Author: Helena McMahon
Making research work for food business
Design4SMEs provides SMEs an easy way to work with researchers to develop solutions specifically designed to their specific operational and commercial needs.
Design4SMEs is a research commercialisation program, which provides researchers with a framework for exploration of the commercial application of RDI outcomes within the SME sector. The program brings together researchers and enterprise (SMEs) for 4 intensive days of business and innovation training with a significant focus on collaboration, co-creation and networking. Participants acquire commercialisation skills and a design based framework for collaborating with SMEs. At the end of the 4-days participants will have identified a route to market for their research outputs within the SME sector of the food market.
It is well accepted that owners or employees of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are far from time rich and have multiple responsibilities to juggle. In many instances SME owners do not have formal technical or food science training. Staying up to date and informed on innovations coming out of research centers is a huge challenge. This lack of innovation application is impacting both SME performance and also research impact. This is clearly evidenced by the low levels of research commercialized within the SME sector.
Innovating to scale
The reality is that many SMEs do not expect research outputs to be relevant to their companies. In many instances there is a mismatch between innovation outcomes and SME needs. Researchers for the most part are innovating for the larger food producing companies, large national and multinational firms. These innovations, while relevant, may not be designed within the range of an SME scale of production.
This is primarily due to the fact that researchers are not sufficiently informed on the technological and operational needs of SMEs. The fact that SME size represent the majority of the firms in the food sector in Europe is going mostly unnoticed by researchers. Innovating for SMEs has the potential to deliver significant and frequently elusive market based research impacts with associated commercial outputs.
The Design4SME solution
Design4SMEs brings SMEs and researchers and SMEs together to address the challenges of awareness and innovating to scale, problems shared by both groups. The key differentiator of the Design4SME framework is that it creates a peer-learning environment between the researcher and SME communities. The dynamic created between the researchers and SMEs is that of knowledge exchange, learning, problem solving and opportunity scoping.
Design4SMEs cultivates an open innovation environment with inward and outward flows of knowledge where participants learn by doing and apply design led practices to co-innovate and co-commercialise research outputs.
Living case studies
A live case study approach is employed which immerses participants within the operational and cultural realities of the firm. The SME and researchers co-exist for 4 days, in structured, unstructured and social interactions. This experiential access based approach allows the researchers to gain insights in to food related business models and SMEs insights into innovations that would not otherwise be possible.
Unexpected opportunities for SMEs
In this open innovation environment SMEs in previous programs have had opportunity to explore the commercial value of Bio-economy thinking to their operations. Areas explored in Design4SMEs include application of innovations for a more sustainable food chain such as bioactive for the extension of shelf life, food processing waste strategies e.g. development of food ingredients, traceability technologies, marketing strategies for the valorization of territorial foods and more.
Pitch to Market
At the end of the 4-day co-creative design led process the researchers pitch innovation solutions to the SME(s) involved. Two winners are selected to win the Design4SME award, which comes with a mentorship package to progress on the commercialisation pathways. The SMEs benefit as much as the researchers, those involved leave with a suite of potential innovation solutions and opportunities designed specifically in response to their companies scale, market and needs and with an insight into the mind of the researcher.
Having such direct access to innovation, innovators and expertise was a new experience for the SMEs in the program. It opened the minds of SMEs to how relevant and accessible innovation is to their business. In the case of the researchers, it opens their minds on the huge potential that innovation and designing4SMES can deliver.
Design4SMEs was developed through the Entrepreneurial Summer Academy program of the TRADEIT project. Desgin4SMEs will continue as an annual event, with the next event taking place in advance of the EFFoST 2017 Conference in Stiges Spain. If you are interested in joining the 2017 Design4SME event or the Design4SME community, which connects researchers and SMEs for the development of innovation partnerships or research commercialisation, contact Breda O Dwyer firstname.lastname@example.org.
TRADEIT an EU funded initiative
TRADEIT stands for: Traditional Foods, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology Transfer.
For whom: Food producing enterprises across Europe, especially food producers in the dairy, meat and bakery sectors.
Objective: Facilitating innovation, growth, competitiveness and a sustainable future for traditional food enterprises.
Reason: Innovation and knowledge sharing is key to achieving the growth and competitiveness. However, only few traditional, craft and artisan food producers have the capacity for research.
How: Establishing a network, organization of events and the development of the magazine ‘Taste of Science’. All are directed to share knowledge and insights on how to support production of authentic products that meet 21st century standards. Regional Hubs offer trainings, workshops and technology related events tailored to the needs and request of the enterprises at a regional level.
Areas of interest: Traceability, food safety, nutritional content, sensory value, supply chain management and sustainability.
When: From 2014 to 2016.
Funded by: European Union.
Partners: Nineteen partners across Europe. Nine partners are ‘hubs’ to facilitate enterprise support on a regional basis: Ireland, UK, Spain (2x), Portugal, Italy, Germany, Poland and Finland.
Coordination: Helena McMahon, Institute of Technology Tralee, Ireland.
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