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Points of View:

Coaching creates unique learning opportunities

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While many small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have become reluctant to receive professional consultancy, they tend to be very receptive to coaching. Openly sharing knowledge and network resources with the company is a central part of the value provided by the coach.

The smE-MPOWER project has created a unique learning community of coaching organisations which are sharing best practice ideas with hi-tech SMEs, and advising them on how they can adopt a leading role in major international research projects.

'A team of experts has been at hand to guide, coach and facilitate the SMEs during all stages of their application processes. They were provided with a package that included technical support to help them realise their innovation potential, as well as practical help to ensure their funding application processes progressed as painlessly as possible,' says project coordinator, Katrin Reschwamm from the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation in Magdeburg, Germany.

The geographically balanced consortium bridges the worlds of industry and academia. It includes the following: SME networks from Ireland and Cyprus; SME intermediaries from Slovakia, Lithuania, Romania, Switzerland, Israel; and researchers from Germany, France and the UK.

smE-MPOWER organised 55 information workshops and attracted over 1 000 SMEs. Direct mailings reached another 10 000 SMEs in 10 countries. Overall, 110 SMEs took part in the project's coaching process which expanded their ideas into detailed project proposals. Of these, 47 were drawn up for European and national funding.

'The consortium managed to create a lot of awareness and spread the word about European funding opportunities,' says Reschwamm. 'smE-MPOWER also helped SMEs get around the barriers that prevented them from gaining funding for innovative research.'

Of the participating SMEs, 30% said that they were so encouraged by the quality of coaching on offer that they would like to continue developing their proposals so they can participate in more international research.

'The SMEs received individual guidance on consortium building. This encouraged them to resubmit a proposal or identify other relevant funding frameworks for the project,' says Reschwamm.

The impact of smE-MPOWER