Serendipitous Innovation in Inter-Firm Networks

Jari A.T. Laine

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The potential benefits of innovation and networking have been widely accepted in recent decennia by academia, industry and public institutions. In science, conceptual models of innovation and network governance have been proposed in many branches of research, but often with limited area of application and few benefits gained. It is also commonly known that many scientific and technological discoveries have been born in serendipitous circumstances, assisted by lucky chance. While serendipity, by definition, may not be pre-planned, this study aims at understanding and describing favorable conditions for serendipitous innovations to occur in inter-firm networks. This is done by developing an inter-firm innovation network model, which fosters the possibility of creating, identifying and leveraging serendipitous encounters. The research questions are: - What are serendipitous innovation networks like? - How are serendipitous innovation networks built? - How are serendipitous innovation networks governed? This is a multiple case study utilizing qualitative data. The study follows abductive research logic using data from five Finnish inter-firm networks. The findings are discussed with scientific literature from the fields of serendipity, inter-firm networks and open innovation. This study describes and introduces a new type of inter-organizational innovation network concept, which is called the serendipitous innovation network. Based on the results of this study, six propositions and a schematic model of the serendipitous innovation network are presented. The main theoretical contribution of this study is directed to the theories of inter-firm innovation and governance of innovation networks, as seen through the lens of serendipity. This is done by shedding light to the formation and evolution of serendipitous inter-firm innovation networks; focusing on network design, network orchestration and innovation process management. The importance of a competent and independent network coordinator is central to the findings. Furthermore, this study is contributing to the theories of serendipity as a phenomenon that is present everywhere, but sparsely studied in itself. The model of serendipitous innovation network developed in this study is created around the idea of mobilizing accumulated, local technologies and capabilities. Serendipitous innovation networks are suggested to be appropriate for creating solutions for complex business opportunities and problems, which require leveraging multi-disciplinary technologies and capabilities. The light structure of governance of the network and small investments required from participants are suggested to be beneficial for small firms. Hence, the concept of serendipitous innovation network is intended as an inexpensive and flexible alternative for public institutions to drive innovation.
Translated title of the contributionSerendipiteettinen innovaatio yritysten välisessä verkostossa
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Järvenpää, Eila, Supervising Professor
  • Mäkelä, Otto, Thesis Advisor
  • Seppälä, Timo, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8762-7
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8763-4
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • serendipity
  • innovation
  • network
  • governance


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