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Globalising Innovation

Challenges to the innovation processes in a modern world

Innovations have a central function for knowledge societies and are essential for the technological advance and the economic growth of a nation (see ‘Academic Entrepreneurship and Internationalisation of Technology-Based SMEs’ Lautenschläger and Haase 2004, p16). There is a broad consensus across Europe that technology transfer activities such as the creation of innovative firms, which are often spin-offs from academic institutions and R&D centres, have proven to be effective mechanisms for improving the innovative application of research results and consequently for contributing to socio-economic development. In this respect, high-tech start-ups, as an effective interface between the R&D system and industry on an international scale, are a crucial element in fostering new innovative global businesses.

Consequently, over recent decades, high-tech based incubation of start-up companies and technology transfer support systems have become a major driving force for European economies. The European Commission has triggered this phenomenon through the establishment of policies and actions aimed at boosting innovation within Europe, as a method to support regional development practices and SME competitiveness. This is not a simple task. New knowledge and new ideas are created every day across Europe. Transferring them into real innovation - a new economic activity that creates jobs and wealth - is facilitated by supporting those that have been inspired by new ideas and knowledge. Intermediaries such as Business Incubators and Technology Transfer Centres have a long history in supporting knowledge based start-ups from academic and research institutes, and from private inventors. But with the changing nature of innovation, the support services they provide have to respond to the changing needs and demands; they have to be offered in the light of global thinking.

Despite this complex mission, institutions all over Europe have become very focused on innovation support practices. They know what to do and what not to do when positioning, engineering, organising and offering these tools and services. As the ideal exploitation of existing knowledge is essential for the technological competitiveness of an economy, an active technology transfer has to ensure that existing technology is not only transferred in time, but also with regard to the economically acceptable conditions of the location where it is needed. This has to take into consideration the international application of innovations. Thus, the global realisation of transfer projects becomes more and more relevant.

Globalisation, new technologies and growth in the service sector are all being combined to quicken the pace of change today. In the knowledge-driven economy, innovation has become essential for achievements in the business world. With this growth in importance, large and small organisations have begun to re-evaluate their products, their services, their processes and even their corporate culture. This is imperative in the attempt to maintain their competitiveness in the global market. Therefore, international networking and international-orientated thinking are two of the most important factors to support entrepreneurs either in start-up companies, or in existing SMEs, gaining competitive advantage in global markets. For those looking for early entry into international markets, their chances of success will be increased if business internationalisation support services can also be provided by technology transfer intermediaries, for example Business Innovation Centres or Incubators, situated in global target markets, in other regions or other countries.

International business development schemes and global market orientation services, which seek to help enterprises gain access to export markets, are often referred to as "Soft Landing" services. Business support service packages offered to start-up entrepreneurs and SMEs for Soft Landing should be flexible, tailor-made and focused on individual company's needs. A high level of adaptation and diversification of the services has to be considered as the needs of beneficiaries can be very different. They need more than office space, admin support or IT packages. They are looking for reliable contacts to lawyers, tax experts and into governmental support programmes and commercial partnerships. This article will illustrate the need for business support packages. Furthermore, the article will share the experiences gained so far to allow readers to evaluate the effectiveness and the results of Soft Landing and Networking Services.

As the technology transfer process has an essential influence on these services, the following sections of the article will explain the necessary elements of technology management that provide the basis to enable a value-orientated and well-planned transfer of technologies from their scientific origin to a commercial exploitation on an international scale.

 

Integrated technology transfer processes

The above-mentioned challenges are faced by the integrated technology transfer process, which was developed and applied successfully by INI-Novation GmbH (www.ini-novation.com). Within a technology transfer process all kinds of strategic, managerial and technical support is necessary for the development and commercialisation of innovative business ideas and technological applications. Examples are services directed at entrepreneurs, scientists and those directly offered to investors. They should be divided into the three different areas: Basic Services, Composite Services, and Managed Services as illustrated and summarised in the figure below.

Strategically orientated services are the key to success. Therefore, the entire technology transfer process has to integrate services in the broad range from identification and awareness, via screening, breeding, incubation, product development and final commercialisation up to post-commercialisation support. Furthermore, the services ought to be focused on the identification of entrepreneurs, development of their entrepreneurial skills, and also the development of an expert infrastructure to support the needs of technology-based ventures. In order for an enterprise to be successful, it is needless to mention this has to be accomplished on an international scale.

Entrepreneurs and companies with strong international networks achieve faster growth rates, reach their IPOs quicker, and that are more innovative, generally receive higher valuations and demonstrate better ability to cope with periods of economic difficulty. The international dynamic is of particular importance in sectors undergoing frequent technological change. There are two levels on which companies need support within the integrated technology transfer process: a local level, at which general services are offered, and an international level, in which a soft landing platform and networking services are offered as described below.

 

Soft landing platform and international networking services

Probably the most important feature of an intermediary is the integration of its customers in an existing operational network. It is crucial to quickly find the appropriate business services, customers, suppliers and partners. This has a much higher priority than the provision of technical infrastructure and office space (built-in access). For instance, a tight-knit international network provides the relevant ‘know-how’ to enter the market abroad. Technology transfer intermediaries institutionalise such a network and form alliances. This also creates synergies for the companies involved. To accomplish this, fast and easy access to ‘key players’ has to be established, and formal ties with influential experts integrate them directly into the activities of customers.

