A first overview analysis of the INTERREG IVC projects addressing the Innovation Capacity of SMEs theme allows us to conclude that in general their objectives as described in their application form are very well aligned with the main barriers to innovation faced by SMEs, as identified in the previous chapter. A first exercise of classification of projects in terms of the barriers to the Innovation Capacity of SMEs addressed in their objectives is performed below.
- Table overview
Table 5 – Matching of project objectives with barriers
Project Objectives Barrier Addressed SMART+
1. “to foster the participation of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in networks and clusters”
2. “to provide SMEs with better access to RTD and business partners”
3. “to develop strategies for the marketing of innovative ideas”
4. “to improve the capacities of employees in SMEs for RTD and innovation management through training and the support of experts”
1. Weaknesses in networking and cooperation with external parties
2. Lack of internal research capabilities
3. Insufficient marketing of innovation from the side of SMEs
4. Shortages in skills to manage innovation, IPR and knowledge
InnoHubs “to address the problem of SMEs in Edge Cities that have been found to be very inward-looking to the Capital and that do not make use of wider international commercial links and opportunities, which can affect their capacity for growth and competitiveness” Insufficient marketing of innovation from the side of SMEs InnoMot “to improve the development and adoption of new business models in SMEs by designing, implementing and managing strategies, policies and tools, the aims of which are to improve non-technological innovation, and especially regarding the factors related with the motivation of SMEs’ owners and managers” Shortages in skills to manage innovation, IPR and knowledge Mini-Europe
1. “to enhance cooperation and knowledge exchange between SMEs and knowledge institutes”
2. “to provide a good innovation infrastructure to new entrepreneurs”
1. Weaknesses in networking and cooperation with external parties DISTRICT+
1. “to modernise traditional manufacturing sectors through product innovation and internationalisation strategies for global competitiveness”;
2. “to foster the interaction between knowledge providers and enterprises to increase the innovation capability of firms with a focus on eco-innovation”;
3. “to provide innovative financial products and services”;
4. “to support innovative entrepreneurship for young researchers”;
5. “to develop regional innovation skills through professional training in the field of innovation management”;
6. “to build regional and local strategic planning capacity in front of global transitions through foresight techniques and technological audit”
1. Insufficient marketing of innovation from the side of SMEs
2. Lack of internal research capabilities
3. Shortage of financial resources for innovation
5. Shortages in skills to manage innovation, IPR and knowledge
1. “Creation and development of R&D Departments”
2. Young Innovative Enterprise (YIE) Contract
4. “Example of Innovation Voucher in Aquitaine”
5. “Methodology programme to support companies interested in developing new products by using design”
6. “International cooperation visits”
7. “Funding of participation in foreign trade fairs”
8. “Cluster management services”
1. Lack of internal research capabilities
4. Shortage of financial resources for innovation
5. Shortages in skills to manage innovation, IPR and knowledge
6. Insufficient marketing of innovation by SMEs
7. Insufficient marketing of innovation by SMEs
8. Weaknesses in networking and cooperation with external parties
ERIK ACTION “To upgrade the innovation capacity of existing enterprises in the partner regions, by using structural funds to capitalise on results from previous projects, addressing key factors of innovation capacity such as : innovation/business strategy, knowledge management incl. collaboration with external resources, innovation finance incl. funding schemes, HR management incl. training models and an innovation friendly environment incl. Corporate Social Responsibility” ALL
*Practices from the Reference Guide of PERIA
This initial positioning – in terms of objectives – of the projects in face of the most common barriers to innovation capacity of SMEs is represented in figure below, which provides a useful overview on the overall trends and focus of projects.
Figure Nº 4 – Initial Positioning of analysed INTERREG IVC Projects
The figure and table above shows that the INTERREG IVC projects under the theme of the Innovation Capacity of SMEs offer a good and uniform coverage of the barriers identified in terms of objectives. All barriers are covered by a minimum of 3 projects and a maximum of 5 (for the 7 projects under analysis), with 2 projects covering all barriers, 2 projects covering 4 and 3 projects covering 1 barrier each.
This allows us to conclude that the INTERREG IVC programme and projects are relevant for the theme of the Innovation Capacity of SMEs in Europe, demonstrating a good alignment between both the top-down programme general framework and the bottom-up project objectives, with the main priorities and challenges faced by SMEs in Europe regarding innovation.
1. Analysis of individual core projects
In this subsection, an analysis of each INTERREG IVC project is performed, and a selection of relevant good practices addressed by the project is performed.
1.1 SMART+: MINI-PROGRAMME FOR SME INNOVATION AND PROMOTION OF RTD
SMART+ covers the innovation capacity of SMEs in a broad sense, as a general and long-term objective. The shorter-term operational objectives are focused on the qualification of regional public officials and institutions and the analysis of the regional policy instruments and their adjustment according to the identified good practices and needs of the regional SMEs. The project is structured as a Mini-Programme supporting sub-projects, and responsibility for concrete actions towards SMEs is mostly transferred to these sub-projects.
The SMART+ mini-programme is supporting 6 sub-projects that address the ‘innovation capacity of SMEs’ topic:
- Innovative and Responsible Tourism Territories (IART Territories): IART TERRITORIES aims at the creation of a business network for the field of sustainable tourism in each partner region. This network will support SMEs by providing training in resource management planning, developing innovative products and territorial marketing as well as in responsible tourism practices towards the environment, society and the territory's resources. In addition, the network will build an online platform to promote the exchange of ideas, experiences and tools for entrepreneurship, to search for financing and instruments for marketing between the SMEs of all European regions taking part in the project.
- Strengthening Competences of Early Stage Finance Managers (Innofin): This subproject is dedicated to the exchange of knowledge and experience in the early stage financing market in the partner regions. It aims to promote excellence and professionalism in the early stage financing sector through an intensive promotional and awareness raising exercise and in particular through a training methodology and programme for practitioners (not necessarily SMEs).
- Clusters and networks as successful drivers – guiding regions to competitiveness and innovation (regioNet): The goal of regioNet is the transfer of good practice related to network management (establishment, coordination, hosting and moderation, implementation of R&D projects, etc.) between the partner regions in order to overcome obstacles for SME cooperation. Sub-project activities include regional seminars on cluster activities as well as training of network management teams.
- The Role of Innovative Services in the Tourism Market to Support Regional Development (Smart Tourism): The goal of the project is to exchange experiences about destination management (tourism) activities and good practices in mobile applications and contribute to building regional tourism clusters and setting up collaborations on an interregional/international level. Pilot activities are focused on training.
- SMEs Go Global Networks (SMEsGoNET): SMEGoNET targets SMEs and academia from life sciences and related sectors, aiming to increase the capabilities of cluster-type initiatives, and to increase the capabilities of individual SMEs and R&D institutions to effectively collaborate within local and international networks through a Web-based training programme and a service website.
- Transnational Renewable Energy Cluster (TREC): The goal of this sub-project is the creation of a transnational renewable energy cluster by setting up two regional clusters in Cluj and Western Macedonia and by benefitting from the members and the good practices transferred by the existing renewable energy clusters and networks from Saxony.
SMART+ targets the improvement of the innovation capacity of SMEs in general, and its objectives and activities cover most of the barriers to innovation in SMEs, as currently identified in Europe, with a major focus on the topic of networking and promotion of cooperation and especially on cluster creation and management as the favoured tool for promoting the innovation capacity of SMEs.
Good Practice analysis: As the focus of SMART+ is that of a mini-programme managing sub-projects, the analysis is made at this level. Overall, there is a focus on the topic of ‘weaknesses in networking and cooperation with external parties, and a particular emphasis on cluster policies, either cluster creation or cluster management.
Figure Nº 5: SMART+ - Analysis of Content
There is a clear concentration of selected sub-projects in a single topic, as a result of the response to a bottom-up call for proposals open for six topics. This can show a clear trend by regional actors towards the creation and management of clusters or a deficit of specialisation in the other areas.
