25 April 2017

Collaboration with SMEs not a matter of course, and particularly not for universities

Frank van Rijnsoever
Dr. Frank van Rijnsoever

Innovation grants to encourage collaboration between small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and other parties have little effect. This is the conclusion of researchers from Utrecht University, based on research among over 400 small and medium-sized enterprises. Businesses are looking for other benefits of collaboration, and collaboration with universities is not at all matter-of-course.

Governmental policy for promoting collaboration with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) costs a lot of money. The European Eurostars programme costs 1.1 billion euros, and the Dutch Top Sectors Innovation Incentive Scheme for SME (MIT) has a budget of 55 million euros. But is this money well spent?

No drastic increase

Innovation scientist and principal investigator Dr. Frank van Rijnsoever of Utrecht University explains: “It’s great that a lot of money is being spent on innovation, but the existing schemes are mainly attractive to businesses that are already collaborating anyway. So there will be no drastic increase in the number of businesses that collaborate as a result of this type of grants.”

Varying tasks

Van Rijnsoever and his colleagues investigated the circumstances under which SME managers are most likely to collaborate. Managers from over 400 different businesses were presented with varying tasks containing descriptions of innovation projects. These projects varied in the form of collaboration, the type of partner, the funding form and a number of other properties. Managers then indicated which projects they were most likely and least likely to undertake.

“It’s great that a lot of money is being spent on innovation, but the existing schemes are mainly attractive to businesses that are already collaborating anyway. So there will be no drastic increase in the number of businesses that collaborate as a result of this type of grants.”
Frank van Rijnsoever
Universiteit Utrecht

Not tempted by grants

The results were surprising. Around a quarter of the businesses are already collaborating with other businesses and are planning to continue to do so whether or not any grant is involved. Around half of the businesses are interested in collaboration, but are not tempted to do so by grants. For some of these, it is actually other things that they are looking for in a collaboration, such as access to office space, special equipment, guidance and potential for crowdfunding.

Collaboration with universities

The research also shows that SMEs are really not looking to collaborate with universities. This is striking, because collaboration with universities is an important priority of the government. Van Rijnsoever: “In many cases, SMEs feel that the solutions offered by universities are not concrete enough, and their way of working is too slow. Irrespective of whether a grant is awarded or not, they often simply don’t have the time to wait two years for a result.” According to Rijnsoever, this aversion is often mutual: “Researchers want to do their work thoroughly and are more interested in the academic result than any business profits.”

International research

The businesses investigated all came from the UK and Germany, yet the research also applies to the Netherlands. Van Rijnsoever: “The Dutch system is midway between the German and English systems. For the rest, the two countries investigated are largely similar. This means we can extrapolate the results to comparable countries such as the Netherlands, but also Ireland, for example, or Luxembourg.”

Publication

Frank J. van Rijnsoever, Sander N. Kempkes, Maryse M.H. Chappin, Seduced into collaboration: A resource-based choice experiment to explain, make, buy or ally strategies of SMEs, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, http://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2017.03.015.

More information 

Dr. Frank van Rijnsoever, Utrecht University, F.J.vanRijnsoever@uu.nl, +31 30 253 7484