Across Europe, promising ideas and research results do not always flow beyond organisational or national boundaries to reach the people with the drive, skills and capacity to commercialise them. Additionally, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which tend to be great innovators, often lack access to finance. Inspired by open innovation (OI) approaches, the EU-supported project INVITE (Co-designing and piloting demand-driven mechanisms, skill-sets and measures for stimulating and facilitating open innovation across European innovation systems) helped SMEs develop international collaborations for complementary competencies, access to external resources and risk sharing. 40 SMEs were supported by INVITE’s voucher scheme offering access to tailored business support services to add value to their OI projects. In parallel, an e-learning programme trained over 500 innovators to develop their OI skills, while 11 SMEs on the project’s co-investment scheme improved their investment readiness. The project also developed, pilot-tested and fine-tuned a co-designed digital platform, OI2Lab, which supported over 540 registered users. The lessons learnt throughout INVITE were compiled in a guide that was disseminated to 230 policymakers and funders across 158 EU regions. “Our pilots could be easily replicated in other regions. Our model requires relatively little funding and can be tailored to local circumstances and needs,” notes project coordinator Kostas Giagtzoglou from Q-PLAN INTERNATIONAL, the project host.
Open Innovation 2.0
INVITE’s OI cornerstones are systematic networking and integrated collaboration across organisations and borders. “With this approach, innovators can achieve more, faster than they could independently,” explains Giagtzoglou. After analysing the OI landscape in Europe, the INVITE team brought together expert stakeholders from industry, academia, government, civil society and the public and private sector, to co-design OI support measures. These measures were then deployed and tested in real-life business conditions across Europe through three pilots: a voucher scheme, an e-learning programme and a co-investment scheme. Two pilot rounds were conducted for each, facilitated by OI2Lab’s digital tools and services. INVITE’s voucher scheme awarded EUR 5 000 to 40 SMEs from 13 countries after challenge-based competitions, enabling the winners to collaborate with organisations in other countries to co-create innovative solutions. In tandem, SMEs could take advantage of INVITE’s e-learning programme, with modules covering business, innovation, networking and the practicalities of managing OI processes. This was augmented with interactive webinars provided by expert trainers. INVITE’s co-investment scheme was also trialled. This scheme sought to improve communication between innovators and private investors, to reduce the perceived risk of OI investment. Eleven SMEs from four countries were supported to help them develop promotional tools such as videos, improve business plans and hone their pitching skills. The OI2Lab, developed by the project, provided an online hub for innovation communities. Users accessed digital tools and services to find innovation and funding opportunities, post collaboration calls themselves and ultimately co-create innovations. The platform also provided access to the e-learning programme. “Surveys indicated that these pilots improved innovation at the company and regional level. Company competitiveness and growth were enhanced through new products/services better responding to customer needs, increasing access to markets. At the regional level, more innovative solutions coming from SMEs, along with increased turnover, will drive growth and create jobs,” says Giagtzoglou.
A one-stop innovation shop
With OI a lever that the EU can use to tackle industrial and societal challenges, INVITE’s support measures could be adjusted by policymakers and deployed at regional or national level. “While many public and/or private intermediaries already promote OI opportunities through online platforms, they often operate in silos. INVITE collated opportunities in one place, connecting otherwise fragmented innovation communities and services,” concludes Giagtzoglou.
INVITE, open innovation, public, private, investment, e-learning, co-create, finance, risk, SME, business