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Building RAPPORT Between Small And Medium-Sized Enterprises And Public Or Private Research Capabilities

Final Report Summary - RAPPORT (Building RAPPORT between small and medium-sized enterprises and Public or private research capabilities)

Capitalising on small and medium sized enterprises' (SMEs) strengths requires policy action that can reach large populations of SMEs but also address their particular needs at the same time. RAPPORT aspired to contribute to the understanding and further development of policies and practices supporting business innovation in SMEs. More particularly the project had three objectives:

1. developing a reference guide of good practices, including benchmarks for strengthening knowledge exchange and technology transfer between public sector research organisations and SMEs
2. developing a blueprint paper on new emerging forms of SME support for research backed by large corporations in a context where open innovation and public private innovation partnerships (PPIP) had increasingly gained importance
3. initiating the engagement of policy makers, programme managers and other relevant stakeholders into a dialogue to ensure the 'translation' of the project findings into a roadmap for embedding the most appropriate practices and policies into the European Research Area (ERA), both at regional and national levels.

The project paid special attention to the interaction between SMEs and the research base, exploring the various ways this interaction could be encouraged and enhanced. It considered not only the engagement of SMEs into the process of knowledge and technology transfer, but also accessing already developed knowledge.

The project also looked at the crucial challenge of preparing the SMEs for the knowledge and technology transfer process in terms of equipping their organisation with the appropriate business innovation approaches and practices.

The project adopted a comprehensive approach looking into SMEs of different levels of absorptive capacity, which referred to their ability to identify, access, integrate and exploit external knowledge. This included SMEs of lower absorptive capacity (LAC), which were not usually addressed by support measures.

An important component of the European Union strategies is the support of SMEs and particularly their connection with the research base and the development of their innovation capabilities. The European Commission has set itself the target of directing at least 15 % of its innovation funding towards SMEs. This legitimate target should be extended and expanded in the future as the European Union seeks to achieve its ambitious innovation agenda.

The project relied on three critical assumptions. Firstly academics and policy makers alike concentrated traditionally on 'science pushed' knowledge transfer, e.g. university spin-offs, and SMEs in the higher end of the innovation spectrum, e.g. new technology based firms. However, in the best case scenario, the SMEs involved in these programmes did not exceed 10 % of the total population, limiting significantly their impact. This project adopted a comprehensive approach looking into SMEs of different levels of absorptive capacity, including those that were not the usual 'suspects' of policy interventions, namely SMEs of low absorptive capacity.

Secondly, the term knowledge transfer was usually used in the sense of involving SMEs into the process of actual research. While this was definitely a valuable process, it was not the exclusive avenue for accessing research capabilities. In some cases SMEs needed access to already developed competence and knowledge, e.g. the outcome of recently accomplished research. The term knowledge and technology transfer was used throughout this project in a wider sense. More specifically a wider spectrum of services was addressed from the active involvement of SMEs into the actual research to the transfer of already attained research results.

Thirdly, knowledge transfer was meaningful only when it was thoroughly connected to the innovation activities taking place within a smaller business. Any meaningful discussion of knowledge transfer for SMEs required a deep understanding of innovation activities within these organisations. Innovation was the development of a new product or a new process, all the way from the new idea, to the realisation and the commercial exploitation in the market. In effect the innovation activities within these organisations were an amalgamation of technology adoption, product and process development and intensive marketing activity. Knowledge transfer should fit in this diverse puzzle in order to produce significant value for the small business.

To achieve these objectives, the project started with a segmentation of SMEs according to their absorptive capacity. Following this, the project deployed a 'funnel' strategy, moving from:

1. using primary and secondary data to identify the needs of different types of SMEs to
2. map the full range of programmes supporting research for SMEs in the European Union
3. prioritise these programmes on the basis of experts' opinion
4. create key performance indicators to measure the impact of the better performing
5. investigate in depth the top initiatives, including fieldwork with the various actors' involved in these programmes and
6. develop relevant benchmarks for identified types of programmes, such as public or public and private partnerships.

The RAPPORT project looked into 331 national, regional or local programmes that supported knowledge and technology transfer (KTT) activities for the benefit of SMEs. These programmes were subjected in four different rounds of assessment by a strong team of researchers from eight European Union countries and a panel of six independent internationally known experts in the area of innovation.

The RAPPORT set the aim of expanding the horizon of KTT policy support in Europe by investigating two new areas of policy intervention and support:

1. extend the KTT services into SMEs of lower capabilities, SMEs that were not the usual participants of the KTT schemes so far
2. expand the KTT policy in new forms of support that included the provision of resources by large enterprises in conjunction with the resources provided by the public purse.

