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  • Periodic Reporting for period 1 - INNOWEST (Development of standardised innovation services through peer learning to efficiently increase innovation management capacity among SMEs)
H2020

INNOWEST Report Summary

Project ID: 680934
Funded under: H2020-EU.2.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - INNOWEST (Development of standardised innovation services through peer learning to efficiently increase innovation management capacity among SMEs)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2016-04-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The objective of the INNOWEST project was to increase the capacity and knowledge among innovation support organisations in order to increase the innovation capacity among SMEs.

The project has used peer learning under “Twinning Advanced” to exchange common challenges and experiences from new and existing innovation services. This Design Option Paper (DOP) presents alternatives that three EEN - Enterprise Europe Network partners in three regions would recommend to other innovation support service agencies.

Innovation support organisations involved in support measures to enhance the innovation capacity among SMEs (e.g. EIMC/KAM ) provide services that typically include an innovation management capacity assessment, a gap analysis and the provision of targeted services to address recognised gaps. However, it has been evident that the outcome of many of these assessments only shows the gaps and that it is difficult for innovation advisors to recommend actions to fill these gaps.

The first part of the DOP contains a description of the challenges and examples of SME support structures and political environments in Scotland, Sweden and in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. This is followed by a description of the innovation assessment tools used in the three regions. Actions to be implemented after an innovation assessment are presented in the form of 16 methods and practices for increasing the innovation capacity among SMEs.

Finally, the DOP propose new initiatives for further actions: There are synergies in combining EEN’s innovation services under EIMC with SME support services under national and regional SME support programmes. We propose it should be possible for companies to work together in common seminars and workshops to learn about innovation from coaches and from each other. Furthermore, it’s important to develop the role and the skills of the key account manager to encourage companies to begin a journey of change. Finally we propose to develop online services for collaborative innovation between SMEs and innovation advisors.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The INNOWEST project has used peer learning under “Twinning Advanced” to exchange common challenges and experiences from new and existing innovation services. This has resulted in a Design Option Paper (DOP) which presents options, guidelines and implementation alternatives that the project partners (three EEN - Enterprise Europe Network partners in three regions) would recommend to other innovation support service agencies. The peer learning approach used by the three parters was to:

1. Address common gaps and SME needs
2. Share our experiences on how we meet these needs (including SME support structures)
3. Exchange of experience from working with innovation assessment tools
4. Exchange information about practices, tools and methods implemented after an innovation assessment
5. Propose new initiatives and support schemes to satisfy SME needs
6. Dissemination of the DOP to regional and national authorities and to EEN partners and similar organisations

During two workshops we exchanged information about 16 tools and methods that we had been working with to increase the innovation capacity for SMEs, including e.g. methods on how to establish an innovation strategy or an innovation culture in an SME, how to manage the innovation life cycle processes from idea generation to prototype, or how to set up a budget for innovation activities. The tools/methods were presented in the DOP addressing e.g. the target group, the framework conditions and organisations within which they work, and the processes under which they operate.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Project outcome and potential impact of the project are that other innovation support agencies, particularly other Enterprise Europe Network colleagues can make use of the experiences, tools and practices documented in the Design Option Paper to increase the innovation capacity among SMEs

New initiatives were proposed based on the consideration that government financial grants to SMEs would create better economic impact (competitiveness, growth and jobs) if their innovation management capacity could be increased as a result of received innovation support from EEN or similar SME-support organisations. Several aspects on this topic were discussed during the course of the project and we have identified the following areas and suggestions for new initiatives:

1. Combine EEN’s innovation services under EIMC with SME support services under national and regional SME support programmes.

As evident from this project, there is no obvious support structure under EEN to handle or implement actions as a result of an innovation assessment in SMEs. Combining EEN’s innovation services (EIMC) with regional and national SME support services should include both network structures and working methods. There are significant synergies to coordinate these services, particularly when identifying and motivating companies that have the potential to increase their competitiveness and their ability to change. Companies that have been subject for EIMC services might want to have a more solid foundation to stand on before they engage in innovation management. If so, they can be motivated to go into a regional entry programs with the objective to get their normal processes in order first, and then later, be offered to take the next step to embark on innovation management through EIMC. Working methods for company contacts, signposting and coaching should also be combined to the extent possible.

2. Make it possible for companies to work together in common seminars and workshops to learn about innovation from coaches and from each other

Many SMEs have limited development resources and limited time to spend on innovation. Consequently, they don’t have a systematic and holistic approach to manage innovation. Take-up measures must be flexible and in accordance with SMEs’ current situation. As a start, we propose regional and national initiatives that could support pilot projects involving 4-6 SMEs. The objective would be to develop an entry program for these companies to increase their competitiveness based on their own conditions, to provide the possibility to interact with other companies, and to support the management to make conscious choices. The companies would meet regularly, and in between the meetings be given different tasks and coaching. Innovation support services would be included as an integrated support service and working practices and coaching would be developed and evaluated. The methodology would be documented as guidelines for coaches and programmes for workshops. The entry program would have to be adapted to different standardised assessment tools and different funding schemes where services are already financed via national, regional or EU programmes, or if the companies pay fully or partially. The objectives would be to give the participating companies an increased understanding of innovation management in general, and of the potential of non-technological innovation in particular. The workshops would increase their knowledge on how a holistic approach can start and how to maintain a strategic, sustainable, systematic work on innovation management in the long run. Workshops would be developed around the same principles as the Deeper Innovation Workshops presented by Scottish Enterprise on page 10

3. Develop the role and the skills of the key account manager to encourage companies to begin a journey of change.

Many SMEs lack the ability to change, even though they know they should. Despite the fact that many companies have received substantial support services, they often don’t take the next step to implement measures given to them to improve or renew their business. The role of a key account manager is sometimes undefined, complex and difficult. They can be generalists or experts, or both. They signpost company needs to experts only, or they sometimes also implement actions as an expert, etc. We propose a program to develop and structure the role of key account managers and to increase their skills in motivating companies to start implement improvement actions on regular basis. A key account manger representing a SME support service organisation is often responsible for the first contact with a company and to match their needs with the right support experts. They can also be responsible to follow-up actions, such as actions suggested and discussed after an innovation capacity assessment. If so, they need to suggest with or without the help of an expert, the most important methods and practices available for increasing the innovation capacity, and be able to present these as teasers for reluctant and unmotivated companies.

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