial districts: An agent-based simulation model," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 104(1), pages 30-45, November.
    2. Sun, Jiazhe & Wu, Shunan & Yang, Kaizhong, 2018. "An ecosystemic framework for business sustainability," Business Horizons, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 59-72.
    3. Danny Soetanto & Sarah Jack, 2013. "Business incubators and the networks of technology-based firms," The Journal of Technology Transfer, Springer, vol. 38(4), pages 432-453, August.
    4. JinHyo Joseph Yun & EuiSeob Jeong & ChangHwan Lee & JinSeu Park & Xiaofei Zhao, 2017. "Effect of Distance on Open Innovation: Differences among Institutions According to Patent Citation and Reference," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(8), pages 1-15, August.
    5. Russell, Martha G. & Smorodinskaya, Nataliya V., 2018. "Leveraging complexity for ecosystemic innovation," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 136(C), pages 114-131.
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    More about this item


    open innovation; business incubator; complexity sciences; practices; case study;

    JEL classification:

    • M - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics


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