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09 May 2024 | Posted by Innova Institute

Innovation Intermediaries and their Role(s) in Orchestrating Networked Innovation

Moritz Stahl presents to us his recently finished PhD research, which he successfully defended at the Innova Institute in March 2024.

In the dynamic realm of global economies, technology startups have become synonymous with economic growth and innovation. Recognizing their potential, policymakers and academia have delved into understanding the factors that fuel these engines of progress. Among these, the role of entrepreneurial ecosystems (EEs) has emerged as a critical area of interest. Despite widespread acknowledgment of their importance, a detailed understanding of the dynamics within these ecosystems, particularly the role of innovation intermediaries, remains elusive. 

The Gap in Research: 

Previous studies have highlighted the significance of networks and relationships among organizations in fostering innovation. However, the nuanced roles and functions of innovation intermediaries within these networks have not been fully explored. Addressing this gap, my dissertation sheds light on the strategic and operational orchestration roles of neutral, third-party innovation intermediaries and their impact on startups' performance. 

Innovation Intermediaries: Catalysts for Change

Innovation intermediaries are pivotal in facilitating interactions and resource flows within EEs. Despite their importance, the literature has yet to fully capture their strategic and operational roles in innovation management. My research focuses on these intermediaries, highlighting how they dynamically adapt their roles and capabilities in response to startups' evolving needs at different lifecycle stages. 

Investigative Phases and Findings:  

The dissertation unfolds through three investigative phases, each addressing specific aspects of the research gap: 

  1. Strategic-Level Orchestration Roles: This phase examines the adaptability and fluidity of intermediary roles, revealing a spectrum of roles tailored to startups' specific needs and stages. Key findings underscore the dynamic nature of orchestrator roles, providing insights into how intermediaries effectively support startups across their growth phases. 

  1. Operational Dynamics and Regional Perspectives: Expanding the scope to include multiple-case studies, this phase explores the operational dynamics of intermediaries and their roles across various regions. A novel finding is the identification of the "Shaper" role, which significantly influences entrepreneurial environments and early-stage entrepreneurship awareness. 

  1. Impact on Product Innovativeness: Utilizing a set-theoretic approach, this phase assesses how intermediaries' functions impact startups' Product Innovativeness (PI). Findings reveal that specific configurations of intermediary functions significantly enhance PI, highlighting their crucial role in fostering startup innovation. 

Theoretical Contributions and Practical Implications:  

The dissertation's main theoretical contribution lies in its detailed analysis of the roles and functions of third-party innovation intermediaries within EEs. Identifying six distinct intermediary roles and their impact on startups’ performance, this research enriches the innovation management literature. It empirically validates the essential role of intermediaries in enhancing startup innovation and performance, offering new insights into the orchestration of EEs and the strategic alignment of intermediation functions with startup innovation outcomes. 


Innovation intermediaries stand at the forefront of shaping the future of technology startups. By orchestrating the flow of resources and fostering conducive environments for innovation, they play a crucial role in the success and development of startups within EE. This dissertation contributes to a deeper understanding of their strategic and operational roles, paving the way for future research and policy formulations aimed at nurturing innovation and economic growth. 


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