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Capitalising the full potential of on-line collaboration for SMEs innovation support in the Agri-Food ecosystem

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - INNO-4-AGRIFOOD (Capitalising the full potential of on-line collaboration for SMEs innovation support in the Agri-Food ecosystem)

Reporting period: 2016-03-01 to 2017-08-31

More than 11 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are active within the combined agricultural and food sector of Europe. European agri-food SMEs, ranging from farmers and food processors over to distributors and retailers, are constantly challenged to meet the needs of an ever changing market and sidestep price-based competition by innovating and enhancing their competitiveness. To this end, the use of digital platforms and tools to collaborate online for innovation holds great potential for agri-food SMEs by enabling them to access a broader range of potential innovation partners across borders as well as to timely mobilise them to seize promising opportunities to launch and implement innovation projects, both efficiently and effectively. Still, many agri-food SMEs have yet to tap into the potential of online collaboration to innovate and grow.

With that in mind, INNO-4-AGRIFOOD is set on facilitating online collaboration for innovation amongst agri-food SMEs. To this end, the project aims at enhancing the service portfolio and practices of innovation intermediaries by providing them with a blend of demand-driven value propositions. These include a set of novel innovation support services and ICT tools that emphasise online collaboration for innovation as well as a suite of e-learning courses that will enable innovation intermediaries to acquire the necessary knowledge and skill-set to support online collaboration for innovation. All the value propositions of INNO-4-AGRIFOOD are iteratively co-developed, demonstrated and validated in real-life contexts with the active involvement of agri-food SMEs and their innovation intermediaries, with a view to ensuring that the final results of the project are shaped according to their needs and expectations.
The work performed under the frame of INNO-4-AGRIFOOD kicked-off with an in-depth analysis of the agri-food ecosystem and the needs of the SMEs and innovation intermediaries that operate within its context. An analysis of the agri-food value chain, based on a literature review and in-depth interviews with agri-food stakeholders, provided insights into the agri-food ecosystem and revealed value chain areas that stand to benefit the most from online collaboration for innovation support. An interview-based survey of 56 agri-food SMEs and innovation intermediaries from 15 different countries, shed ample light on the needs of SMEs in terms of online collaboration for innovation, while a skills gaps analysis unearthed the training needs of innovation intermediaries across the EU, based on data gathered through 12 in-depth interviews and 79 responses to an EU-wide online survey. Building on the findings of these activities, INNO-4-AGRIFOOD involved 21 key stakeholders of the agri-food ecosystem in the co-design of its services, tools and e-learning under the frame of a dedicated co-creation workshop.

The innovative concepts and ideas generated during the co-creation workshop led to the co-design of 3 new innovation support services: the “Agribusiness Scan” service, which provides SMEs with a better understanding of their position in the agri-food value chain, supporting them to identify the collaborations they should seek to innovate and grow internationally; the “Online Innovation Platforms” service, that supports SMEs to integrate the use of online innovation platforms to their everyday business and increase the number of innovation opportunities they can timely identify and seize with the help of their innovation intermediaries; and the “Online Collaboration Apps” service, which offers SMEs practical knowledge and hands-on practice on the use of online collaboration tools, with a view to making their cooperation with innovation partners and intermediaries more convenient and cost-effective across long distances.

In order to support the efficient and effective provision of its services, INNO-4-AGRIFOOD co-developed a search engine specialised to the agri-food ecosystem, accessible via 3 dedicated apps (web and mobile) and available in 9 different languages as well as a Services Toolkit packed with useful ready-made material to be employed during the service delivery process by innovation intermediaries. Along the same lines and to address their training needs in terms of online collaboration for innovation support, a tailored training curriculum was elaborated according to the outcomes of the co-creation workshop, guiding the development of 14 interactive e-learning modules featuring gamified exercises, quizzes and webinars as well as practical e-learning courses in the form of 8 real-life video-supported case studies. A custom-made e-learning platform was also set up to host the modules and case studies, serving as the project’s e-learning environment.

The innovation support services, tools and e-learning environment of INNO-4-AGRIFOOD have been already successfully deployed and tested in real-life operational environments once over the course of the project, with the data and feedback collected along the process fueling their demand-driven validation and fine-tuning. Along the way, a well-tailored dissemination and communication strategy has been implemented to promote the results of INNO-4-AGRIFOOD and their benefits, while also fostering participation in their testing and validation. In this respect, INNO-4-AGRIFOOD has developed well-tailored promotional material, set-up its Advisory and Beneficiaries Boards, animated its web portal and social media pages, issued informative newsletters and articles, attended several external events and created mutually beneficial synergies relevant initiatives and networks.
INNO-4-AGRIFOOD has already supported 25 SMEs across 6 countries with its new innovation support services, while over 40 SMEs and innovation intermediaries, spread over 14 countries, have already benefited from its search tool and apps. At the same time, more than 110 innovation consultants across have enrolled to the e-learning platform of the project from 29 different countries, with a firm footprint in Europe but also extending beyond its borders. In result, INNO-4-AGRIFOOD has already started introducing and facilitating online collaboration for innovation in the agri-food sector, empowering SMEs to capitalise on its potential to unlock their own innovation potential. At the same time, the project has been enhancing the innovation support capacity and efficiency of innovation intermediaries, contributing towards safeguarding and reinforcing the competitiveness of the European agri-food ecosystem.

The activities of the project will continue to escalate engaging more agri-food SMEs, innovation intermediaries and stakeholders into the testing and validation of its offers and paving the way for their widespread adoption. Finally, the meaningful experiences gained and lessons learned throughout the duration of INNO-4-AGRIFOOD will be compiled over the next period of the project into a meaningful guide to drive the replication its results for the benefit of other major European sectors as well.
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