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Capitalising the full potential of online collaboration for SME innovation

Specific challenge: Identifying suitable partners for innovation activities is recognised as a major barrier to SME innovation. Innovation support services are addressing this challenge traditionally by two interventions that are often combined: (a) the provision of networking space for personal meetings either as one-off meeting (‘brokerage events’) or as more stable networks (‘clusters’) often with a limited geographic reach; and (b) the definition of ‘cooperation profiles’ (‘technology offers’, ‘partner search profile’ etc.) that are distributed through networks of intermediaries. To a different degree intermediaries become active in establishing the partnership (‘brokerage’). Social media and other web-based services challenge these existing approaches and ask for their revision.

The British ‘connect’ platform is the first publicly financed innovation platform on the web that creates a protected space for companies to display their competences, interest and skills, to reach out to a large number of peers, to make them personal contacts and to engage them in initial cooperation. Commercial offers like ‘linked in’ or various crowdsourcing platforms offer important elements while not regarding themselves as innovation platforms for SMEs.

However, it becomes evident that only a small number of enterprises using the platform have already the skills to draw full benefits from the opportunities. Most establish contacts on the platform – which effectively eliminates the ‘brokerage function’ that is so far provided by many intermediaries – but are unable to maintain the group of contacts or to draw on their skills in the preparation of innovation projects. In that respect they could benefit from a new generation of support services that assist to create value from online collaboration with a group of contacts and potential partners (“assistance to online collaboration for innovation”) 

So far staff in innovation agencies has hardly skills to assist their clients to establish collaborations on web platforms and no profile of skills has been defined. Commercial offers by crowdsourcing platforms remain effectively unaffordable for SMEs or face difficulties to scale up their offers and reach a critical mass of the community.

Scope: To address the described gaps proposals should address one or more of the following aspects:

  • develop and test new service designs for ‘assistance to online collaboration for innovation’ for SMEs in diverse sectors;
  • make such new services accessible for enterprises in sectors that are typically not yet benefitting from innovation support;

         develop and test a qualification profile, curriculum and training courses for staff currently providing brokerage services in established networks or SME agencies.

Service designs and qualification profiles shall be formulated independently from a particular collaboration or social media platform. Tests of services shall be undertaken on platforms that are open and bring together already a critical mass of enterprises and innovation stakeholders. Establishing such platforms will not be supported.

The nature of the topic – online collaboration – suggests that the training modules are established as web-based self- or collaborative learning modules that are supported by case studies in the form of videos. The qualification profiles and training modules shall be published under a creative commons license.

Projects proposing new service designs for ‘assistance to online collaboration for innovation’ should indicate on which platform(s) the new service would be tested and in how far the newly developed service could be scaled-up.

It is intended to support 2-3 projects from the indicative budget.

Expected impact:  

         New services assisting online collaboration for innovation help SMEs to access a broader range of potential innovation partners and mobilise them in a timely manner for concrete projects.

         The qualification profile and training material are made available to SME innovation support agencies interested in enhancing the skills of their staff.

         The efficiency of innovation support service provision - for example but not limited to the services of Enterprise Europe Network – is enhanced.

         Resources in public innovation support are reoriented from information and brokerage functions – which can to a large extend be automated – to higher value added functions like the identification of opportunities and the animation of project development.

Type of action: Coordination and support action