An interesting sub-project, due to the way it succeeds in bringing support services closer to SMEs, is ‘IART Territories’. In this sub-project, partners work with local SMEs, mainly from the tourism sector, to help them improve their marketing plans (on an international level) and increase their web presence. In this sense, the partners actually take the role of ‘penholders’ for a group of SMEs with limited resources, with a view to enhancing their digital skills and internationalisation. At the level of cluster policies, which is the main focus of SMART+, the sub-project ‘SMEs Go Global Networks (SMEsGoNet)’ is a good example of cluster management activities in a particular sector (life sciences) and oriented towards the deployment, at cluster level, of value-added services tailored to the needs of SMEs related to internationalisation and research & development cooperation.
IART Territories: this sub-project of the SMART+ promotes the creation of a network of companies that work with the endogenous resources of each territory. This tourism network aims at the creation of innovative products linked to the endogenous resources as a fundamental principle of responsible tourism. To achieve this objective, partners act as penholders for micro-companies from the tourism sector in their regions in order to assist them to develop an international marketing plan and establish a web presence. The target is well-defined, and actual added-value services are deployed at local level towards final beneficiaries in a small-scale measure with a good potential reach. It should be noted that while several programmes and measures exist in many regions across Europe to assist SMEs to transition towards a digital economy, many small and micro-companies do not have the resources to access or to implement it on their own. Targeted projects where partners play the role of penholders for groups of such companies, such as in IART Territories, is one of the best means to assist them.
SMEsGoNet: SMEGoNET targets SMEs and academia from life sciences and related sectors. On the one hand, it aims to increase the capabilities of cluster-type initiatives to define and manage joint initiatives increasing the local and global competitiveness of members. On the other hand, SMEGoNET aims to increase the capabilities of individual SMEs and R&D institutions to effectively collaborate within local and international networks to apply the open innovation concept in order to professionally leverage diversity of resources available in the network and to strategically manage business innovation processes, including those related to learning and management of knowledge assets.
Main conclusions and recommendations:
- A sub-project such as ‘IART Territories’ highlights the potential role of regional intermediaries (the typical partner in INTERREG IVC projects) as ‘pen holders’ for a group of SMEs (from a specific sector, region or with common needs), allowing them to overcome their limited resources by contributing with the regional intermediate resources (either internal or external, e.g. through external consultants) to overcome needs and problems of the SMEs, in this particular case in the field of digital skills and internationalisation. This reduces the distance between regional actors and final beneficiaries (SMEs) and produces tangible results in the short term;
- A different approach towards the same objective, equally relevant, is found under the sub-projects addressing cluster creation and management, such as Smart Tourism, TREC, regioNET or SMEsGoNet. In this case, by creating and reinforcing cluster management structures supported by regional intermediaries, better services can be deployed to specific groups of SMEs (e.g. tourism sector as in Smart Tourism, life sciences as in SMEsGoNet or energy as in TREC) in aspects such as access to research & development infrastructures or internationalisation. This approach has the advantage of sustainability as the created or supported cluster management structures can persist beyond the end of the project.
1.2 INNOHUBS: INNOVATION HUBS FOR EDGE CITIES
INNOHUBS focused on Urban innovation, building from a group of ‘edge cities’ (cities on the edge of the major capitals of Europe) grouped under the Edge Cities Network (ECN).
While the project addressed the Innovation Capacity of SMEs in general, the main focus of its objectives was on entrepreneurship, with the main aim being to identify and exchange Good Practices about support and promotion of local entrepreneurship and innovative SMEs among the partner Edge Cities. This would be achieved through the creation of an ‘innohub’ in each city, building on the experience of the Lead Partner City (Nacka), where an innohub is defined as “an open counselling, advising and mentoring resource staffed by local experts from the academia and business environment, available for private persons as well as businessmen and other entrepreneurs, for commercializing ideas from start to finish, from an invention to an innovation”. While this ‘innohub’ can support and guide entrepreneurs-to-be in the process of creation of a new company, in practice the main focus in most partners has been on supporting existing SMEs in their business development and internationalisation efforts, which brings the project further into the ‘Innovation Capacity of SMEs’ sphere.
In methodological terms, the INNOHUBS project proposed a breakdown of innovation support along the following chain: PROMOTING MINDSET – TRAINING - START-UP – OPERATION – GROWTH – COLLABORATION; for each stage, different Good Practices will be identified, analysed and transferred.
The first three stages (Promoting Mindset, Training, Start-up) are clearly entrepreneurship-oriented, focused on university students, and out of the scope of the present analysis. The other three (Operation, Growth, Collaboration) are related to innovation capacity of SMEs in general, and – following the orientation given by the different partners - especially focused on addressing insufficient marketing of innovation including lack of information and skills to access international markets.
The main outcome of INNOHUBS is the localization effort carried out by most partners, so as to incorporate Good Practices from other cities into local, permanent, sustainable structures, with a good level of interaction with local businesses. This resulted in a ‘deeper’ relationship between local partners – local businesses than initially estimated, going further than the mere awareness raising, into the stages of active support, for the development of innovation and internationalisation in the assisted companies.
Good Practice analysis: The project addressed a total of 34 Good Practices, in the concerned cities / regions. Of these, 12 Good Practices are clearly relevant for the ‘innovation capacity of SMEs’ topic, and are presented below:
Figure Nº 6: InnoHubs - Analysis of Content
The flow of the Good Practices has mainly been from Northern partners (Necka, Ballerup) towards Southern ones (Loures, Getafe, to a minor scale North Down) – as Vera Velhinho from Loures has said “it is easier to get inspiration from Northern partners, which are one step further into the resolution of problems, then from Southern ones, which are at the same stage and facing the same difficulties”.
Of particular interest in terms of the result of this transfer of good practices and knowledge within the project are the ‘Investment Information and Support Service – SIAI’ at the City of Loures, which has mobilised local and national actors for the support of local businesses and is expected to evolve into the ‘Loures Innovation Centre’ and the ‘Business Accelerator Service in Getafe’. In both cases, these support structures are intended to address insufficient internationalisation and lack of funding of SMEs, working as brokerage centres through the mobilisation of external actors and potential partners, building on successful experiences of Nordic countries. The ROSIO Good Practice from Pernik, Bulgaria, is also a permanent infrastructure for advising companies on investment opportunities and grant support that has benefited from the experience of the Nordic city partners in this field.
‘Investment Information and Support Service – SIAI (City of Loures, PT)’: SIAI is a free public service provided by the Municipality of Loures to attract investment to the area and help local companies to expand. A range of information and technical support services is offered that covers aspects such as the availability of commercial buildings and development land, demographics of the area, legal, finance, tax and licensing issues. SIAI also assists in the preparation of economic studies and internationalisation projects when required. The service streamlines the processes involved in establishing, relocating or expanding a business, and 60% of projects presented to SIAI are successfully concluded. But SIAI is still a project in construction, building from the knowledge gained in the project (especially from reviewing the more mature Good Practices presented by the city of Nacka) and expected to further evolve into a permanent infrastructure to support the internationalisation of local companies, the ‘Loures Innovation Centre’. As such, it is a good example of how policy learning can be used to enhance and develop existing local support infrastructures.
Business Accelerator Service (City of Getafe, ES): The Business Accelerator Service is jointly managed by Technogetafe and the Madrid Network’s technology and innovation division, and its purpose is to generate wealth and jobs in the greater region of Madrid and in particular in Getafe. By supporting a process of innovation, the service seeks to maximise the potential of businesses in high-growth sectors. Upon acceptance into the programme, businesses are given consultancy support in the preparation of a business growth plan. This plan is then used to seek funding for implementation, either in the form of loans or equity finance. The ‘Business Accelerator Service’ in Getafe has evolved during the project lifespan from a traditional incubator model to a more service oriented model of assisting new ventures and SMEs in attracting investors and external funding. The contribution of the project to the transformation of these structures is clear.
Rosio (City of Pernik, BG): This Good Practice from Bulgaria consists of a Regional One-Stop Investment Office (ROSIO) designed to address the low levels of economic activity in the municipality of Pernik and surrounding counties. Its purpose is to facilitate public-private partnerships as a means of increasing the competitiveness of these economies, and improving the appeal of the region for economic investment, namely through a better use of available national public grants.
