Desorptive capacity is the organisational ability to transfer internal knowledge to external actors to obtain competitive advantage. We distinguish two forms of desorptive capacity to investigate how organisations active in emerging technology domains explore and exploit opportunities to match internally developed technology to external needs. We also focus on management innovation – the ability to create or revise organisational structures or processes – as a potential antecedent of desorptive capacity. From a study of 84 synthetic biology organisations we found that explorative and exploitative desorptive capacity mediate the relationship between management innovation and external technology commercialisation. The study provides empirical evidence of the existence and interdependence of different managerial and organisational processes required for external technology commercialisation. We underscore how organisations can valorise technological assets strategically through management innovation and by achieving a fit between internal practices and the technological base of potential technology adopters.