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

Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2018-08-31

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, enabling them to access a broader range of potential innovation partners across borders and timely mobilising them to seize promising opportunities to launch and implement innovation projects 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 among agrifood SMEs. 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 enables 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 active involvement of agri-food SMEs and innovation intermediaries, with a view to ensuring that the final results of the project are shaped according to their needs and expectations.

During the project, a total of 285 agrifood SMEs across Europe were supported either with the INNO-4-AGRIFOOD innovation support services or with the developed ICT tools, and 152 innovation consultants addressed their training needs via the project’s e-learning offering. The INNO-4-AGRIFOOD offerings were favourably assessed by the end-users, indicating their great post-project exploitation potential for promoting collaborative innovation among SMEs of the agrifood sector and beyond.
INNO-4-AGRIFOOD kicked-off with an in-depth analysis of the agrifood ecosystem and the needs of the SMEs and innovation intermediaries that operate in its context. An analysis of the agrifood value chain provided insights into the agrifood ecosystem and revealed value chain areas that stand to benefit the most from online collaboration for innovation support. An interview-based survey 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. Building on these findings, INNO-4-AGRIFOOD involved key stakeholders of the agrifood ecosystem in the co-design of its services, ICT tools and e-learning via 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 provision of its services, INNO-4-AGRIFOOD co-developed a suite of 3 ICT tools backed by a search engine specialised to the agrifood ecosystem, as well as a toolkit 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 and webinars, as well as practical e-learning courses in the form of 12 real-life video-supported case studies. A custom-made e-learning platform served as the project’s e-learning environment.

The innovation support services, ICT tools and e-learning environment of INNO-4-AGRIFOOD have been successfully deployed and tested in real-life operational environments during 3 separate deployment rounds, engaging 285 agrifood SMEs and 152 innovation intermediaries across Europe, with the data and feedback collected along the process fuelling their demand-driven validation and fine-tuning. Along the way, a well-tailored dissemination and communication strategy has been implemented to promote the results and benefits of INNO-4-AGRIFOOD, 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, issued newsletters and articles, attended several external events and created mutually beneficial synergies with relevant initiatives and networks.

By the end of the project, a detailed replication guide was developed and made publicly available, presenting the replication potential of the project’s approaches and results in the agrifood sector and beyond, highlighting success factors and lessons learnt. Besides, the exploitation strategy employed during the project paves the way for further exploitation of the INNO-4-AGRIFOOD offerings beyond the end of the project.
INNO-4-AGRIFOOD has supported 163 SMEs across more than 11 countries with its new innovation support services, while over 220 SMEs and innovation intermediaries have already benefitted from its ICT tools. At the same time, more than 600 innovation consultants have enrolled to the e-learning platform of the project from 58 different countries, with a firm footprint in Europe but also extending beyond its borders. In result, INNO-4-AGRIFOOD has 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 have engaged a considerable number of SMEs, innovation intermediaries and stakeholders into the testing and validation of its offers and paved the way for their widespread adoption. Finally, the meaningful experiences gained and lessons learnt throughout the duration of INNO-4-AGRIFOOD was compiled into a meaningful guide to drive the replication of the project’s results for the benefit of other major European sectors as well.