Main conclusions and recommendations:
- The INNOHUBS project demonstrates the added-value of international projects involving different regions across Europe with different innovation contexts, for the promotion of knowledge transfer from more advanced regions (in terms of innovation systems) to less mature ones, resulting in the improvement of local policies and support structures for SMEs in the latter;
- The project also shows the importance of consolidated partnerships, such as the ‘Edge Cities Network (ECN)’, from which the project stems; a network that brings together towns and cities on the edge of the major capitals of Europe. This common background, allows partners to move more quickly into the objectives of the project and contributes towards the future sustainability of its results.
1.3 INNOMOT: IMPROVING REGIONAL POLICIES PROMOTING AND MOTIVATING NON-TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION IN SMES
INNOMOT focuses on the topic of non-technological innovation, and the main objective of the project is to prepare the deployment of new policies and programmes to support the adoption of non-technological innovations by SMEs in the Regions involved (policy learning). In operational terms, the project is aware of the need to convince SME managers to use a part of their time to define and implement innovation policies and to develop and adopt non-technological innovations in the companies. The objectives will be reached through the involvement and implication of the organisations in charge of the design and implementation of the innovation policies in the partner regions.
The project addresses a topic which is rather new within the INTERREG IVC programme since most projects in the topic address technological innovation. Because of this new focus, there may be a temptation to consider “mostly everything not directly targeted at technological innovation” as a Good Practice – so it is important to know how the project has been able to draw the line between innovative ‘non-technological’ measures and simple modernisation or support to investment initiatives. The aim of the project has been to identify relevant Good Practices in the different regions and assess such programmes in terms of their contribution to the non-technological innovation capacity of the SMEs it assists, so as to promote their development and transfer to other regions.
The main content challenge of the project is to improve the development and adoption of new business models in SMEs by designing, implementing and managing strategies, policies and tools, whose aims are to improve non-technological innovation, especially regarding the factors related to the motivation of SMEs’ owners and managers (awareness raising).
Good Practice analysis: INNOMOT is still at an initial stage of implementation. From the start, the project has had to cope with the very different levels of maturity between concerned regions, with regard to support to service / non-technological innovation, and with the difficulty of finding support measures that are relevant for non-technological innovation.
Figure Nº 7: InnoMot - Analysis of Content
The project identified a total of 34 Good Practices, half (17) of which are clearly relevant in terms of (non-technological) innovation support to SMEs. Of these GPs identified by the consortium, some are more specific to non-technological innovation while others are very close to traditional technological innovation support.
Amongst the most relevant are ‘IVEX’ from the Valencia region, a multilateral procurement programme to assist companies to do business in international markets, especially within the framework of public procurement processes, and ‘Organisational Innovation’ from Emilia Romagna, the main objective of which is to enhance the development of companies through innovation processes, supporting the evolution of the productive system towards a knowledge society. Also ‘Mindshake’ from the region of Navarra, Spain, is a good example of an innovation support measure focused on non-technological innovation.
‘IVEX- MULTILATERAL PROCUREMENT PROGRAMME’ (Valencia): Ivex designed and implemented a programme aimed at assisting companies to do business with multilateral organisations (such as United Nations funding programmes or EuropeAid), which fund projects and procure goods and services in international markets. Assistance is provided in two different phases: i) inception: information, analysis and evaluation, validation and strategy design and ii) operational assistance in Spain and in selected countries: Market selection and management. Information is provided to companies through a website containing business opportunities, reports on the business environment and selected sectors such as water, energy, construction in 22 countries. At a strategic level, IVEX has designed and implemented a training programme, which provides assistance to companies new to external markets through seminars and workshops, cooperation sessions and business missions to the head offices of the multilateral organisations and to the target countries. Finally, at operational level, support with the management of projects can be provided via the network of IVEX delegations abroad and in Spain and experts in international public procurement.
Supporting projects and services of organisational innovation (Emilia Romagna): the main objective of this practice is to enhance the development of companies through innovation processes, supporting the evolution of the productive system towards a knowledge society. It is thus intended to support development processes and management innovation aimed at improving the quality of management in small companies in terms of strategic trends, operational effectiveness, the organisational development of marketing, and also through the use of ICT. Supported projects have to be developed through a process of transmission of knowledge to the companies by external managers/ temporary managers (i.e. management buy-out mechanism). The temporary managers have much experience and a high level of professional skills strategically connected to one of the above mentioned objectives/areas of improvement, and they act on a temporary basis.
Mindshake (Navarra): This programme has been created by CEIN, a public company under the aegis of the Government of Navarra, which has been working on issues of creativity and innovation for more than a decade. In 2011, it launched Navarra Factori as a space designed to develop creativity and innovation. A pilot project was carried out in order to systematise innovation in companies, which evolved into the Mindshake measure. The programme addresses SMEs interested in promoting and incorporating creativity and innovation in their internal processes in a systematic way; they are coached by an external consultant.
Main conclusions and recommendations:
- INNOMOT is focused on non-technological innovation, with a focus on reviewing current policies and practices, with a view to their sharing and possible transfer within participating regions. In line with INTERREG IVC principles of policy learning and sharing, this development around existing policy measures offers an easier and faster option for addressing service / non-technological innovation than designing new policies;
- In the specific case of non-technological innovation, it should be noted that general innovation policy support measures that are not service specific are often technology biased and content, evaluation procedures, funding criteria, and skills have mainly developed around technological issues rather than service innovation. To be effective, existing policy measures (such as IVEX, Mindshakes or Organisational Innovation) need to be carefully evaluated and restructured so that they can become policy instruments that take account of ‘missing elements’ of services (or non-technological) innovation;
- Hence, complementary to the ongoing review of existing good practices, it is recommended to also put focus on the design of new policies (through ‘think tanks’, ‘crowdsourcing methods’ or similar).
1.4 MINI-EUROPE: MAINSTREAMING INNOVATIVE INSTRUMENTS FOR SME DEVELOPMENT IN EUROPE
Mini-Europe aimed to exchange and develop regional policies in SME development, focusing on the main theme of providing an improved infrastructure for innovation support to SMEs within the participating regions. Within the proposal, the main areas of intervention were defined as enhancing cooperation and knowledge exchange between SMEs and knowledge institutes (addressing the issue of lack of research capabilities in SMEs) and providing a good innovation infrastructure to new entrepreneurs. The project aimed at developing regional policy instruments and strategies for support to small and medium-sized enterprises (through identification and transfer of Good Practices) and to initiate their implementation in the partner regions focused on the creation of an innovation infrastructure, using ‘policy learning’ instruments such as the ‘creative workshops’ – brainstorming meetings for partners where Good Practices (their content and suitability for other regions) were discussed.
Later, during the project implementation, six areas of intervention were finally defined: Clusters (weaknesses in networking); Extending Entrepreneurship; Financial Instruments (lack of funding for Innovation); Internationalisation (insufficient marketing of innovation); Knowledge Transfer (lack of research capabilities) and Support for Innovation (mainly non-technological innovation, or shortages in skills to manage innovation, IPR and knowledge). Good Practices have been identified and addressed in all these areas, with sound results: 26 GPs identified, 16 matches made, 10 transfers accomplished by the end of the project, 6 still being performed. And while the most visible impact of the project has been achieved in the topic of entrepreneurship, due to the emphasis placed on the Good Practice ‘Summer Entrepreneur’, transferred to 4 regions, each time adapted to local context, and with solid results, other measures towards SMEs have also been successful.
MINI EUROPE has addressed regional instruments and infrastructures to support SMEs in innovation (e.g. information, services, advice, coaching, and networking) and has developed strong networking activities with a high level of involvement from regional policymakers to ensure the future implementation and mainstreaming of the policies adopted. By bringing together and capitalising their methods and experiences, the partners have successfully engaged in several bilateral transfers of experience.
