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Points of View:

Improving exploitation

Hartmut Welck

In 2008, an EU-funded project set out to improve the dissemination of SME project results and bridge the gap between research and exploitation in the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The project found that while two thirds of the SMEs under investigation could not exploit their results there is enough help out there to make improvements.

The ECOINNO2SME ('Support SMEs in disseminiating and exploiting research results of eco-innovation') project investigated 117 SME projects funded under the Fifth and Sixth Framework Programmes (FP5 and FP6), and evaluated the methodology and exploitation of their results. It found that 78 of the SMEs under investigation could not exploit their results and needed additional support. This needn't be the case, as the project also discovered that there are enough support programmes available to offer help but that SMEs are often unable to identify the programme best suited to their individual needs.

'Our results show that there is a need to fine-tune current support information to make it more easily accessible to those who need it,' says Hartmut Welck, the project coordinator. 'SMEs produce innovative and interesting research and we must do all we can to ensure their results do not go to waste.'

Over a two-year period, ECOINNO2SME examined the entire lifecycle of a project, not just after its completion, to discover where the success or failure was founded. Here is an outline of the project's key findings.

Start as you mean to go on

To achieve successful exploitation at the end of a project, SMEs must lay a solid foundation and conduct the right groundwork from the start - SMEs must first help themselves. There are a number of ways to do this, including:

  • producing an innovative project idea that is well suited to the SME's core business;
  • establishing a work plan for exploitation before conducting the research;
  • creating a well-defined Intellectual Property (IP) arrangement and secure your interests for the period of exploitation well in advance;
  • incorporating demonstration activities (validation, prototyping, etc.) in the project work plan.

Exploit! Exploit! Exploit!

Exploitation must never be an afterthought. It must be at the forefront of everyone's mind throughout the project, from the earliest stages to gathering end results. Ways to help achieve this include:

  • adopting a strong drive to market approach throughout the project;
  • taking a more strategic role in the project;
  • ensuring you have a well-structured consortium and additional strategic partners in place such as market developers and end-users for testing your results;
  • drafting a market access action plan as soon as possible.

Use what's out there