While many COVID-related innovations have been profitable, others were not even conceived to bear revenues but were driven by other motivations. To what extent “traditional” profit-oriented motivations coexisted with other motivations (such as corporate social responsibility and marketing) remains largely under-investigated. Similarly, while many studies emphasized that inter-organizational collaborations enabled COVID-related innovation projects, how these collaborations intertwined with the motivations to innovate is unknown. This article fills the literature gaps by exploring the motivations underlying COVID-related innovations, the role of inter-organizational collaboration, and their relationship with innovation novelty. We studied 18 Italian COVID-19-related innovations developed during the initial pandemic phase. We considered two industrial motivations based on the exploration-exploitation dichotomy and two institutional motivations (corporate social responsibility and marketing). Using the crisp set Qualitative Comparative Analysis, we found that institutional motivations have driven most radical and incremental innovation projects. However, they were not sufficient conditions for them. We observed that radical innovations were supported by either transversal alliances, involving horizontal collaboration and R&D institutions, or by vertical alliances, where a supplier-customer collaboration aimed to explore new business opportunities while benefiting from the favorable contingent marketing effects. Incremental innovations often occurred without industrial motivations, supported by either vertical or horizontal collaboration.
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