Good Practice analysis: The MINI EUROPE project focused on a set of regional policy instruments and strategies to locally sustain the development of small and medium enterprises and their innovation capacities, with an emphasis on the instruments and measures below:
- Clusters: innovative development of productive clusters (from the Veneto region): a programme started in 2003 in the Veneto Region aiming at financing joint activities by organisations in the same sector; within Mini-Europe’s activities particular attention has been paid to the Wine Cluster developed in Veneto, which has been taken as a case-study for other regions;
- Clusters: Cluster Support Environment Model (from North West England): this practice is focused on meeting the physical infrastructure requirements of clusters through a combination of available premises and support services;
- Financial Instruments: Financial Engineering Programme (from Veneto): a programme consisting of a mix of financial engineering tools for meeting SMEs’ funding needs, including three integrated tools: a system of guarantees for innovative investments, a revolving fund for SMEs’ innovative investments and a venture capital and private equity fund;
- Internationalisation: I-CREO network (from Valencia): a programme aiming to give support to business associations (clusters) formed by SMEs through the hiring of innovation experts in order to seek, propose and mature new business opportunities, including in export markets;
- Knowledge Transfer: Genomnanotech Debrecen Regional Knowledge Center (from Észak-Alföld): a programme for developing R&D and technology transfer to industry in the field of Genomics, Nano and Biotechnologies based in the Debrecen University Region.
- Support for Innovation: Summer Design Office (from Mid Sweden): a project that project matches design students with companies, and where students work on brief projects for companies during the summer holiday (between semesters).
Figure Nº 8: Mini-Europe - Analysis of Content
Mini-Europe has been very successful in terms of transfer of Good Practices (26 GPs identified, 10 transferred), and part of this success comes from focusing in on ‘achievable’ measures: measures that can be started and completed (and measured) within a relative short period.
This feature is shared by the Good Practice ‘Summer Design Office’ that has a lot in common with ‘Summer Entrepreneur’ but is aimed at contributing to overcoming SME weaknesses in terms of design skills. It is relatively easy to implement on a small scale, within a short time-frame and within controlled resources, is addressed to a targeted audience and targets a specific topic (in this case the design of new products). Its success is however harder to measure – while the success of ‘Summer Entrepreneur’ can almost instantly be measured by the number of new ventures created (even if many never leave the ground), the launch of new products based on design is dependent on longer life-cycles and companies are more reluctant to release information on it. Nevertheless, it is still a good example of what a transferable Good Practice should be, in terms of scale, duration and means of implementation.
Another good example and a popular measure across several INTERREG IVC projects addressing the Innovation Capacity of SMEs is ‘Innovoucher’. Voucher schemes, originally from the Netherlands, have represented a breakthrough in terms of innovation support measures, offering an easy, quick, red-tape free mechanism to support small-scale cooperation projects between SMEs and knowledge or service providers, capable of causing a nearly immediate impact. As such, they are valuable content for assessment and transfer towards regions wishing to improve their local support policies towards SMEs.
Summer Design Office (Sweden): The Summer Design Office is now a nation-wide programme in Sweden, started in 1998 as a way to bring companies and students together and forge new influences on companies via students studying different disciplines. Up until 2010, the programme was conducted in more than 130 municipalities in Sweden with approx. 800 companies.
An office runs for 7 summer weeks. The planning starts in March with discussions concerning location, financing, companies, and students. After the summer, there are activities for follow-up documentations. The target is to raise the awareness of design as a means for business development for participants, mainly SMEs. The students are selected annually via a database of at least 350 students from all over the world (mostly Swedes). The selection of students depends on the type of company and its brief. The companies take ownership of the results with the student retaining the copyright. If the company continues to use the design they have the option to employ the student or contact other consultancy firms. Each local implementation costs €75 000 for the cost of the office, material, phones, cars, documentation, including salaries for Project manager, Supervisor, and 8 students for 7 weeks.
Innovoucher (Hungary): The direct purpose of this mechanism is supporting micro and small-sized enterprises in innovative initiatives and motivating supply and demand in the field of innovation services. Innovation calls for proposals were financed from the Innovation Fund. The National Office for Research and Technology (NORT) launched a call for R&D services in the regions for which SMEs could apply. The Észak-Alföld Regional Development Agency acted as an intermediary. The SME receives a €100 000 virtual budget. The innovation service provider delivers the service for the SME, and the invoice is sent directly to NORT with a short notice about the work done. NORT pays the bill directly to the service provider, until the SME’s budget is exhausted.
The scheme is simple and easy to implement and does not really have any key factors associated with regional context. The only regional/country specific factor is the source of funding, which naturally must come from a national / regional programme.
Main conclusions and recommendations:
- Mini-Europe has been a very successful project in terms of transfer of good practices, which is partly due to the strong involvement in the project from policymakers and funding organisations, either directly as partners, or indirectly supporting these, which allows a smoother transition towards implementation and mainstreaming of the measures and mechanisms transferred;
- The most successful measures have been those (such as ‘Summer Entrepreneur’, but also ‘Summer Design Office’ or ‘Innovouchers’), which are easy to implement on a small scale, within a short time-frame and within controlled resources, and are addressed to a targeted audience and target a specific topic.
1.5 DISTRICT+: DISSEMINATING INNOVATIVE STRATEGIES FOR CAPITALISATION OF TARGETED GOOD PRACTICES
DISTRICT+ aims to deliver transferable policy instruments and stable interregional networks implementing sub-projects in the areas of clusters and business networks (weaknesses in networking), SMEs innovating projects with universities and Technology Centres (lack of research capabilities) and innovation financing. DISTRICT+ offers a dual approach with, on the one hand, a direct identification of GPs by project partners, and, on the other, a call for subprojects, with a potential multiplying effect. It is therefore conceived as a mini-programme implementing sub-projects to capitalise on the partners’ good practices in regional development policies. The following sub-projects with relevance for the topic of Innovation Capacity of SMEs have been implemented:
- EAST_INNO_TRANSFER - Supporting Innovation and Fostering Knowledge Transfer in the new EU Member States: This sub-project consists of an exchange programme between partners (based on meetings and study visits) for the exchange and transfer of good practices - from more advanced regions in Western Europe (the West Midlands and Tuscany) to less experienced partners in the New Member States (Lower Silesia and Brasov).
- NICER - Networks for the Internationalisation of Cluster Excellence in Regions; NICER aims to identify and implement a number of strategies in support of the internationalisation of clusters in the EU regions, addressing policies both for attracting foreign direct investment into business clusters and supporting their active internationalisation.
- KNOW-ECO - Enhancing Knowledge Collaboration in Eco-Innovation. This project aims at enhancing the uptake of eco-innovation in enterprises within the construction and mobility sectors and the transnational transfer of knowledge, tools and methodologies for linking knowledge providers with enterprises to increase the development or uptake of eco-innovation products and services. It proposes to do so through the delivery of the 'implementation labs' in each region. It fits well the topic of innovation capacity of SMEs, and is well-focused on specific sectors, allowing for a good level of intensity of deployment of support services.
At a central level, the project has also dedicated considerable efforts to developing content for facilitating the exchange between partners, including the SHARP-CLOUD environment (the tool used to interconnect the GPs identified in terms of issues tackled, topics, actors involved and territories interested in their implementation) and the use by project partners of the Smart Specialisation Platform, made available by the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) in view of future Regional Innovation Strategies.
DISTRICT+ is unique in its combination between sub-projects, selected by an open call, and assessment of Good Practices at central level by the partners. This ‘multi-channel’ approach to policy learning and sharing is complex and can be further exploited in terms of synergy between the topics addressed by partners at ‘central level’ and the topic of the selected sub-projects. The project is also a reference in terms of developing open platforms and tools oriented for the sharing of knowledge amongst partners, such as the ‘Sharp-Cloud’ tool.
Good Practice analysis: At central level, 20 Good Practices have been identified, 15 of which directly address the Innovation Capacity of SMEs theme. As regards sub-projects, from the 6 sub-projects implemented through DISTRICT+, three are on the topic of science parks (including their impact on entrepreneurship), and three are clearly within the scope of the innovation capacity of SMEs theme.
