The Journal of Technology Transfer

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 696–722 | Cite as

Hybrid alliances and radical innovation: the performance implications of integrating exploration and exploitation

  • Massimo G. Colombo
  • Liliana Doganova
  • Evila Piva
  • Diego D’Adda
  • Philippe Mustar


In this paper we examine the innovation performance of hybrid alliances, that is, alliances that combine exploration and exploitation activities. While previous research has emphasized the tensions engendered by the combination of exploration and exploitation, we claim that the integration of these two types of activities can generate synergies as well. We argue that, in the case of alliances involving academic spin-offs (ASOs), these synergies may outweigh the tensions under specific conditions, and thus improve alliance innovation performance. Specifically, we hypothesize that the relative performance of exploitation activities is greater in hybrid alliances when the alliance has radical innovation outcomes. Conversely, the relative performance of exploration activities is greater in hybrid alliances when the alliance has incremental innovation outcomes. These hypotheses are tested using fine-grained data on a sample of 149 alliances involving European ASOs.


Alliances Exploration Radical innovation Academic spin-offs Ambidexterity 

JEL Classification

L26 O31 O32 



We thank two anonymous reviewers and the editors of the special issue for their valuable feedback. We also thank participants in the DIME conference “Organizing for Networked Innovation”, the DRUID Summer Conference 2009 and the PICO project final conference where earlier versions of this paper were presented. This research was supported by the Sixth Framework Program of the European Commission (PICO project “Academic entrepreneurship, from knowledge creation to knowledge diffusion”). We thank the other project participants, Bart Clarysse, Margarida Fontes, Mike Wright, and their teams, for their help with data collection and analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Massimo G. Colombo
    • 1
  • Liliana Doganova
    • 2
  • Evila Piva
    • 1
  • Diego D’Adda
    • 3
  • Philippe Mustar
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Management, Economics and Industrial EngineeringPolitecnico di MilanoMilanItaly
  2. 2.MINES ParisTech, PSL Research UniversityCSI - Centre de sociologie de l’innovation, CNRS UMR 7185ParisFrance
  3. 3.Dipartimento di Ingegneria dell’InformazioneUniversità Politecnica delle MarcheAnconaItaly
  4. 4.MINES ParisTech, PSL Research UniversityPOLLEN - Pôle EntrepreneuriatParisFrance

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