Purpose of the paper: Italian firms are increasingly drawn to modify their own competitive positioning. Traditional network relations, such as industrial districts or subcontracting value chains, are not themselves sufficient to generate this repositioning, since they are not designed to achieve a strategic goal, but tend to emerge spontaneously. We focus on an evolutionary path, empirically drawn from two case studies, leading to the definition of strategic network, i.e., an aggregation resulting from joint projects designed to manage the shift of partner firms towards an higher value-added segment of the value chain. Methodology: This paper analyzes the formal network contract as an empirical phenomenon capturing the theoretical concept of strategic network. It does so investigating the case of network contracts flourished in the area of Brescia. Findings: Strategic networks analyzed via two network contracts showed that different strategies exist to exploit value from the diversity of member firms; risks can arise from this diversity; risks can be tackled by means of proper governance mechanisms. Research limits: The analysis is focused on two representative cases. Undoubtedly, enriching this analysis with the observation of networks embedded in other areas would enhance and enrich the discussion raised in the article. Practical implications: The article analyzes the problems tackled, the strategies used, and the solutions selected by the network actors embedded in a network-intensive area (Brescia province). The idea is that these networks can act as a models for other entrepreneurs who want to build new networks or promote the existing ones. Originality of the study: The emergence of networks by means of formal network contracts remains largely unexplored. The analysis highlights the critical issues and the great potential of this instrument.
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