This study examines how social trust facilitates firms’ collaborative efficiency in an informal economy. We extend the open innovation theory to explain the straightforward role of social trust in the Shenzhen mobile phone industry. This single case study yields two principal findings. First, social trust fosters the efficient integration of value chains for mobile phone development. Four types of informal entrepreneurs with high social trust built on homogenous sanctioned ethnic groups (i.e., Fujian, Hunan, Chaoshan, and Wenzhou) collaboratively conform to the chip vendors, independent design houses, integrators, manufacturers and channel retailers in the Shenzhen mobile phone industry. These four groups of informal entrepreneurs achieve ethnic legitimacy by organizing the value chains with mobile feature phones built on Shenzhen mobile phone modes. Second, social trust among the four sanctioned ethnic groups is a critical determinant for shortening the time-to-market of new products and catalyzes product specialization to effectively respond to market needs in the Shenzhen mobile phone industry. Finally, we discuss the implications of our findings for research on social trust and open innovation in informal institutions.
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