3.1. User Entrepreneurship process in OSH

After the interviews with the informants, it clearly emerged that the logic of classical entrepreneurship cannot be applied when is a user who becomes an entrepreneur (Shah and Tripsas 2007).

Nonetheless, also the model proposed by Shah and Tripsas seems having some limitations in the open environment. Interestingly, OSH user entrepreneurs do not always have the goal of a financial gain in mind. They are contented primarily about performing their activity, which is mainly a hobby, so they are satisfied with enough money to allow them to keep doing it. Similarly, the “utility function” of the user entrepreneurs is not necessary alike to the one of commercialized products: the variable “financial gain” is less important. For example, in a situation when the user innovator is publicly recognized as the author of an invention (and receives more acclaim in the community) what is important is the support given by the inventor to the entire OSH ecosystem, in order to empower other users to use their invention.

This first conclusion leads to the presentation of the adjusted model of User Entrepreneurship in figure 9.

The additional elements added in OSH environment are showed in red, while in blue the features that acquire stronger importance in OSH. The yellow oval represents the starting point of the model, which is different in the analysed context.

Figure 9 End-User Entrepreneurial Process revised in OSH context

The analysis of the diagram lead to several considerations apparent.

First and foremost, it is clear that users become entrepreneurs by coincidence. Their goal was to develop a certain product but in a situation of experimentation characterized by trial and error. Most of the users are hobbyists, artists or students who employ Arduino, also in an educational context, which do not operate only in a problem solving situation. Moreover, the separation between the design, development and usage of the products stimulates the entire process (Prandelli and Verona 2010).

Furthermore, the analysis confirms the research results about the role of communities: users largely contribute to the success of a certain platform or not, as the case might be. For example, Arduino’s main advantage derives from the massive community, which is hard to imitate by their clones and derivative products. As theory suggested, feedback from the community is essential for the improvement and adaptation of an invention in the “social hardware” context. It happens that from a basic product the community was able to develop a completely different one. Collective creativity emerges as crucial and thanks to the critical mass established by Arduino more and more users have in-depth knowledge of how to program the microcontroller board. Therefore, feedback enhances the drive to adaptation, as a technical support available 24/7 at no cost for all the users.

What is new in this research is the role of the community in the step of opportunity identification by the user entrepreneurs. Users within a community recognize a commercial opportunity, and the inventors are asked for support in making their own products not only by the more enthusiastic users but also by users who lack the time or skills and simply want someone else to make the product for them. In fact, all the users in the sample under examination never had an initial plan to become entrepreneurs.

Another difference with previous studies is the emergence of the importance of physical communities, where hobbyists regularly meet to share knowledge and perform prototyping activities together. In fact, hardware is a physical product not only made by a source code as for the software, but it also requires tangible actions in trial and error experiments. In addition, these communities spin off some products, such as the 3D printer machine which was the result of interactions of hobbyists within the NYC Resistor community. Furthermore, in some cases user entrepreneurs who were not prepared to manage or run a company get feedback from users about commercialization. In fact, generally they are people who lack of business expertise, who are not always fully interested in running their own company, but simply in helping other users to make their own products exploiting their “core competence”.

In fact, some barriers emerge which might affect users’ decision to commercialize their products, such as lack of time or technical advance, business skills, and shortage of a distribution system. This is more evident in the case of a product which is designed to cover a small niche of the market and due to its limited size it is not always convenient to start mass production. Another barrier is created by the switch from the user’s current job to being an entrepreneur. In case of Ardustat, for example, the inventor is not willing to “switch” as if he changed his job he would lost several important connections. At the same time the attention required by both activities does not give him enough time. That is why he is trying to push students to improve the Ardustat, as well as other projects, so that they create new innovations and he can run a company.

Nevertheless, in a few cases users who made commercialized projects were contacted by distributors or external companies which were willing to produce the final products, or simply the kits to allow users to replicate and improve the product, which is in most the cases is the goal of the user innovator. Moreover, it emerged that a key role is played by OSH specialists like SparkFun and Adafruit. These two companies (which started before the introduction of Arduino, but they derived their success mainly to them) support users thanks to their stores where users can easily find all the components they need that can be quickly shipped worldwide.

Another intriguing result of the research is made by the different opinions about Arduino that users have. While it is a widely shared opinion that Arduino is the best example of OSH built on the basis of inputs of a large community, almost all the users agree that it might not be the best OSH platform in the future, given that clones and cheaper derivatives are moving faster on the “the performance direction”. In addition, for companies who are becoming bigger, costs matter more, thus they do not exclude to shift to a cheaper platform in the future.

About the sustainability of the business, from the figures it emerges that Arduino gain 10% of royalties from the selling of Arduino microcontroller boards which are produced by the Arduino team in Italy. Therefore, selling a product made by Arduino does not require users to pay royalties, even if they use the ARDU name (e.g. the ARDUpilot or the ARDUstat). Users believe in Arduino, so they use it as a part of the marketing strategy, in order to differentiate their products from other OSH. Nevertheless, these operators who employ partially the Arduino name in their products might be willing to pay some royalties to them in order to get the permission o using the name.  Finally, users do not adopt any strategy to protect their products from piracy. Quite the opposite, they encourage competitors to copy but under the creative common license. However, even if the licence is not respected, piracy increases pace of innovation in this context as the IPR regime is low and the only strategy employed by companies is to protect the company’s name.  On the whole, from OSH it can be seen how the general category of user entrepreneurs described by Shah and Tripsas does not entirely fit in OSH context.

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