New entrants in technology-intense industries are in a race to build legitimacy in order to compete with established players. Legitimacy has been identified as a driver of venture survival and growth; it helps mitigate third-party uncertainty and so facilitates access to resources, engagement with customers and other stakeholders. Nevertheless, we know little about how legitimacy is built and how new entrants build legitimacy in complex technology-intensive industries. In this research we explore how Norwegian cleantech firms use signaling and strategic actions to build legitimacy. We analyze five cases while investigating their actions in different phases of the venture’s evolution. The results suggest that, contrary to signaling theory expectations, young clean-tech firms do not always build legitimacy by conveying information on their strengths. Instead, we observe that they use signaling strategies to address the specific concerns of different stakeholders. This is very much contingent upon the evolutionary stage of the venture and the firm’s current weaknesses.
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