Connecting small firms for innovation: Roles of trade associations and the Dutch Rijksnijverheidsdienst, 1900-1940

Sue-Yen Tjong Tjin Tai

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD thesis


How can small firms survive the flood of new technologies? Do they need external support? More than a century ago, this was one of the urgent challenges facing small firms in the Netherlands and it has remained so to this day. Catching up with global developments in mechanisation meant that Dutch firms had to acquire knowledge and implement new technologies.
In this thesis, Sue-Yen Tjong Tjin Tai presents three cases of Dutch firms that innovated in the early twentieth century: bread bakers who mechanised, wagon makers who switched to making bodywork for motorised vehicles and entrepreneurs starting out in the bicycle industry. Many firm owners simply bought new machinery and learned to use it themselves or had some assistance from suppliers. Others had to rely on external parties such as the trade associations and Rijksnijverheidsdienst.The latter, which was established in 1910, was the first Dutch government agency to provide firms with technical information and advice.
The thesis examines what role these intermediary organisations played in helping small firms to survive the hard times. A separate study of the Rijksnijverheidsdienstillustrates that its roles and the way these evolved are inextricably linked to the context of a budding knowledge infrastructure, World War I, and the Netherlands’ transition from a liberal economy in the late nineteenth century to a coordinated economy in the late 1930s.
By shedding light on how diverse sectors coped with transition, the author illustrates that to support their innovation efforts, small firms need joint activities particularly in education, standardisation and quality control. Such activities require knowledge, and that knowledge first has to be adapted to the small firms’ context. Although entrepreneurs rely on government regulations and state supported education facilities, good sector networks are essential for successful innovation. Trade associations can help to create sector networks and government agencies can use these networks to stimulate innovation by transferring and developing knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Lintsen, Harry, Promotor, External person
  • Oldenziel, Ruth, Promotor, External person
Award date11 Nov 2015
Place of PublicationEindhoven
Print ISBNs978 90 73192 43 0
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • innovation
  • innovation intermediary
  • small and medium-sized enterprises
  • intermediary organisation


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