Three key targets were proposed to the European Union to achieve by the end of 2020:

the participation of SMEs in European Union funding should grow further. An idea would be to set the target of 20 % of European funding to SMEs by 2020.
2. a significant part of the participating SMEs, around 30 %, should declare the interaction with a research organisation in the context of European Union funding as of high importance.
3. the participating SMEs should come from all quarters of the economy, from high-tech and more 'conventional' sectors etc.

The project over-performed on a number of dimensions, exceeding the targets set by the description of works (DoW). RAPPORT generated distinct foregrounds in the area of KTT support on four areas:

1. developing a new methodology for assessing KTT programmes through four levels of assessment
2. providing a comprehensive approach for KTT programmes connecting KTT with the absorptive capacity of the targeted SMEs
3. addressing KTT programmes for SMEs of low absorptive capacity and comprehending how support programmes could transform the attitude or the behaviours of these SMEs
4. addressing new forms of KTT support where large private corporations became active contributors to the programme resources through public private partnership programmes.

The project also developed a fully fledged set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that assessed different aspects of a KTT programme. The three levels of selection assessed the functionality, the consistency and the originality of such a programme. The development of methodology included 11 sets of KPIs and seven integrated interview sets for different stakeholders. The methodology created a lot of interest from various support agencies in European countries. A number of academic institutions also expressed a strong interest in the methodology of the project.

The success of our methodology also resulted in the project engaging in an action unforeseen in the DoW. The special workshop with the European Commission in October 2011 discussed the possibility of putting together a system that was low cost to operate but could sustain a discussion on the innovation support of SMEs in Europe. In response to this, the RAPPORT team developed a web based application where the KTT programmes that participated in the RAPPORT research could see their strategic and operational indexes as well as their integrated fit. This application could be used by any KTT programme manager who was prepared to respond to the RAPPORT special questionnaire.

The project also accomplished an impressive number of in-depth case studies involving 57 SMEs, 37 researchers and 32 KTT enablers. These results also received great reception from the innovation community in the European Union.

Furthermore, the project developed two sets of influential reports which integrated the research and fieldwork findings. The first presented the characteristics of the SMEs involved in KTT programme while it developed a set of benchmark criteria for KTT programmes along the four phases of the absorptive capacity. The second also presented the characteristics of the SMEs involved in PPIP programmes, outlining three types of such programmes. The advantages and disadvantages of each type were discussed in the context of supporting KTT and innovation in SMEs. A number of organisations demanded a copy of this report and requested special workshops with the RAPPORT team to discuss the findings.

The project aspired to influence the strategic thinking of policy makers and all actors that were present in the practice of SME support. In this context, the communication of results to relevant policy makers and the interaction with them was considered crucial towards the end of the project. The project prepared a special document where the identified good practices were converted to a number of proposed actions and activities to be potentially undertaken by the European Commission and other regional or national policy making bodies. Five scenarios, called 'roadmaps' were outlined in this document:

1. a roadmap for agent supported programmes or services for LAC SMEs
2. a roadmap for agent supported programmes or services for higher absorptive capacity (HAC) SMEs
3. a roadmap for network based programmes or services for LAC SMEs
4. a roadmap for network based programmes or services for HAC SMEs
5. a roadmap for programmes based on public and private partnerships for HAC SMEs.

The team presented the key results in a special workshop organised by the European Commission in October 2011. Several people from the European Community had the chance to discuss the findings and discuss with the team if and how the captured lessons could be implemented in the European Research Area and the forthcoming Horizon 2020 programme.

Finally the project coordinator presented the main outcomes of the project in a keynote speech of the Europe Innova Conference organised jointly by the European Commission and the Danish Ministry of Science Innovation and Higher Education. The Conference focussed on developing a support system for SMEs and had 600 participants, including policy makers, programme managers etc., who had the chance to hear about the RAPPORT proposals.

Perhaps the biggest contribution of this research was to contribute actively in a much needed discussion about a variety of ways that SMEs could be supported and leveraged into the next level of innovation and growth. This discussion needed inevitably to include the regional and national authorities of the European countries and the wealth of practices they represented and the European Community itself with the significant leverage it possessed to make things happen. This was hopefully the biggest legitimacy this project left behind.

The project operated and maintained a website that was recently redesigned completely and upgraded to the latest web2.0 technology, as an open source content management system (CMS). It contained an interactive query, available to registered users only from matters of privacy and confidentiality, with all programmes that were analysed in depth. The website address was

In addition to the main project website, there was a portal created by the project in the address It was used to disseminate mutual information to RAPPORT and its sister projects GPRIX and MAPEER. It might occur that, at a certain stage, this website would change to point solely on the RAPPORT website.