There has been discussion lately of the strength of SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises), with some clusters in and around the Alpine regions of Europe highlighted in particular. But can SMEs, who are widely considered to form the backbone of the European economy, do more? Last week I enjoyed a day of Open Innovation discussions at a conference organised by Open Alps, a consortium of nine partners from around Europe’s Alpine regions, in Lyon, France. Around 200 people, primarily representatives of regional SMEs, gathered to share experiences and explore the benefits of Open Innovation.
Leading Open Innovation scholar, Dr. Wim Vanhaverbeke, kicked the day off by stressing that SMEs must embrace Open Innovation to remain competitive. SMEs often have the tendency to presume that OI strategies are the purview of big enterprise (I’ve written about this before), but Dr Vanhaverbeke used interesting case studies to demonstrate how OI can make SMEs more competitive and resilient. One lesson he made clear: SMEs should innovate openly, but they don’t need to imitate models and programmes used by big enterprises. Different priorities and different budgets call for a different strategy for OI tools. Small steps, prioritizing Challenges, and choosing partners wisely are all important here.
Another message that came across clearly throughout the day was that SMEs who want to explore OI are not alone. There is a great deal of support and encouragement coming from government of various levels – the Open Alps initiative is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, and regional government partners are playing a role in delivering this support. This was just one of many events aimed at providing education, training and access – free of charge. For SMEs who want to begin their OI journey by partnering with a complementary enterprise, Open Alps also unveiled a new match-making platform at the event where organisations can post needs and offers.
From the enthusiasm and energy in the conference room and networking sessions throughout the day, it was clear that the SMEs present were already beginning to strategize and plan out their initial engagements. I look forward to seeing some interesting projects emerge!
Authored by Siobhán Gibney Gomis, Director of Business Development, InnoCentive