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Innovation System – SME Sector

We have talked about the EU Innovation Scorecard and the worrying trend in the 2009 report that (in the case of Ireland) one of our major weaknesses is the small and medium-sized companies sector. With credit at a premium, and Ireland’s exports suffering from the global recession, this figure is bound to be an issue in the 2010 report also. Some good news has been the VAT changes in the emergency UK budget and the general weakness of the Euro against most other currencies (but this means imported raw materials are more expensive also).

So how do we fix the problem? Well, more resources to Enterprise Ireland (and not the cuts in global office staff that our sister Ryan Academy Tech Entrepreneurship blog reported yesterday) particularly in innovation. Enterprise Ireland has been offering Innovation Vouchers, which have been very useful to sector,although there seems to be issues regarding the amount of these that have been used. You see, one has to find an academic institution that will do the work: Enterprise Ireland has a list of suppliers including the universities and institutes of technology. The financial amount of the voucher (5K) seems to be a little on the low side, particularly if you are an academic used to bringing in millions in research money. That said, we are big fans of the vouchers here in the Academy and see them as a step in the right direction. Indeed we have worked on a number of vouchers already and are working on a number of them over the summer months.

Despite these good signs there needs to be more support for the process of innovation within SME’s – many have the capacity for new products and services, for expansion into foreign markets and it is beholden of the higher education sector to support them. Some moves by individual academics in different institutions (and indeed within the DCU Business School) are offering such support via student projects and consulting work.

The one thing I noticed while doing a programme in MIT Sloan School of Management a number of years ago, was that the Professors I had (including leading innovation experts such as the excellent Ralph Katz and Eric von Hippel) all worked heavily with industry, although usually large companies. There is a potential to link higher education across Ireland to these export-oriented small and medium-sized companies and these vouchers are the start of that conversation. We in the Ryan Academy will be hoping to do our part.

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