Research summary: We examine firms’ technological investments during an industry’s incubation stage—the period between a technological breakthrough and the first instance of its commercialization. Using the agricultural biotechnology context, we develop stylized findings regarding the understudied knowledge evolution preceding product evolution in an industry’s life cycle, the trend and diversity of firms undertaking technological investments in anticipation of industry emergence, their leverage of markets for technology and corporate control, and their use of alternative modes of value capture. We juxtapose these stylized findings with existing literature to identify new theoretical insights, and set the stage for future scholarly work to develop and test new theories for the incubation period, examine its existence in other industries, and study its impact on subsequent firm and industry evolution.
Managerial summary: New technological breakthroughs present managers of existing firms and aspiring entrepreneurs with opportunities to create altogether new industries. During the vibrant incubation period, we find that multiple firms capitalize on diverse knowledge bases to shape the industry’s knowledge evolution and also capture economic value in diverse ways. Existing firms in the obsolescing industry are more likely to become targets in acquisitions given their complementary knowledge. Science‐based start‐ups are more likely to engage in acquisitions and collaborations with established firms. Diversifying firms are more likely to commercialize products after leveraging of internal development, acquisitions, and alliances. Our study highlights the importance for managers to think about “success” and “failure” across multiple yardsticks of performance, rather than only as product commercialization as the sole goal. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.