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Problem Driven Innovation Support Initiatives for SMEs

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - INNOCHALLENGE (Problem Driven Innovation Support Initiatives for SMEs)

Reporting period: 2018-05-02 to 2019-05-01

In recent years of increased global competition, European Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have been forced to boost their innovation capacity to react quickly to changing market demands. The European Union, Member States, and European regions have a number of programmes to support innovation in SMEs, including grants and financing for R&D and businesses. In addition to such support, SMEs need services that help them innovate faster and more effectively, with improved access to skills and smarter supply chains to source ideas and solutions with an Open Innovation approach.
A variety of innovation support programmes have been tried throughout Europe. Some of these programmes are designed to leverage new and lean formats such as hackathons and prizes, and the regional dimension has demonstrated to be effective in fostering participation, through programmes implemented by intermediaries such as public innovation agencies.
The INNOCHALLENGE Project aimed at building capacity in European innovation agencies to adopt challenge-driven initiatives supporting innovation within SMEs. In particular, the project sought to allow innovation agencies to (i) become capable to acknowledge the operating principles of existing Innovation Challenges within different policy and regulatory frameworks; (ii) learn how to design new and tailored formats of Innovation Challenges that are more capable to respond to contextual and territorial specificities; iii) get ready to activate such initiatives to better support innovation in SMEs.
To reach such goals, starting May 2018 the project collected good practices of existing initiatives (within and beyond project partners); good practices were presented and discussed during three peer learning workshops hosted by project partners. Finally, all learning and know-how was captured into an actionable Guide designed to be used by professionals working at innovation agencies wishing to activate Innovation Challenges to support SMEs. This way, the Guide serves as a tool to fully understand the new support instrument and to design a variety of “design options”, tailored to innovation agencies’ specific contexts. The guide is now available at and is also embedded in the section 2 of this Document for reporting purposes. Innovation agencies interested in understanding all about Innovation Challenges are recommended to go and download the Guide from the above-mentioned link, for a full learning experience.
"Project INNOCHALLENGE revolved around three tasks, each of which enduring 4 months.
Task 1: Tracking good practices. Project partners arranged a template to be used to collect a selection of existing good practices of Innovation Challenges. Detailed information on the existing initiative were collected on each good practice, namely: beneficiaries, sponsor organizations, executing organization, activities, input/output and processes, involved knowledge and methods, IP policy, rewarding mechanisms (e.g. prizes), schedule, budget, KPIs and evaluation methods, and so on.
Task 2: Peer learning workshops. Collected good practices were presented within three peer learning workshops, each of which organized by one project partner. These workshops were designed to represent hands-on learning opportunities for participants: these were professionals from innovation agencies, universities and research centres, tech transfer organizations and innovation intermediaries, SME, governing authorities. Workshops were held in Oulu (FI), Trento (IT), Tallinn (EE).
Task 3: Design of the new initiative. One service design workshop was finally held, involving project partners only. Such workshop was aimed at crafting a Canvas acting as a framework to design new Innovation Challenges. The Canvas was in fact developed from the template initially utilized to collect the good practices, though with adjustments made in the light of discussions stemmed from peer learning workshops, and the service design workshop itself. The tools and know how developed during this workshop acted as the core contents of a Guide that has been crafted and produced afterwards, also with the support of an external graphic design agency. Once the Guide was available, dissemination actions were done by project partners, according to a dissemination plan. This mainly involved outreaching other innovation agencies and innovation networks ad at EU level with direct emailing including promotional copywriting and link to the project website where to download the Guide ( Key players were also sent printed versions of the Guide. Dissemination of the Guide is bound to go on after the end of the project. By end of 2019 we expect to reach about 500 professionals employed in innovation agencies. Dissemination actions are reported in this sheet:
Innovation prizes have been traditionally offered by governments for technological breakthroughs, solving major social challenges, or advancing technologies. However, over the last decade they have increasingly become effective tools for large companies to support inbound Open Innovation. Large companies also utilize prizes to identify talents and investment opportunities, or find cheaper alternatives to in-house research and development. Along with prizes, over the past 10 years many open innovation platforms raised on the market, connecting companies pursuing innovation with other companies, free-lancers, researchers, as well as retired professionals capable and willing to contribute. These intermediaries proved to be very effective not only in matching “seekers” with “solvers”, but also in effectively managing the first steps of the entire innovation processes.
However, according to extant research, SMEs can experience barriers in benefiting from innovation prizes and intermediary platforms, mainly due to lack of knowledge and a lack of know-how, R&D structure, costs and language barriers. Goal of project INNOCHALLENGE has been to design a new type of open innovation support initiative pivoted on the tenets and working model of prizes and open innovation platforms, though more accessible to SMEs (Innovation Challenges), and more feasible for innovation agencies. The major result of the project was to deliver an actionable Guide intended to support innovation agencies in designing Innovation Challenges. Core to the Guide is the “Innovation Challenge Design Canvas”: a printable one-page practical tool to understand and define all aspects of an Innovation Challenge. The Guide also features a collection of already existing and implemented Innovation Challenges, ran in Europe in the partnering countries. The Guide was crafted in cooperation with a graphic design agency, this way making it more appealing and user friendly.
Under that light, we expect that the diffusion of the Guide among European innovation agencies will result in the activation of more effective open innovation support programs dedicated to SMEs. In the medium term, this will result in an improved innovation capacity from the SME that will benefit from such programs. In the long run, that will result in SMEs generating new or improved products and services, along with new highly qualified jobs.