Purpose: From an absorptive capacity perspective, this study aims to analyse the influence of strategic alliances on the development of intellectual capital. Design/methodology/approach: A quantitative study was chosen, with data on technology-based small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Portugal, leading to 257 valid answers. Findings: The results obtained from a structural equation model show that learning/knowledge and efficiency as important functions underlying strategic alliances exert a strong influence on intellectual (human, structural and relational) capital. Practical implications: These outcomes reveal that strategic alliances are a way for SMEs to overcome resource constraints in terms of intellectual capital, which represents an important implication for business practice. This study provides particular insights into how and to what extent alliance-specific mechanisms and functions lead to which improvement and effect. Originality/value: The study underlines the importance of strategic alliances for technology-based SMEs. In this way, this study adds to the scarce in the field providing evidence for the SMEs sector. Therefore, strategic alliances and intellectual capital should be considered two key tools for this firm segment and worthy of further research in absorptive capacity.