In the ‘knowledge economy’ upheld by the European Lisbon strategy, knowledge-intensive services are considered a key driver for innovation and competitiveness. A category of knowledge-intensive services that has become of utmost importance in the last few decades is new product development (NPD) services, which interconnect distant knowledge domains with the client firms. In addition to NPD service providers, web-based innovation intermediaries have started to help innovative firms access dispersed bodies of knowledge. Despite the heterogeneity of their characteristics, however, a clear typology of the strategies used by traditional NPD service providers and web-based intermediaries to interact with their knowledge sources and with their clients is missing. This typology would be very useful for those firms that are willing to collaborate with innovation intermediaries because it could highlight the typologies of NPD problems different intermediaries are apt to address and the managerial challenges that working with them entails. Developing such a classification framework is the main goal of this paper.

The typology proposed in this paper suggests that innovation intermediaries should be distinguished based on the following: (1) the way they access their distributed knowledge sources and (2) the way they deliver value to their clients. By combining these two dimensions, four categories of innovation intermediaries are identified, which are named brokers, mediators, collectors and connectors. A multiple case study analysis involving four innovation intermediaries and 12 of their clients is presented in the paper. The analysis provides exploratory insights into (1) the typologies of NPD problems that each class of intermediaries addresses and (2) the managerial challenges that working with each of them entails. These preliminary findings call for further theoretical and empirical research into the complex interaction among innovation intermediaries, their dispersed sources of knowledge and their clients.