Exploring the innovation paths of SMEs to face the COVID-19 crisis: A cluster analysis applied to the Italian context


Exploring the innovation paths of SMEs to face the COVID-19 crisis: A cluster analysis applied to the Italian context


Objectives. The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted the firms’ survival before than their competitiveness, due to the limitation in the distributions of products and interaction with markets as well as due to constraints in the firm international supply chain (Pantano et al., 2020). Lockdown of manufacturing and retailing activities asked firms to rapidly rethink their business in order to reduce economic losses and competitive damages, through a proper assessment and feasibility analyses of their business models (Donthu and Gustafsson, 2020). In order to solve the emerging problems, firms are embracing methods and processes that are responsive rather than reactive to the crisis (Chesbrough, 2020), and they are switching to new operating models focused on the customer and supported by the right governance (Verma and Gustafsson, 2020). On the one hand, it becomes relevant to consider how firms may approach their market and, on the other hand, redesign their offering up to a complete business model innovation (BMI) process (Mitchell and Bruckner Coles, 2004). Innovation becomes, therefore, a key factor to overcome the crisis generated by COVID-19 pandemic (George et al., 2020) as already shown in past turbulent periods (Cucculelli and Peruzzi, 2020).

Strategic management studies have highlighted how in times of crisis there is an opportunity of strategic renewal, where firms may diversify their business by investing in new products, new services and/or new markets (Naidoo, 2010). Firms that are able to innovate can more positively cope with the challenges related to a period of crisis, also taking into consideration past innovation paths (Archibugi et al., 2013). Firms may expand or revise their strategies by revising their existing products (or services) or developing new ones, also in the direction of new market expansion, acquiring new customer (Wang et al., 2020). Innovating business through diversification (development of new products and/or new markets) and/or servitization (development of new services) strategies, during COVID-19 pandemic could help firms in revitalizing business (Ebersberger and Kuckertz, 2021; Verbeke and Yuand, 2021). In this regard, COVID-19 crisis has accelerated innovation processes not because firms want to innovate but because they had to (Heinonen and Strandvik, 2020). Nevertheless, research highlights the potentialities of crises as source of opportunity for firms specifically in pursuing BMI (Ritter and Pedersen, 2020) as a far more advanced strategic path for value creation and capture (Foss and Saebi, 2017) and a more advanced radical forms of innovation (Geissdoerfer et al., 2018).

#Business model innovation #Covid-19 #digital technologies #diversification #innovation #servitization