Figure Nº 9: DISTRICT+ - Analysis of Content
Amongst the most relevant Good Practices, ‘Innovation Assistants’ (which has also been addressed by other INTERREG IVC projects) and ‘Innovation Poles’ should be highlighted, as both actions show a good transfer potential. Regarding funding solutions for SMEs, which is one of the main focuses of the project, the Mercia Fund Management (MFM) in the West Midlands is a good example as it combines small-scale financial support for exploring if technology can be commercialised with larger investment in early and follow-on development stages in technology companies.
Innovation Assistants is a measure that aims to promote the transfer of recent knowledge in universities directly to SMEs through support to the employment of young professionals and graduates directly out of universities as innovation assistants in companies, with responsibilities for the development of innovation processes. Innovation Poles is a programme of the Tuscany region for the establishment of innovation poles, or combinations of research centres and companies “with the aim of coordinating their initiatives and encouraging the dialogue between research and manufacturing worlds, to make the interventions for innovation more targeted, flexible and effective, and levelled with different productive systems”.
While not a Good Practice per se but an internal tool, the ‘SHARP-CLOUD’ output also deserves a special mention. At a time when “the growth of the social networking phenomenon across the Internet – led by social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn – has altered the playing field for business of all stripes and moved social networking beyond critical mass” (36), web-based and social media platforms should be considered as digital infrastructures that allow a new kind of networking, while it provides space for new specific services related to innovation support. This digital infrastructure is enabling organisations, including SMEs, to form and join online communities, find and interact with potential partners and customers who share common business or technical goals, at reduced costs and minimal infrastructural investments. Lately, the growing penetration of cloud technologies is opening further new paths for the provision of new services, including those based on massive volumes of data or processing to SMEs with low resources. The ‘Sharp-Cloud’ tool, albeit oriented internally for partners’ use, is a first good example of use of IT tools and web / cloud platforms for improved provision of services, and one which can be followed by other projects.
Innovation Assistant (Saxony-Anhalt): this measure aims to foster the skills and employment prospects of young professionals in the field of Science & Technology and to support SME’s to gain new skills and experience right from the theoretical background of the universities.
Potential beneficiaries are SMEs originating or with a branch in the Saxony-Anhalt region that can receive funding up to 50% for a maximum of 2 innovation assistants per company, up to a maximum monthly cost of €2 000 per full-time employee for a period of 24 months. Eligible candidates should be graduates with a background in natural scientific, engineering scientific or business and economics
Innovation Poles (Tuscany): The creation of innovation poles in the Tuscany region has been promoted through the launch - in January 2011 – of a call (on European, national and regional resources) for the support to a transfer system qualification aimed at promoting innovation processes within the business system. Twelve business sectors have been pre-defined, and each Pole adopts its own three-year activities programme of knowledge and technological and scientific skills transfer, with a specific business plan for the achievement of operational objectives that should aim to stimulate innovation demand of enterprises in the sector, facilitate access of SMEs to specialised services with high added value, facilitate enterprises’ access to scientific and technological knowledge and to networks and resources at national and international levels in the field of scientific research and of industrial interest innovation and ensure the sharing of equipment and laboratories. Mercia Fund Management (West Midlands): While there is a wide range of capital funds available in the West Midlands to support small, high-growth early-stage technology businesses, the one that offers the most complex service is Mercia Fund Management (MFM). It is designed to provide support for exploring if technology can be commercialised (Pathfinder Investment) as well as investing in early and follow-on development stages (Mercia Fund 1 and 2 and Mercia Growth EIS Fund). MFM acts as an investee and collaborates with several private companies to provide leverage to cost-effective solutions stimulating innovation, creativity and knowledge generation in the West Midlands.
Main conclusions and recommendations:
- The DISTRICT+ project is a good practice in terms of a successful combination between sub-projects and activities at central level by the project partners, offering a ‘multi-channel’ approach to policy learning and sharing that increases the reach and range of the project, and combines different approaches, e.g. covering some sub-topics more in depth through sub-projects (e.g. Econ-innovation, as in the sub-project ‘KNOW-ECO’ or internationalisation of clusters, as in ‘NICER’) while using the ‘central level’ approach to cover one sub-topic ‘in width’ by identifying and analyzing a large number of good practices across Europe (as for the theme of innovation funding);
- The ‘Sharp-Cloud’ tool is a first good example of the use of IT tools and web / cloud platforms for an improved provision of services that can be followed by other projects.
1.6 PERIA: PARTNERSHIP ON EUROPEAN REGIONAL INNOVATION AGENCIES
PERIA aimed to contribute to strengthening the effectiveness of regional development policies, and the transformation of knowledge into new and marketable products and services, through the sharing of experience and good practices, and the development of joint guidelines and methodologies amongst Regional Innovation Agencies (RIAs). The ultimate goal was that RIAs can offer greater support to SMEs, and especially start-ups, micro- and small companies with fewer than 50 people in developing their innovation projects. PERIA aims at the creation of an effective network of RIAs in order to learn from each other by sharing experience and good practices, and developing joint guidelines and methodologies.
Within the project, pairs of regions were created to assess the transferability of the practices listed above, but little progress in terms of implementation is reported in the project documentation. The main outcome of the project relied on the effective networking developed between the RIAs involved directly in the project, which would impact in the long term the SMEs supported at local level.
As the focus is put on improving the efficiency of RIA and their support to innovation in SMEs, all aspects of innovation capacity of SMEs are, in principle, included. Throughout the project, the main emphasis has been put on the following Good Practices linked to the Innovation capacity of SMEs:
- ‘Innovation vouchers’, for funding of innovation;
- ‘Methodology Programme to Support Companies Interested in Developing New Products by Using Design’, a non-technological innovation measure, within the barrier of ‘Shortages in skills to manage innovation, IPR and knowledge in SMEs’;
- ‘Funding of Foreign Trade Fairs’ and ‘International Cooperation Visits’, related to ‘Insufficient marketing of innovation from the side of SMEs’;
- and ‘Cluster Management Services’, within the barrier of ‘weaknesses in networking’.
PERIA has a unique focus on the role and impact of Regional Innovation Agencies and their policies, in the Innovation Capacity of local SMEs. By promoting the networking and the sharing of experiences amongst these intermediate organisations across Europe, it reinforces their capacity, knowledge and skills to support local SMEs in their innovation strategies.
Good Practice analysis: PERIA addresses GP exchange through a 3-strand methodology: a) defining principles and communication rules; b) identification of GPs focused on RIA (Regional Innovation Agencies) and c) External evaluation. The positioning of Good Practices is presented below:
Figure Nº 10: PERIA - Analysis of Content
The ‘New Products by Design’ measure is very similar to the ‘Summer Design Office’ measure addressed in Mini-Europe. This practice was developed in the Aquitaine region (France) by Innovalis and identified within the PERIA project, and is focused on providing SMEs with enhanced design capabilities through external cooperation.
The ‘International Cooperation Visits’ and ‘Foreign Trade Fairs’, besides offering potential for policy learning and sharing through the identification and review of the measures (the approach followed in PERIA) also offer a good potential for transferability, due to their ease of implementation and absence of strong regional factors in implementation. Foreign Trade Fairs is currently implemented by the Investitionsbank in the Saxony-Anhalt region of Germany, with 100% ERDF funding. It is focused on facilitating internationalisation opportunities for SMEs, and it is a purely transnational measure, relatively easy to implement – including at transnational level, with cooperation from several regional agencies – and with high potential impact in the growth and innovation of firms. As for the Enterprise Europe Network, it can be combined with matchmaking activities and more tailored towards innovation. It is a measure with a high transfer potential.
International Cooperation Visits: a practice developed with the Veneto region (Italy). Just as for the measure above, it can be more targeted to innovation and combined with other activities such as matchmaking, offering a very good potential for transfer and also for transnational implementation.
