The purpose of this thesis was to investigate into the topic of User Entrepreneurship and Open Source Hardware. The main goal of this study is to inquire how OSH stimulates User Entrepreneurship. Despite the increasing success ofOSHand its recent impact on business activities, this topic has not been extensively covered by prior research. Therefore, the study is aimed at shedding light on the combination between these two streams of theories. The approach used in the research was based on an empirical analysis conducted on multiple case studies. Arduino, the first and most importantOSHmicrocontroller board, was the context in which this research was made. Among the Arduino users who made innovative products and were successful, information was gathered through semi-structured interviews with sixteen informants, along with several personal meetings with Massimo Banzi, Arduino co-founder. Moreover, the study was supported by the information available onOSHplatforms, such as communities and web-specialized magazines.
The results of the empirical analysis are very interesting: Arduino’s easiness of use, its open approach and presence of social instead of legal norms are the main elements that encourage users not only to innovate, but also to translate their innovations into business opportunities. Nonetheless, it clearly emerges that users originally did not intend to commercialize their innovations: communities systematically identify a potential opportunity. The study shows that User Entrepreneurship in OSH may follow a different path than the one proposed by Shah and Tripsas. In addition three main different business models emerge from the sample analysed. Equally important, the results shed light on different theories about User Innovation and Open Source, highlighting not only how the End-User Entrepreneurial process in this ecosystem differs from the classical ones, but also the difference between OSS and OSH. Furthermore, the personal interaction with Arduino’s co-founder, Massimo Banzi, helped to understand the role played by Arduino and to outline possible directions in which the OSH seems to be going. In fact, this research shows how the strategy that Arduino is implementing might also positively affect the commercialization of Arduino based projects, for example by removing some barriers that otherwise may prevent users from becoming entrepreneurs. Consequently, the ecosystem is constantly evolving, thus the results showed strong consistency within the sample and should be taken with a grain of salt for future research. Nonetheless, the empirical research presents some limitations, and further research is encouraged to cover existing gaps in the topic analysed. For example, it is suggested to investigate in-depth the role of communities in stimulating user entrepreneurship and the personal characteristics of these users who become entrepreneurs; why several new projects are not commercialized, even though they show a high degree of innovativeness, usefulness and OSH communities find them promising; how OSH may foster social entrepreneurship in developing countries and the possibility of legal controversies in an environment characterized by low IPR regime.
Finally, public policies should support technology progress. As pointed out in the case of The Blind Theatre, the financial support provided by the Norwegian Council for Cultural Affairs was fundamental. They invested a lot in technology especially in the performing art, which is what these sectors need. The design companies are several steps back from the current technology, they should think more “out of the box” and integrate their knowledge with the one of engineers but also they need money to finance new projects. That is also what Massimo Banzi is hoping: “I strongly believe that in the future, if Italy will be able to combine the technologies skills of so many competent people we have and design mastery – which we also have – at that time we will be able to create new markets that we hadn’t touched yet.”