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Establishing services enhancing the innovation management capacity of SMEs by the Enterprise Europe Network in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, in 2020-21

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Innovation.NRW (Establishing services enhancing the innovation management capacity of SMEs by the Enterprise Europe Network in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, in 2020-21)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-12-31

The Enterprise Europe Network in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (NRW.Europa) received the Framework Partnership Agreement (FPA) from the EASME encompassing the main activities and services of the Network, i.e. the work packages:
• Advice, support and information services (Work package 1)
• Cross-border partnership services for business cooperation, technology transfer and innovation and research (2)
• SME feedback activities (3)
• Promotion of the Network and communication activities (5)
• Network building and reinforcing the Network (6)

Whilst Work Package 4 “Specific activities in the context of innovation support (Horizon 2020/Horizon Europe)” is an integrated component of the Enterprise Europe Network, it is financed from a separate budget within the European Programme for Research and Innovation. That is why the EASME launched a separate call for proposals with which to define the relevant content, methods and objectives.

Our understanding of innovation and innovation management is oriented at business opportunities that ZENIT is pursuing the following objectives in the Innovation.NRW project:
• To maintain and expand the innovation capacity and competitiveness of the participating SMEs.
• To analyse, develop and implement innovative business opportunities and possibilities for and with the participating SMEs.
• To advise the participating SMEs as well as possible using standardized processes and methods, which have to be individually adapted in accordance with SMEs needs.
• To identify and analyse models and good practice examples of innovation management in SMEs and examine how these can be transferred to other enterprises.
• To exchange knowledge and experience with other institutions in the Enterprise Europe Network and learn from each other.
• To evaluate and structure SME’s coaching requirements in order to identify suitable coaches for the SME Instrument/EIC accelerator.
The service packages defined by the European Commission/EASME are only foreseen for a limited number of enterprises. They address two target groups:
• Beneficiaries of the SME Instrument/EIC accelerator, Fast-Track-To-Innovation and FET-OPEN of Horizon 2020/Horizon Europe (Key Account Management, KAM)
• SMEs with significant innovation activities and a high potential for internationalization (promising SMEs with gaps in the innovation management system).

Both service packages were only provided by ZENIT, the Co-ordinator of the Enterprise Europe Network in the German federal state North Rhine-Westphalia, which is called NRW.Europa.
The central feature of innovation is not the idea or a new technical principle in itself, but in-stead the implementation under real market conditions. This also means following challenges and barriers to innovation, which can only be mastered through systematic and methodically varied innovation management:
• Knowledge and consideration of the interests and motivation of the persons involved, which can broadly be classified in three categories (followers, observers, opponents)
• Short-term need for investment in the innovations, but at first only longer term effect and income, i.e. success is not immediately visible
• Inertia and anxieties on the part of customers, suppliers and partners
• Real and supposed market barriers (approval, certificates, norms)
• “Unavoidable teething problems” of technical/organizational innovations and thus also aspects such as rectification, risk management and liability
• Imitators or ruinous competition from players with a dominant market position
• Increasing parallelism of development and implementation, i.e. the acceleration of innovation processes and at the same time a shortening of innovation cycles through information and communication technologies and in particular through the Internet
That means that innovation is dependent on management-related skills. This includes leadership, timing, strategy, power of persuasion, keeping options open, making decisions even in the face of resistance, as well as coalitions and networks.

This project was to be understood as an integrated component of the Enterprise Europe Network in North Rhine-Westphalia. The interfaces and interactions were described in the section on identifying and addressing SMEs.

As the motor for economic growth, SMEs play a pivotal role in reaching the objectives of the Europe 2020/Horizon Europe strategy. Yet at present their competitiveness is hindered by a lack of exploitation of the opportunities offered by internationalization and innovation. Significant deficits in many SMEs are lack of management capacity for growth-oriented internationalization and innovation planning, a shortage of resources (time and money, but also access to knowledge and experts) and an overall weakness in strategic orientation. There is a need for a fundamental and thorough investigation of internationalization and innovation opportunities - using audits, reviews and the new innovation services as a basis. Despite often excellent products and technologies, there is still considerable unexploited innovation potential. Therefore one of the main areas defined and described in the Implementation Strategy for the Enterprise Europe Network in North Rhine-Westphalia is as following: “Provision of value added information and advisory services through a clearly defined, documented and monitored impact-driven delivery process.”
As a result the impact of this project Innovation.NRW is dependent on, but will also influence directly the goals, approaches and performance of the work packages mentioned above and financed within the COSME-programme. All activities by the consortium will fulfil the objective of promoting the Network’s brand and visual identity.

The innovation services provided by the Enterprise Europe Network and financed by the European Horizon 2020/Horizon Europe programme make a direct contribution to the competitiveness and innovation capacity of the SMEs involved. A large number of jobs will either be secured or new ones created as a result of the EEN’s expanded service offer. Impact will also be ensured by increasing the client base in a two-fold approach. Repeat clients are evidence of impact. To secure repeat clients, NRW.Europa will focus on “cross-selling” different Network services and newly developed services to existing clients to raise client benefit. The client base and thus also impact will additionally be increased through the acquisition of new clients, for example by targeting specific groups through cooperation activities with the project’s Stakeholder Network. By working with stakeholders and clusters, the project achieves the greatest possible level of promotion for Network services. Integrating services along the entire value chain is a further method of creating greater impact as is raising visibility and awareness by establishing the brand further. A means to measure this impact is systematic documentation of the services delivered to repeat and new clients as well as close follow-up of the results.
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