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4.5 Conclusions and Recommendations

Overall, it was found that small businesses possess the discussed key competences to apply OI. Furthermore, it can be concluded that customer involvement and R&D outsourcing are appropriate and promising OI approaches for small businesses. Collaborations with universities on the other hand seem to be difficult to apply. To be sure, more research on this topic would be required. The overall aim was to examine and evaluate whether and how small B-to-B businesses can apply OI approaches. Since OI is said to still be in its infancy by important contributors such as Gassmann et al. [1], this paper was placed in the current discussion of a newly developing OI paradigm. Thus, it focused on the established research gap and aimed to answer the question of whether small B-to-B businesses are able to apply OI and which OI approach is best applicable. The overall aim was fulfilled, since the conducted interviews produced valuable findings. In particular, it was found that small businesses possess a high absorptive capacity and medium collaborative capabilities to apply OI in general. Particularly, R&D intensity, technical and market expertise, and the organizational infrastructure were highly pronounced. Personnel and financial resources as well as networking capabilities and technological infrastructure were lowly pronounced. However, they were perceived to be sufficient to apply OI. As to establishing how small businesses should apply OI, the identified OI approaches were largely found to be appropriate for small businesses. Customer involvement was identified as the most attractive and appropriate approach. The participants stated that finding the right partner with a similar company size and structure as well as providing technical expertise are essential.

Figure 4.4 overleaf shows the concluded conceptual framework of applying OI in small businesses. It displays the established relationships between the absorptive capacity and collaborative capabilities (level one) and the OI approaches customer involvement, collaborations with universities, and R&D outsourcing (level two). It thus also illustrates the practical implications on how and whether OI can be applied by small businesses.

It can be said that the high technical expertise (level one) contributes toward the applicability of customer involvement and R&D outsourcing (level two). For the

Fig. 4.4 Concluded conceptual framework and recommended practical implications

latter, market expertise is also necessary and was found to be high and therefore facilitates the applicability of R&D outsourcing for small businesses. Another established relationship links the networking capabilities to customer involvement and universities. Whereas the findings indicated that the low networking capabilities would make the application of collaborations with universities difficult (as confirmed by the participants), the perceived intense and far-reaching networks were found to be sufficient and furthermore appropriate for customer involvement. This is because it was found that, in contrast to Hausman [8], who said that finding the right partner is related to a rather large network, the quality of small businesses' networks is more important. Thus, these are perceived as appropriate and sufficient, compensating the lack of networking capabilities and enabling to find the right partner due to the strong customer networks of the small B-to-B businesses. This is also the case for R&D outsourcing. Collaborations with universities require personnel resources with scientific background, which can hardly be provided in small businesses (level one). Furthermore, the missing contacts to universities also coincide with the negatively pronounced networking capabilities in level one. The relationship between financial and personnel resources is also related to the difficult application of collaborations with universities: Since higher-educated personnel require more financial resources, this link shows the interdependency between the two. Overall, the conceptual framework above shows all the established relationships and thus provides an overview of whether and how small businesses can apply OI.

As to specific practical implications on whether and how small businesses should apply OI, it can be concluded that first, they should try to apply OI since the necessary key competences are existent in small businesses. Furthermore, the established key findings and relationships shown in Fig. 4.4 need to be considered, and if possible, the necessary key factors should be improved. Also, it can be recommended to focus on customer involvement and R&D outsourcing and take into account that smaller projects and thus smaller financial investments are appropriate. Also, small businesses should consider improving their personnel and financial resources as well as their technological infrastructures to excel in applying OI in the future. It can be argued that although collaborations with universities were found difficult to apply, these are also important for small businesses in providing new insights and know-how. Hence, the latter is a recommended future research area.

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