Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between the expectations that small business entrepreneurs hold in relation to the future returns from the commercialisation of innovations, and key organisational elements including inputs, knowledge, culture, strategy, portfolio, project management and commercialisation. More specifically, this research aims to deepen the knowledge of how small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) manage their innovation and identify critical factors determining the potential innovation outcomes. Design/methodology/approach: This study draws on a large sample of innovative SMEs from multiple Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development countries. Data were collected using a questionnaire administered face-to-face with owners-managers or executives of SMEs who made critical decisions for the innovation management of the firm. First, a factor analysis is conducted to identify the most appropriate measures for each variable. Second, the authors test for multicollinearity among independent variables. The final step integrates results from the general linear model analysis that measures the relationship between organisational factors and the anticipated returns. Findings: Findings suggest that positive expectations over future investment in innovation - as measured by the anticipated rent - are influenced by organisational factors, including innovation strategy, portfolio management, project management, and organisational culture and commercialisation process. Conversely, the resource endowment is not perceived as a barrier to innovation and to the development of a competitive advantage. In addition, industrial knowledge management has an indirect effect on the anticipated returns. Originality/value: Despite extensive research in innovation management, the role of organisational factors on anticipated returns in SMEs has not been investigated to date. The study provides researchers with new insights into the resource-based view and the theory of entrepreneurial rent from the perspective of innovation management. The findings offer guidance to managers as to potential success factors in enhancing the rent, but also reflect entrepreneurial optimism in the management of innovation. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.