Conquering markets means making contacts, learning about cultures and interacting with human beings. Companies understand how to operate in their own markets but face significant hurdles in trying to ‘internationalise’ their businesses. Small enterprises usually lack the resources, know-how and networked partnership to create a sustainable parallel organisation and usually face the threats that business internationalisation involves:

 

  • Different legal systems and tax systems apply in different countries

  • There is a lack of understanding of the new market, its drivers and mechanisms

  • The market and client base in a foreign country can force a change in the business model, but the companies are not prepared due to

    • Insufficient investment and business planning to enter the market effectively

    • Inability to break through to achieve first sales in the new market

    • Inability to effectively support customers and partners in the export market



  • Finding the right personnel in the foreign labour market might be a problem

  • Finding the right funding programmes

  • Finding adequate partners


Only through exchange of knowledge, and experiences of co-operation in foreign markets, can success be achieved. It results in a spread of international business activities, in which knowledge orientation of companies and business processes, lead to new forms of cooperation. The so-called Soft Landing Platform for foreign entrepreneurs and foreign companies offers professional consulting and management services necessary to establish a new entity and begin commercial activities in a foreign country. A soft landing platform helps companies all over Europe exploit an existing competitive advantage in a new market or accelerate their growth by introducing them to new business opportunities. Soft landing services and business support packages can be grouped in the following categories:

  •  Support in travel organisation and accommodation

  • Support in setting up meetings

  • Logistics: Access to offices, IT and administration packages

  • Introduction to funding schemes

  • Access to sources of funding (business environment, partners and governments)

  • Support to identify markets and target customers

  • Specialised support to access experts like lawyers, advisers, etc

  • Team recruiting services

  • Training and mentoring

  • Soft landing management


The services need to provide benefit to the customer. Companies are forced to continuously enlarge their knowledge assets. An actual and functional know-how is necessary, but not sufficient for the innovation capacity of a company. They need adequate knowledge, even provided by outsourced service specialists, so they can build up effective operational knowledge in different international markets. Soft Landing activity is an important instrument for the internationalisation of innovative business.

The collaborations created with partners from different regions and countries, contribute not only to the extension of their own networks, but also support the provision of conditions for international collaboration for economic growth. For businesses to innovate in this way, has proven to be an effective mechanism for improving the innovative application of research results and for business development support to start-ups and existing SMEs.

 

Conclusion and good practice examples

An international network of innovation support has to intensively focus on all stakeholders during the integrative commercialisation process, especially those from foreign sources. In the conditions of the current world economy the active participation of a company on an international scale can be crucial for its sustainable development and survival. In this context the internationalisation of a business can be viewed as a factor of a great importance to companies, regardless of the scope of their activities.

In many projects, INI-Novation selected companies and provided them with internationalisation support. The transnational added value was built on the ability to send a customer to a ‘trusted friend’ in another country who through his/her established business contacts can propose tailor-made business support packages to meet the customer's needs.

Soft landing services deliver targeted support and involve dedicated internationalisation experts and programmes to develop markets abroad. Once soft landing services are established successfully, packages can be turned into sustainable businesses, because companies all over Europe are ready and able to pay a market rate for internationalisation services. In reality, it’s not the one who has the best ideas but the one who can use his or her ideas best that will succeed.

The limits of the conventional view - supporting inventors only locally - can be seen by simply turning it global.

The Case

INNOBRIDGE BIC in Ruse, Bulgaria

The INNOBRIDGE BIC was established in May 2011 as a business unit in the Ruse Chamber of Commerce and Industry and in the framework of a Cross Border cooperation project, aimed to create an organisation focused on the promotion of innovative entrepreneurship. The project positively concluded that the incubation process and its basic services offered, in terms of designing the business model, preparing the technical tools, selecting and training the staff, establishing good relationships with the main stakeholders. Nevertheless, the number of clients need to be increased. And since the critical mass of potential clients in the wider region of Ruse is relatively small, the decision was made to focus the incubation activities - from the beginning - on international collaboration and on international networking.

The relationships with some important stakeholders, for example Municipality and University, are good indicators, but one of the key success factors is the fact that International Soft Landing Services were offered. This was accomplished in two directions: offer Bulgarian companies services to sell abroad (outbound) and offer foreign companies a chance to establish their market in Bulgaria (inbound).

These activities lead to new projects (virtual incubatees) contributing to the sustainability of services on offer and future funding opportunities. The international recognition of EC-BIC Accreditation was essential after INNOBRIDGE became operational. INNOBRIDGE is the first Bulgarian incubator to achieve this accreditation through close cooperation with EBN and INI-Novation.

As one of the first customers, Dotterel signed a Business Development Agreement with INNOBRIDGE. INNOBRIDGE is contracted to support the development of the business plan, provided entrepreneurship training and individual coaching and mentoring, and most importantly access to international markets. As a result of this initiative:

  • Dotterel is already selling its Language Learning Card Game in Bulgaria

  • Efforts have been taken to open doors to the German market through publishing houses, bookstores and marketing events

  • A cooperation was initiated with a Portuguese university, in which the university will provide an interactive learning experience and Dotterel will provide the content to offer the language-learning capabilities for young children as interactive mobile solutions.


 

Wolfgang Kniejski studied business management and economics at the University of Mannheim, Germany and started his business career in 1991 as the Financial Manager of Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics, in Darmstadt, Germany. In 1999 he took the position as Business Manager of INI-GraphicsNet Foundation and, from 2004, has been is its Business Director. Kniejski used his technology commercialisation knowledge to create INI-Novation GmbH - an innovation management and consulting entity. He was appointed by different governmental agencies on an international level to develop concepts for high-tech incubators and Business and Science Parks. He is also a shareholder in the Boards of several spin-off companies and technology transfer organisations all over the world.
Published on 24-05-2013 20:24 by David Tee. 710 page views

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