We investigate why companies collaborate within the circular oriented innovation process. The purpose is to understand what motives trigger collaborative circular oriented innovation, as well as conditions, drivers and barriers. First, we define circular oriented innovation building on sustainable oriented innovation literature. Subsequently, we investigate 11 leading circular economy companies operating within the Netherlands, who developed collaborative circular oriented innovation activities. ‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ dimensions for innovation are identified and applied to delineate the drivers and barriers for collaborative circular oriented innovation. Our findings indicate that collaborations are conducted by entrepreneurially-minded actors through sharing a vision, enthusiasm, and crucially, a credible proposition for a circular economy. Furthermore, collaboration is sought early, to co-develop the problem and solution space and integrate disparate knowledge from across the value network, to mitigate increased complexity. Motives to collaborate vary between personal and organisational, and intrinsic and extrinsic levels. Collaborations start based on a relational basis between ‘CE front-runners’ to advance knowledge through experimentation. ‘Soft’ challenges to advance collaborations towards the competitive remain around culture, and the mindset to share rewards and risks. Without suitable solutions to these challenges, collaborative circular oriented innovation could remain underdeveloped within the transition towards the systemic level.
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