New Products by Design (Aquitaine): The practice is implemented by the Design department within the regional innovation agency (Innovalis). Regional technical partners (public or private) with some specific competences might be involved in the implementation of the practice concerning innovative projects or marketing diversification. It involves an intensive regional promotion of design for companies and a specific methodology for preparing the assisted companies’ project before establishing a business relationship with a designer. Since 2008, about 50 companies have been supported in design projects (innovation products or market diversification) with results in job creation and in the development of new market opportunities in France and in other countries. International Cooperation Visits (Veneto): The service aims to open up cooperation opportunities abroad, setting up new international projects and promoting the region at international level. It involves the organisation of customised visits with key stakeholders aiming to set up strong linkages and to start up joint initiatives between Veneto and other areas. Stakeholders are SMEs or more often cluster representatives who are in charge of involving a relevant critical mass of companies in the exchange. The mission could include face-to-face meetings, public presentations, in loco visits and social events. The practice can be applied to visits abroad as well as incoming delegations. This Good Practice can be seen as a structured methodology very suitable for transfer, but the most important pre-condition is that the network of actors abroad and in the region has to be well-developed. The promotion and synergies with other initiatives and projects can facilitate the involvement of the right people and the resources. Foreign Trade Fairs (Saxony-Anhalt): The purpose of the programme is to make it possible for small and medium-sized enterprises to attend a foreign trade fair. This is to strengthen the market position as a result of the fair. Eligible costs include the space rate, the catalogue entry, printing and translation costs for information material and travel costs relative to the respective trade fair are eligible. The maximum intervention rate according the aid scheme is 60 %. The maximal amount of the granted subsidy is €9 000, which is granted only on the basis of subsidy lists for trade fairs that need to be approved by federal and state government and support of trade fairs is limited to three applications per company per year. The measure is simple to transfer and to implement and with a good potential impact on SMEs.
Main Conclusions and Recommendations:
- PERIA has implemented a focused approach, with a clear segmentation of targets – focusing on Regional Innovation Agencies - and an emphasis on a relatively small number of Good Practices offering a good transferability potential; the results obtained in the project make for a valid portfolio of activities and measures for regions wishing to foster the development and enhancement of their Regional Innovation Agencies.
- The process of addressing SMEs through intermediary organisations, such as the Regional Innovation Agencies, is well aligned with the INTERREG framework and the synergy between organisations of the same type creates the basis for a lasting and sustainable cooperation between the actors involved.
1.7 ERIK ACTION: UPGRADING THE INNOVATION CAPACITY OF EXISTING FIRMS
ERIK Action was a Capitalisation Project building on the previous ERIK project and following a traditional model of identification of GPs complemented by a planning of transfer via Regional Implementation Plans. The project built on a consolidated experience of exchange, developed in former projects, by moving towards the concrete transfer of identified good practices (already available in the ERIK database) into mainstream Structural Funds programmes in regions wishing to improve policies.
The project addressed the general issue of limited competitiveness and innovation capacity in European enterprises. In previous projects under the same partnership, partners had highlighted a need for integrated action on upgrading firms' innovation capacity through support measures as well as financial support. The project resulted in the development of actions plans for the transfer of good practices between the 11 partners regions, with transfer actions to be supported and financed by the Regional Operational Programmes. And although it followed the priorities and challenges identified by the partner regions in previous projects, starting from a wide range of topics to be addressed, it converged towards the promotion of networking and the use of platforms as a key element to implementing an extended enterprise business model. Other topics addressed included: Employment of young graduates in innovation projects within SMEs; Systems of innovation awareness raising, tutoring and consultancy for SMEs; Corporate Social Responsibility; Innovation in traditional manufacturing sectors and Organisation of specific events to promote triple helix cooperation. ERIK ACTION was one of the first capitalisation projects (in 2008) and overall a project with good European visibility, also due to its fast-track status. As a capitalisation project, it was focused on implementation processes more than on the development of content, particularly in matching Good Practices with the funding lines available within the operational programmes.
ERIK ACTION represents a step further in the policy learning and sharing process initiated in previous projects, leading to the development of concrete, tangible and operational Regional Action Plans by each involved region, for implementation of the Good Practices previously identified, within the framework of local funding programmes and mechanisms, and in cooperation with local Managing Authorities.
Good Practice analysis: The ERIK Action project was the 3rd consecutive project from the same core partnership, following ERIK and ERIK+ (complemented by ERIK Network under Innovating Regions in Europe programme). Within ERIK ACTION, each partner developed a Regional Action Plan for implementation of GPs, for submission and approval by the local Managing Authority. The regional action plans focused on a total of 16 Good Practices, all relevant in terms of barriers to innovation capacity of SMEs, which are presented below.
Figure Nº 11: ERIK ACTION - Analysis of Content
The ERIK ACTION, evolving and concluding previous cooperative efforts from the same core partnership under INTERREG IVC, has further refined the selection of Good Practices from previous projects, focusing on practices for which the relevance and implementation potential in other regions was clear, so as to include them in the Regional Action Plans developed in the project.
The Good Practices retained by the project covered the whole scope of barriers to innovation faced by SMEs, with an emphasis on ‘shortages in skills’ and ‘lack of internal research capabilities’. Within the first type, the PRAI/VINCI is particularly relevant given its focus on Virtual Enterprises, which stands out from the most common practices addressed within INTERREG IVC projects in this field. Within the barrier of ‘lack of internal research capabilities’, the main emphasis has been put on measures to support technology transfer from research / academic organisations towards industry and in particular SMEs. Some of the measures had a sectoral approach, making it more difficult to transfer, but others are horizontal and relatively easy to implement in other regions, such as Campus, for the promotion of academic spin-offs.
Relevant practices were also addressed within the barrier of ‘lack of funding’, including the FAME measure, one of the few examples within the programme of the use of bank loans, with guarantees from public authorities, so as to support the funding of innovation in companies, which is particularly relevant within the present times of the credit crunch. The current European context and the difficulties in accessing bank loans still faced by many European companies could make this practice a relevant one for possible transfer towards several other regions.
Another relevant Good Practice, also addressed in another INTERREG IVC project (INNOMOT), is Fabrica Ethica, which promotes a positioning of SMEs in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility, which can contribute to the development and marketing of their innovative products and services.
PRAI/VINCI (Tuscany): VINCI aimed to promote the Virtual Enterprise / Virtual Organisation as an instrument for the creation and management of aggregations which serve to strengthen competitiveness of the main industrial systems in the Tuscan economy.
A Virtual Enterprise (VE) is a temporary alliance of enterprises that come together to share skills or core competencies and resources in order to better respond to business opportunities, and whose cooperation is supported by computer networks. It is a manifestation of Collaborative Networks and of Virtual Organisation (a productive organisational entity that uses telecommunication tools to enable, maintain and sustain member relationships in distributed work environments).
The VE/VO was experimented particularly in the field of technological innovation and technology transfer which, in a system of micro-firms such as Tuscany, represents one of the weakest links in the value chain.
The Programme offered four action lines: Analysis and design of VE / VO models in specific sectors of the regional industry and dissemination of results; experimentation, through pilot projects, of associated models of an innovative nature that develop forms of virtual cooperation; modelling, interregional comparison, mainstreaming of the results; facilitation, monitoring, technical assistance.
FAME (Alentejo): FAME is a public-private mechanism created to support micro-companies: It was structured and adapted according to the needs of the particular council.
The objectives of the mechanism were to stimulate investment in micro-companies in each council in the Alentejo region in order to improve their products and/or services, facilities, equipment, and other necessary modifications. The mechanism also aimed to stir up investment to develop strategic areas like quality, new technologies, environment, security and hygiene.
The mechanism is applied through a partnership between ADRAL (the regional development agency), the council and a commercial bank and provides companies with loans which must be paid back within 5 years, with a guarantee by the council.
The key innovative features of the good practice lie in the fact that the councils have an active role in the process. They can guide the fund to the most needed areas or sectors, have a deep knowledge of the territory and environment, take part in the evaluation of the projects and finance 50% of the eligible amount with no interest. The different councils can also adjust the fund to their capabilities. The commercial bank also takes part in the evaluation process and finances the rest of the eligible amount (50%) with a special (low) interest rate.
