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Outsourcing Creativity: investigating open innovation using business incubators and accelerators

Incubators and accelerators are organisational devices which are designed to bring innovative Start-up companies, with specialist knowledge, energy, skills and ideas together with the required experience, funding, facilities and guidance of established firms. Increasingly, large companies are viewing these entities as potential solutions for the development of innovations which will be of use in their marketplaces and for other organisational purposes. This research project is designed to understand factors which inhibit and facilitate the successful exploitation of incubators and accelerators by such companies to accelerate and promote innovation.

Research Method

The discipline area itself is emerging and very dynamic and there is little knowledge about the success factors and outcomes of start-up accelerators exploited for open innovation. Simultaneously, many countries see these as critical to national innovation. We build upon the social realist paradigm and use retroduction, a critical realist method of hypothesis building, to arrive at possible causal mechanisms for success and failure which are more nuanced, contextual and "realistic" than purely empirical correlation or positivist studies. Our research goes beyond the formulation of simple "Critical Success Factors" and describes the functioning of mechanisms (ensembles of causes) which influence the success of these organisations. Furthermore, we investigate contextual aspects, to determine what will work for whom and under what circumstances. Our international focus allows us to draw out the implications of differences in culture, industrial base and structural assistance programs. This research will have best-practice outcomes as well as methodological implications for business research and policy making.


Dr Paul Jackson, Lead investigator - Co-Director Centre for Innovative Practice, Edith Cowan University
Dr Philip Dobson - Centre for Innovative Practice, Edith Cowan University
Dr Nancy Richter - Project Leader for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet & Society, Berlin
Prof. Thomas Schildhauer - Director Innovation, Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet & Society, Berlin


This project will run until December 2016.

Research Question

The research questions driving this project are:

  • Under what circumstances and for which firms will the use of incubators and accelerators provide a successful approach to the development of business innovations?
  • What are the barriers to knowledge transfer between investors and startups when incubators and accelerators are used to develop business innovations?
  • What differences are there in the use of accelerators in different countries and what is the influence of the national innovation system in achieving successful outcomes?
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