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Establishing Services Enhancing the Innovation Management Capacity of SMEs in the Enterprise Europe Network Austria

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EENINNOAUSTRIA3 (Establishing Services Enhancing the Innovation Management Capacity of SMEs in the Enterprise Europe Network Austria)

Berichtszeitraum: 2019-01-01 bis 2019-12-31

A lack of innovation management capacity represents an important barrier to creating economic impact from innovation activities in SMEs. The Horizon 2020 Work Programme “Innovation in SMEs” therefore foresees support services for SMEs via the Enterprise Europe Network addressing this specific issue.
With the KAM services, the Network experts provided high-quality consulting and enabled SMEs to enhance their innovation capacity. Experts accompanied SMEs in this process and supported the company in dealing with the weaknesses identified. The Network expert facilitated the coach-client interaction and linked the SME to regional, national and international support, therefore enabling a smooth process in introducing the EIC Accelerator Pilot project to the market. Most companies took advantage of this offer and strongly benefitted from their work with business coaches.
The EEN experts involved in these services shared their expertise and best practice with each other and also the Austrian consortium partners not involved in these services. This way the EEN service portfolio could be adapted and better targeted to clients’ needs if necessary. Services were provided in close co-operation and co-ordination with the National Contact Points and major regional and national stakeholders, guaranteeing a holistic approach and a high quality of services.
Within the EIMC service, the Network experts carried out an in-depth diagnostic and jointly with the SME developed an action plan to address weaknesses identified. The Network expert used the results of the analysis to continuously and sustainably support the SME in its process to work on these bottlenecks and to enhance its capability to improve its business and growth. Suitable SMEs were identified in close cooperation with the host organisations, regional stakeholders and the NCPs.
Feedback workshops were carried out, results of the assessment presented and recommendations and an action plan discussed and agreed on. Network partners attended IMP3rove or decentralized trainings of the Network and consequently developed and offered additional workshops on idea management and innovation strategy to their clients.
The Austrian consortium all in all supported 74 SMEs (38 cases completed) in addressing factors hindering successful innovation cycles. Activities were targeted at (1) providing substantial consulting and support services in the form of key account management (KAM) to beneficiaries of the Horizon 2020 EIC Accelerator Pilot and at (2) enhancing the innovation management capacity (EIMC) of SMEs.
Within the framework of the business coaching support service for the EIC Pilot (including the SME instrument and FET), partners conducted company assessments, identified weaknesses in the SMEs’ innovation strategies and subsequently helped SMEs to assign professional coaches. These coaches then jointly developed a coaching plan with the SME and addressed these weaknesses. This process was facilitated and accompanied by the Enterprise Europe Network expert. Further support (e.g. links to additional financial resources, access to specific events for the EIC Community through business acceleration services) was provided and the SMEs thereby received a vital consulting service free of charge parallel to their co-funded project. The majority of SMEs utilized and highly appreciated the KAM’s efforts and services and considered the business coaching as a very valuable support.

In addition to the Key Account Management, the partners directly supported high-potential SMEs in improving their innovation management. This was achieved through targeted innovation management consulting by senior staff members of the consortium. Thereby, SMEs in need of this specific type of consulting were reached, which could not benefit from the H2020 SME instrument while still showing a high potential for successful market introduction of innovations and international growth. The EIMC services, and especially the acquisition of SMEs, proved to be very time-consuming as SMEs often do not see innovation management as a necessary tool in their daily business. Neglecting this aspect, however, is usually very costly as it causes delays or failure of bringing innovative ideas successfully to the market. SMEs that utilized the EIMC services valued the services highly, even the ones that in the beginning doubted the usefulness and impact of innovation management.

Key Account Management (24 cases completed):
EIC Accelerator is a valuable new instrument and closes the gap between the demand for excellence (as the major approach in Horizon 2020) and the goal to generate more impact on the market. This correlates with the experience of the EEN experts and is reflected in the feedback of the SMEs, whereas financing of innovation activities beyond TRL 6, business coaching, KAM via the EEN are evaluated from the SMEs as the most important.
Impact is achieved because a.) the client is provided an analysis of its company and this includes and in-depth discussion on its potential to further develop and grow, b.) the client is connected with the best possible coaching option, which fosters the business development of the client, c.) the client is supported in Phase 1 to improve the quality of his Phase 2 proposal and d.) the client receives access to further business acceleration services, which have matured in the period 2019.
In 2019, 83% of the clients that completed and evaluated their coaching packages in Austria agree/strongly agree that the coaching helped them improve their business strategy and contributed directly to a faster growth of their innovation project.

Enhancing Innovation Management Capacity for innovating SMEs (14 cases completed):
Direct impact of the EIMC service is unquestionably already realised by raising awareness for crucial topics in innovation management, which have so far been neglected by the SMEs. Focusing on such important issues and defining actions to address these gaps as well as receiving expertise on innovation management (idea management, innovation strategy, etc.) and helps build internal capacity, creating a sustainable impact for the SME. The EIMC services are also concretely reported to help SMEs in business growth and in access to finance, both in the EU funding and the investment landscape in Europe.
"The services were fully integrated into the work programme of the Enterprise Europe Network, linked to its other support services and closely coordinated with the National Contact Points and relevant regional and national stakeholders, as originally planned in the Implementation Strategy. This approach guaranteed a high quality of services promoting the successful introduction of Austrian innovations to the European and international market. New complementary actions were devised during 2019, offering further support of EIMC clients under COSME, further funding opportunities from national schemes and supporting of Seal of Excellence SMEs with access to finance (through Euroquity platform). The H2020 services were smoothly interlinked with the services offered under the COSME contract.
The KAM and EIMC services are unquestionably appreciated by the clients, however, it is very difficult to directly attribute ""considerable enhanced growth and profitability"" to these services alone. Other circumstances influence the business of the SME any time and much stronger than the KAM and EIMC services."