Fabrica Ethica (Tuscany): Together with Tuscan SMEs Fabrica Ethica constructs a production process that makes the regional economy more competitive and able to differentiate its production on the basis of material and immaterial quality. Fabrica Ethica hinges on the respect of worker and consumer rights and the environment. It encourages an approach that is based on continuous improvements that anchor CSR in SME strategies and management systems. The programme covers 50% of SMEs’ costs with environmental certification, supports specific projects to spread CSR in industrial districts, facilitates access to micro-credit, and disseminates information and CSR practices through a web site.
Main conclusions and recommendations:
- The ERIK ACTION approach of Regional Action Plans tailored to available regional programmes maximises the impact of the project, ensuring the feasibility and sustainability of planned actions. A factor of success has been the involvement in the process of the local managing authorities responsible for the management of regional programmes, so as to ensure their commitment in funding the planned actions. In the ERIK ACTION project, this has been achieved by creating mixed teams in each partner, involving both staff linked with planning and management of funding programmes and operational staff linked with implementation processes, thus allowing to consider Good Practices in a dual perspective of relevance (in operational terms for the region) and feasibility (in terms of coherence and synergy with regional funding instruments);
- To ensure the added-value of the planned activities, it is also useful to have a clear starting point describing the current situation prior to the implementation of the planned measures. An initial baseline study would be a valid contribution to the success of this or similar projects.
2. Aggregated thematic analysis at programme level
This section offers an aggregated view of the results of the individual analysis of projects, presented in the previous sub-chapter, in terms of contribution of the projects (and the programme) to the innovation capacity of SMEs.
2.1 Aggregated analysis in terms of relevance as regards the theme of Innovation Capacity of SMEs
The 7 projects under analysis included a total of 151 measures – sub-projects, Good Practices identified and promoted or other initiatives or tools developed within the project. Of these, 93 (62%) can be considered as very relevant within the Innovation Capacity of SMEs theme (i.e. they address one or several barriers to innovation capacity of SMEs) and are included in the tables for each project presented in Section 3.1. The remaining are outside of the scope of the present topic and deal mostly with entrepreneurship, which in many projects is associated with innovation and SMEs. A small number deal with innovation systems (mainly Science Parks or other infrastructures) or with specific areas such as energy, transport and ICT. The breakdown of the 93 relevant measures in terms of barriers to innovation addressed is pictured below:
Figure Nº12: Breakdown of measures in terms of relevance
As Figure 12 shows, the 7 INTERREG IVC projects under analysis offer a complete coverage of the most relevant barriers to the Innovation Capacity of SMEs. Each of the 5 main barriers identified in section 2 of this report is covered by a minimum of 9 Good Practices addressed by the projects within their activities. Most of the analysed projects had a broad coverage of innovation barriers, addressing Good Practices in different aspects of promotion of innovation in SMEs, even when the original objectives were narrower, and more focused on a specific barrier. This is represented in the figure below, where the coverage of the 7 analysed projects in terms of barriers to innovation covered by the good practices / sub-projects addressed as it results from the individual analysis performed above.
Figure Nº 13 – Positioning of analysed INTERREG IVC Projects
When this positioning is compared with the initial positioning in terms of original objectives of the projects, as presented in their application forms (presented earlier at the start of Section 3 and replicated here), we can see that the approach in terms of implementation of the projects is indeed broader than the original goals.
This results in a wider range of polices and measures and a larger platform for policy learning and sharing within each project, which may result in a better choice of the most adequate measures for future mainstreaming and implementation in each region. But it can also lead projects to lose some focus and depth in the analysis of the issues within a given sub-topic (or barrier) of the innovation capacity of SMEs theme. There is a trade-off in this broad approach that must be considered in each case.
For instance, a project like MINI-EUROPE, which has its initial objectives oriented only towards “enhancing cooperation and knowledge exchange between SMEs and knowledge institutes”, i.e. what has been designated in this study as the barrier of “weaknesses in networking and cooperation with third parties”, has benefited from a broader approach, with Good Practices regarding the other 4 main barriers, so as to achieve very good results in terms of good practices transferred between regions. But for a project such as INNOMOT, this wider coverage in terms of barriers addressed by the Good Practices identified and worked by the consortium may blur the original and unique focus of the project with regard to ‘non-technological innovation’.
However, in spite of this wide coverage of the ‘innovation capacity of SMEs’ theme in all its barriers by the projects, most projects have kept a level of specialisation in a certain sub-topic / barrier, as is clear from Fig.14 below:
Figure Nº 14: Number of GPs per barrier and per project
This specialisation (e.g. INNOMOT on ‘Shortage of skills’, SMART+ in ‘Weaknesses in Networking’, INNOHUBS in ‘Insufficient Marketing’, MINI-EUROPE in ‘Lack of Funding’ and ‘Weaknesses in Networking’, DISTRICT+ in ‘Lack of Funding’, ERIK ACTION in ‘Shortage of Skills’ and ‘Lack of internal research capabilities’) has allowed the projects to come up with relevant solutions for some of the most pressing issues faced by SMEs under each barrier, as is detailed next for each of the 5 main barriers.
- Lack of Financial Resources for Innovation:
The barrier of shortage of financial resources for innovation is recurrently referred to as one of the main barriers to innovation faced by SMEs. This is reflected in the sample of INTERREG IVC projects analysed, as it is addressed directly in 20 of the 93 measures deployed by INTERREG IVC projects in the Innovation Capacity of SMEs theme (22%). In particular, MINI-EUROPE and DISTRICT+ address this barrier.
MINI-EUROPE dedicates a particular attention to voucher schemes through the focus on 3 Good Practices on this topic: Innovouchers from Hungary, Innovation Vouchers (Valencia) and TEI Subsidy (Flevoland, Netherlands). These policy measures are all very similar and adequate for regional policy actors wishing to address small-scale financial needs of SMEs for implementing innovation projects, either on their own or with service providers, typically from the public research sector. They can have a good impact in the short term.
DISTRICT+, on the other hand, puts the emphasis on the creation and management of Venture Capital funds, addressing 4 Good Practices, with 2 examples of public funds entirely funded and managed by regional authorities (Fondo Toscana and Lower Silesia Trust Fund) and 2 further examples of public-private funds, Mercia Fund Management and SCCISME, where cooperation between regional authorities and private companies (either for financing or coaching SMEs), is foreseen. These funds, in their different formats, offer the possibility of a more structured and in-depth support to SME innovation efforts but have long lifecycles and unsure return on investment.
Overall, there are three dominant trends followed by INTERREG IVC projects in this topic – the line of innovation vouchers or similar (such as R&D cards) for small investments, which is addressed by 5 measures; Venture Capital, which is addressed by 10 measures, equally distributed among Private VC, Public VC funds, and Public-Private funds, and Public Grants (typically for R&D), which is addressed by 4 measures. One measure (FAME, from ERIK Action) addresses public-private loans.
- Shortages in skills to manage innovation, IPR and knowledge:
This barrier to the innovation capacity of SMEs is the one that received most attention from INTERREG IVC projects within the topic analysed, with 30 measures deployed by INTERREG IVC projects directly targeting this objective (32% of the total). The different approaches followed by the projects in this regard have highlighted that many skills may be needed for innovation, and that different mixes of skills are required at different times across the innovation spectrum. These mixes of skills are influenced by a series of factors, such as the stage of innovation, the type of innovation, and industry structure, which are taken into account in the different projects.
INNOMOT has dedicated particular attention to this topic, in line with its focus on non-technological innovation. This project has identified and shared 11 Good Practices on this topic, with an emphasis on areas such as innovation management, creativity and design. MINI-EUROPE and PERIA both take on board the topic of Design and its relevance to management skills for innovation. This shows its growing importance in terms of regional innovation (non-technological) policies.
The large majority of the Good Practices considered by the projects are related to coaching and training, which are relatively easy to implement and can produce quick results, making them suitable for transfer and replication. But there have also been 3 measures addressing recruitment or temporary collaboration with new staff (two of which are in the specific field of design) and principles of virtual organisation.
