The purpose of the study is to investigate how small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can effectively collaborate for eco-innovation using the business modes of innovation framework to emphasise three types of collaboration: “science, technology, and innovation” (STI), “learning by doing, using, and interacting” (DUI)-Vertical and DUI-Horizontal.
This analysis uses data from 838 SMEs in the Basque Country (2018–2020) to evaluate the effects of the three types of collaboration on eco-innovation. The authors employ a propensity score-based method to address potential bias associated with endogeneity in innovation studies.
The findings suggest that DUI-Vertical collaboration has a positive relationship with the development of product, process and marketing eco-innovation. Furthermore, DUI-horizontal collaboration is the most effective collaboration mode for SMEs, positively impacting their overall eco-innovation portfolio. Finally, STI collaboration is positively associated with product eco-innovation.
Policymakers should support SMEs by designing programmes that facilitate collaboration between competing firms to stimulate eco-innovation, but potential challenges of coopetition must be addressed. Rather than a generic, one-size-fit-all approach, SMEs' managers should identify the most appropriate partners corresponding to their specific eco-innovation goal, ensuring a more effective and targeted. Collaboration between science partners and SMEs should be reinforced by approximating the SMEs' needs more effectively.
This study contributes twofold. Firstly, the authors investigate whether the STI and DUI modes of innovation are determinant factors in the introduction of various types of eco-innovation. Secondly, the authors contribute to the literature on business modes of innovation by differentiating between DUI-Vertical (i.e. suppliers, customers and consultancy) and DUI-Horizontal (i.e. competitors) collaboration, thus highlighting the complexity of DUI collaboration forms.