Clare Farrukh, Nicky Athanassopoulou and Imoh Ilevbare – University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering, Institute for Manufacturing, 17 Charles Babbage Road, Cambridge, CB3 0FS, UK
This paper explores how coaching using University generated knowledge can be seen as a form of inbound organizational innovation (OI) that enables SMEs to improve their innovation activities. Evidence from one of seven OI pilots within the EU Science2Society program is starting to offer analytical evidence of what aspects of the approach are successful and why, and discuss the learning from the project with respect to inbound open innovation. The pilot involves working with 10 SMEs to explore and map knowledge transfer in the form of direct one to one coaching engagements between academia and SMEs. The knowledge transfer in this pilot is carried out by means of applying strategy and technology management tools, which have been developed through research, in a workshop setting using an SME’s own business context. Preliminary results are being analysed to show what limits and enables effective knowledge transfer and to understand why and how group coaching helps an SME’s innovation activities.
The advantages of collaboration between industry and universities are widely recognised, allowing both the exchange of tacit scientific knowledge (Cockburn & Henderson 1998) and access to unpublished codified knowledge from the most recent research findings (Fabrizio 2009). Good reasons for industry-university collaboration have been identified (e.g.Lee 2000) and in the last 15 years work in open innovation (e.g. Chesborough 2003) has further demonstrated the benefits of collaboration within a wider innovation eco-system. The challenge is now in making university research fully available to support the needs of business innovation and this concept has been taken up at high political level:
“We need open innovation to capitalise on the results of European research and innovation. This means creating the right ecosystems, increasing investment, and bringing more companies and regions into the knowledge economy”. [Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation]
The EU Science to Society (S2S) pilots have been designed to be fully consistent with this approach, aiming at developing and testing best practices for the innovative cooperation of academia, research and technology organisations and industry.
Within S2S there is a focus on the following kinds of innovation: Co-Creation, Co-location, Collaboration (R&D&I), Inter-sectorial mobility, Collaboration (Big data & Science 2.0), Coaching and training for SMEs, and Knowledge marketplace.
This paper is based on the coaching and training for SMEs pilot of the S2S program and explores how group coaching using university generated knowledge can be seen as a form of inbound organizational innovation (OI) that enables SMEs to improve their innovation activities (Ahn et al., 2013; Perkmann & Walsh 2007). This pilot will offer analytical evidence of what aspects of the approach are successful and why, and this paper discuss the emerging learning from the project as a form of inbound open innovation.
Universities see themselves becoming open innovation hubs and acting as trusted intermediaries (Striukova & Rayna 2015) but to our knowledge, there are not many European universities actively involved in knowledge transfer in the form of business processes (e.g. strategy process, innovation process) to SMEs. Therefore, there are not many comparative studies. However, Van de Vrande et al. (2009) have found that SMEs do pursue open innovation for market related reasons, such as meeting customer demands and keeping up with competitors, although they encounter cultural and organizational challenges in dealing with increased external contacts. There are studies in knowledge transfer that have looked into the transfer of organised knowledge and know-how, as well as the required communication for enabling this type of transfer (Ouijian and Carne 1987; Senker 1995; Steele et al. 1996; Trott et al.1995). In addition, the importance of one-to-one interaction (e.g. Allen 1977), suggests that coaching should be an effective means.
There have been several government support initiatives for SMEs but these have not necessarily have involved direct transfer of academic research and knowledge. The Enterprise European Network is a European initiative supporting SMEs and there are various national initiatives. For example, in the UK there have been Business Link, the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) and more recently the Growth Accelerator programmes. These services frequently involve the provider to both diagnose and implement improvement actions for the recipient SMEs, although the knowledge transfer is often implicit rather than explicit. Often, in these initiatives the provider is a professional organization providing services on a commercial basis rather than an academic institution or an RTO.