- Insufficient marketing of innovation from the side of SMEs including lack of information and skills to access international markets:
13 measures under the analysed INTERREG IVC projects (16%) directly address this topic.
More than half of these are aimed at supporting the internationalisation of SMEs through means such as the provision of information, support to participation in fairs or international visits, but other aspects considered included promotion of Corporate Social Responsibility, digital marketing / reinforcement of a web-presence (such as in the IART Territories sub-project of SMART+) or local expansion.
The INNOHUBS project has paid particular consideration to this topic, with a focus both on the internationalisation of SMEs and their innovative products and on local consolidation and expansion. The first challenge has been addressed through Good Practices such as ‘Business Internationalisation’ from Loures, Portugal which focuses on assisting local companies in exporting their goods and services to foreign markets by providing market research, training workshops and organising overseas trade missions. The second challenge has been addressed either through Good Practices focusing on the set-up of local consultancy and advice infrastructures (like SIAI, in the city of Loures) or training activities / workshops, such as in Innovative Workshops, from Getafe, Spain, and SIGNAL, from North Down, Northern Ireland.
PERIA has also devoted considerable attention to this issue, from the internationalisation perspective, with the measures Participation in Foreign Trade Fairs and International Cooperation Visits.
As with the case of the measures highlighted in the barrier of shortage of skills, these measures are relatively easy to adapt to new contexts and to implement, enabling a quick impact amongst local SMEs.
Through the good practice IVEX, INNOMOT addresses the issue of Innovative Public procurement, which is currently considered as one of the most effective methods to support the marketing of new products and access of SMEs to public markets, including external markets This GP focuses on public procurement opportunities from multilateral organisations (such as the United Nations, World Bank or Europe Aid) while it has also been covered by other INTERREG IVC projects not covered by this analysis such as EUROPROC or RAPIDE.
- Lack of internal research / INNOVATION capabilities:
The lack of internal research / innovation capabilities barrier is the least covered, being addressed by only 9 measures (10%). This is mainly explained by two sets of reasons: on the one hand, its complexity and the need for considerable investment (e.g. for setting up labs or buying research equipment), which is beyond the financial resources of INTERREG IVC projects (and is best covered by ETC projects, such as INTERREG A and B, with their focus on infrastructural investments); on the other hand, the fact that this is a topic that has been widely covered in previous programmes.
With infrastructural investments not being an option for INTERREG IVC projects, the main focus has been on technology transfer from academia and research institutions into industry.
ERIK ACTION has given particular focus to this topic through three different Good Practices, each proposing a different approach: i) a sectoral approach, such as in ‘HeliceNet’, focused on the aeronautical sector in the Andalusía region in Spain; a horizontal network of intermediate organisations such as in ‘TT Andalusía’; and the creation of spin-offs within academic research organisations, such as in ‘Campus’. All 3 approaches are relevant and promising, but they all involve long implementation cycles until impact can be measured, which is common to all technology transfer measures.
INTERREG IVC projects also addressed other relevant measures linked with the incorporation of R&D staff in companies (including PhD staff, such as in the INNOMOT measure ‘Bioenergy for the region’ and ERIK ACTION ‘Innovation Assistant’) and with the implementation of R&D cooperative projects.
- Weaknesses in networking and cooperation with external parties:
With 19 measures (21%), this has been one of the barriers to the innovation capacity of SMEs most commonly addressed by the I4C projects under analysis. This is understandable, since for small organisations with limited resources such as SMEs, the use of external skills and knowledge is essential for achieving innovation and competitiveness, especially in more challenging and dynamic areas. However, in spite of its potential and demonstrated impact, networking and cooperation is far from being a natural process to firms, especially for SMEs, and must be facilitated and motivated by policy action and specific measures.
INTERREG IVC projects under analysis have addressed this barrier by mainly making use of two policy instruments: first, cluster policies, either through the creation or the management of existent clusters (including support to clusters internationalisation); and secondly through the set-up and animation of business networks with 4 measures.
SMART+, MINI-EUROPE and ERIK ACTION have been the most active projects with respect to this barrier. SMART+ has in particular addressed cluster policies within the sub-projects it has launched. Sub-projects such as regioNet and SMEsGoNet addressing management of existent clusters have exploited the role of clusters as ‘innovation eco-systems’ for the implementation of pilot innovative projects and experiments, especially targeted at SMEs, in particular through interactive policy learning between policymakers (the sub-project partners). On the other hand, sub-projects such as smart Tourism and TREC have addressed the issue of the creation of clusters in specific sectors (tourism and renewable energies, respectively) as a sustained way to foster cooperation between companies. Also, MINI-EUROPE has addressed the issue of clusters through 4 Good Practices, all in the area of cluster management.
ERIK ACTION has paid attention to the creation and facilitation of business networks. Good Practices such as ‘RDT Bretagne’, which brings together a hundred advisers (technological or generalist) to visit SMEs, identify needs and support them all along the setting up and management of innovative projects, or ‘Wood sector innovation’, specific to the wood industry, which aims to foster cooperation between SMEs by stimulating their participation in collaborative networks, facilitated by regional actors.
2.2 Summary of the most relevant good practices
Overall, it is clear that INTERREG IVC projects in the Innovation Capacity of SMEs topic address relevant themes in terms of the innovation needs of SMEs, with the 7 projects under analysis offering good coverage of all the most relevant topics in terms of barriers to innovation faced by European SMEs.
The following table presents an overview of some of the most relevant Innovation Capacity of SMEs topics addressed within the Good Practices and sub-projects of the 7 analysed projects.
- Good Practices overview
Table 6 – The most relevant Good Practices presented as solution to the problems/ barriers faced by SME
Barriers to Innovation Capacity of SMEs Approach / Solution most commonly used by INTERREG IVC projects INTERREG IVC projects mostly concerned Highlighted Good Practices/Sub-projects Description Relevance* Lack of Financial Resources Vouchers MINI-EUROPE Innovouchers Small scale (up to 25K€) for provision of external technical services by SMEs Very high Venture Capital Funds DISTRICT+ Mercia Fund Mgmt Venture Capital fund supporting feasibility studies, early stage and 2nd round investments High Public Grants INNOHUBS Rosio Advice centre on use of national public grants Medium Bank Loans ERIK ACTION FAME Bank loans for innovation projects in SMEs ensured by guarantees from regional authorities. High Shortage in skills Innovation Management INNOMOT Organisational Innovation Tailored workshops and coaching by external experts in organisation models Very High Creativity INNOMOT Mindshake Coaching in creative product development High Design MINI-EUROPE / PERIA Summer Design Office/ New Products by Design Promotion of cooperation between design students and SMEs. Very high ICT ERIK ACTION PRAI/VINCI Support to the setup of Virtual Enterprises based on ICT models High Insufficient marketing of innovation Internationalisation PERIA Foreign Trade Fairs / International Cooperation Visits Support to participation of SMEs in foreign fairs and organisation of entrepreneurial missions abroad. Very High Corporate Social Responsibility INNOMOT and ERIK ACTION Fabrica Ethica Support to Corporate Social Responsibility in SMEs as a marketing of innovation tool. Medium Digital Marketing SMART+ IART Territories Assisting micro-firms from the tourism sector in developing web-sites for international sales. High Local expansion INNOHUBS SIAI Local advice and service centre for SMEs Medium Public Procurement INNOMOT IVEX Support to participation in international procurement processes from multilateral organisations. Medium Lack of internal research capabilities Technology Transfer ERIK ACTION TT Andalusia Network of regional technology transfer organisations Medium Incorporation of new staff PERIA Creation of R&D units Support to the hiring of research staff by SMEs High Weaknesses in networking and cooperation Cluster policies SMART+ SMEsGoNet Cluster management activities for support to internationalisation and R&D cooperation Medium Creation and animation of business networks ERIK ACTION RDT Bretagne Network of intermediate agents to support innovation in SMEs High
*In terms of replication potential towards other regions