Expert Niches: How Local Networks Leverage Markets (NICHES)


Denmark has an excellent reputation for its high-end niche markets. Copenhagen’s unique and high quality dining scene as an example has made it a city break destination. Organic food provision is known as a mass phenomenon. Furniture design is synonymous with elegance and craftsmanship developed over generations. Danish sperms banks attract both local and foreign clientele based on genetic quality control and legal exceptionalism. What environments permit those with expertise to create markets with global influence? Studies of market innovation focus on how collaborative networks are formed across organizations, permitting science and capital to intersect (Powell et al. 1996). Such networks are orchestrated by dominant firms that are centrally placed (Dhanaraj and Parkhe 2006), and form intense clusters to foster creativity (De Vaan et al.2015). When well located, network and clustering effects permit higher levels of expert learning and market innovation (Gulati 1999; Zander 1999). This has long been the prevailing logic, and such theories have developed as the common sense for policy-making.The Expert Niches project (NICHE) calls for a new wave of theorizing about how experts and environments interact to develop new markets. It is assumed that expert networks can be leveraged to influence markets if the broader environment permits this, and if governance institutions allow it. The project departs from current thinking in two ways. The first is to challenge the assumption that the primary activity of actors is competition or cooperation over common resources. Lessons from evolutionary biology tell us that actors do compete and cooperate over common resources, but most of their activity is spent constructing niches of non-competition (Odling-Smee et al. 2003). The primary activity is not a ‘war of all against all’ or network collaboration but changing and adapting to environments that permit their particular type to flourish. Environments carry genes (functional units of inheritance for particular traits) and memes (semantic information that is shared culturally) that enable actors to engage in niche construction rather than a survival of the fittest depiction of market competition.


Private (National)


VELUX Foundations

Collaborative partners:

University of Massachusetts



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