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INtegrated Support of oPen Innovation pRofessionalization initiative

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - INSPIRE (INtegrated Support of oPen Innovation pRofessionalization initiative)

Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-07-31

The problem addressed is the how policy-makers, academics and practitioners (e.g. SME managers) can understand better the process of Open Innovation (OI) from the perspective of SMEs. By default, SMEs must engage with identifying and using resources from outside their organisation, due their limited resources (limited capital, limited time etc.). In fact their limited resources characteristic is in tension with their increased ability to conceive new ideas and develop new approaches. However SMEs do not engage in the process of identifying and using external resources in a professional way, leading a process with a lot of shortcomings and most critically not serving their interests.

The vast amount of SMEs in Europe makes them a very significant element of our economy and our society. Firstly without SMEs and the specialised products and services they are offering, the economy would find very difficult to operate. For instance, one of the economy actors that would suffer a lot from a shortage of SMEs’ products and services would be the large corporations who are not able to produce (in an efficient way) the variety of tailored products and services that SMEs provide them. Secondly at least 50% of the working population works today in SMEs; improving the fortunes of SMEs means in practice improving the practices of their workforce and therefore improving the living standards of European society. Thirdly, according to recent research, setting-up and growing an SME is a high priority for a lot of young individuals; helping them to understand how to develop more effective mechanisms for growing their enterprises is certainly a critical help for a generation which suffers from the consequences of an economic crisis. Finally, historical research has proved time and time again, that a lot of the new and powerful innovation ideas come from smaller companies, enabling the economic system to renew but also to become more productive.

The INSPIRE project carries out a large research in all regions Europe to understand in depth the factors that play a role in this process. To achieve this, the INSPIRE team has carried out 116 case studies, investigating the process of OI for these SMEs, the challenges they experience and the solutions they gave. This understanding is used to develop management modules to support OI for the benefit of SMEs. These modules can be used by SMEs or by the people who support them (e.g. coaches, consultants, mentors, technology transfer officers etc.) The case studies and the management modules will form the INSPIRE system, a web-based system to become available to the European innovation ecosystem to support their SMEs.
The overview of results point confirm that:

1. OI is a vital ingredient to enable an SME to grow– the project has found a critical mass of evidence proving the vital role that OI plays in the development of an SME. More importantly the project found evidence that OI is a necessary complement of SMEs’ creativity and an enabling factor for turning creativity into value generation.
2. An important condition for OI to generate valuable outcomes for an SME is for the OI partnerships and activities to be fully in line with the SME strategic objectives and challenges. SMEs are often driven by external factors to choose with whom they collaborate (typical examples a funding opportunity or the potential of a large corporation). This can lead them into a process of serving the strategic interests of the collaborating party rather than their own interests and overall into a situation of not enjoying their fair share of the generated outcome.
3. The OI process for an SME needs to be a flexibly adjusted process with partnerships and activities being adjusted as the SME moves from one stage of their innovation journey to another.
4. A key element for providing support to SMEs in order to engage in OI is the development of simple and user-friendly methodologies that can be easily and intuitively understood by SME managers.

The project has developed a range of activities which were intended to promote the INSPIRE project to a wider audience of innovation support players throughout the European Union by communicating and disseminating information about its objectives, activities and outcomes. To reach these goals, our dissemination plan identified the target groups, the messages to share, the media mix and gave specific information about the planned activities, the tools to be employed and the roles of the partners (see Deliverable 5.1: 1 Dissemination and Communication Plan).

By the end of the project, the project website had received over 4,200 visits and over 10,000 page views. A LinkedIn group on “Open Innovation in SMEs” was set up with the project partners recruiting members for the group and contributing posts on Open Innovation themes. On average 1-2 posts were published on a weekly basis and by the end of the project 298 OI experts had signed up to the LinkedIn group. As far as dissemination through Facebook was concerned, rather than creating a new group it was decided to join forces with the Open Innovation in SMEs group which is managed by Professor Wim Vanhaverbeke from ESADE. INSPIRE news was regularly re-posted to its 891 members, thereby making it a regular contributor. The consortium partners were all involved in disseminating information about the initiative and its outputs, either though presentations at conferences and workshops or through the distribution of printed materials or the presence of a roll-up at selected public events on the theme of innovation. Three INSPIRE case studies were selected by the Triple Helix Association for publication in a special booklet and subsequently diffused to over 2,750 subscribers.

The project has undertaken a considerable effort to engage with a number of innovation stakeholders and communicate to them the outcome of the project. The project organised six regional workshops, one in each of the six regions of Europe (Eastern Europe, France and Germany, Scandinavia, Small Developed Countries, Southern Europe and UK and Ireland) which involved a total of 210 innovation stakeholders. The consortium also organised events in the international ISPIM 2019 conference (http://www.ispim.org). This event gave the opportunity to the INSPIRE project to access 550 innovation experts from more than 50 countries with 150 participants engaging more actively with the INSPIRE offering.
The INSPIRE outcome combined with other necessary steps to be undertaken by national and the European authorities have the potential for considerable socio-economic impact:

Firstly, policies for innovation in SMEs can re-establish the importance of supporting and fostering OI partnerships for SMEs, not only as a design of funding programmes but also for their actual reality.

Secondly, policy makers need to extend their views (and their resources) beyond the segment of science-based sectors and high-tech applications.

Thirdly the EU Commission should take action to help SMEs to get out of their national borders.
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