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Users & Entrepreneurship

User Innovation Research Initative Vienna Logo

The User Innovation Research Initiative is a research program which aims to deepen our understanding of the phenomenon of user innovation and is hosted by the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Vienna University of Economics & Business.

Users become Entrepreneurs

User innovators might themselves exploit entrepreneurial opportunities. When does this happen and what effects are likely to arise?

  • Until recently, a change in the “functional role” of user-innovators has been considered a rare exception. It was argued that their benefit is due to their private, personal use of the resulting innovation only, and not from producing and selling it.

  • In line with this perspective, it was found that user innovators often freely reveal their know-how.

  • Recent studies have shown, however, that certain user innovators stop sharing their innovations freely. Instead, they start to commercialize them and become entrepreneurs.

  • Anecdotal evidence to this effect can be found in certain industries where the field’s first manufacturers were some type of leading-edge users who exploited entrepreneurial opportunities successfully (e.g., Jake Burton and Tom Sims in the field of snowboarding).

  • Our knowledge on the entrepreneurial roles user innovators can play, as well as their antecedents and effects, is at its very beginnings. Research into these issues will help us derive a more comprehensive model of user innovation and industry evolution, which will be particularly valuable to policymakers.


In this line of research, we aim to explore the phenomenon of user entrepreneurship and in particular its impact on industry evolution. The research issues we address here include the following:

  • User innovation and changing functional roles: What forces drive the transformation process a user undergoes from being a dedicated and often intrinsically motivated user to becoming a profit-oriented entrepreneur? What are the general characteristics of the potentially important institutional form of user entrepreneurs? What are the key differences to entrepreneurial opportunity recognition in the corporate context?

  • User entrepreneurship and industry evolution: What role do user entrepreneurs play in an industry’s evolution? In what phases are they most likely to arise? How do they add to the advancement of the underlying field? Why do user entrepreneurs co-exist with corporate, large-scale manufacturers?

Key Publications and Working Papers

  • Hienerth, C., Lettl, C. (2009): Exploring how peer communities enable lead user innovations to become the industry standard: Community pull effects, The Journal of Product Innovation Management (forthcoming).

  • Lettl, Christopher, Hienerth, Christoph, Gemünden, Hans Georg (2007): Exploring how lead users develop radical innovation: Opportunity recognition and exploitation in the field of medical equipment technology. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management (forthcoming).

  • Baldwin, Carliss, Hienerth, Christoph, von Hippel, Eric (2006): How user innovations become commercial products: A theoretical investigation and case study. Research Policy 35/9, 1291-1313.

  • Hienerth, Christoph (2005): The commercialization of user innovations: the development of the rodeo kayak industry. R&D Management 36/3, 273-294. Download


We have presented our research in this area at several international conferences, including:

  • Academy of Management (Annual Conference)

  • Open and User Innovation Society Meeting

  • Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference

  • International Workshop on User Innovation

  • R&D Management Conference