Innovation in SMEs

On average, SMEs are less innovative than large companies, as they have limitations due to more limited internal resources (EC, 2019a). Especially in Eastern European countries, SMEs have very low innovation activity and there are large differences between SMEs and large companies. In the field of customer innovation, SMEs find it particularly difficult to innovate.

Meeting real customer needs is the core factor for successful innovation management, for generating customer-oriented business ideas and innovative concepts (von Hippel, 2005)


SMEs do not have the time and resources to receive feedback and ideas from their customers. And when they do find the time, it is difficult to process the information and turn it into valuable solutions.

A holistic approach to customer-centric innovation is complex and requires changes at all levels of a company. However, digitization and new media are now opening up far-reaching opportunities to make full use of customer-centric innovations in SMEs as well, thus strongly promoting innovative strength and competitiveness (Robra-Bissantz, 2017).

These technologies and the opportunities they offer have so far been little known in SMEs and are only used by very few SMEs.

They lack information, experience, knowledge and skills on instruments, methods and procedures as well as on the use of digital technologies to acquire, process and realise customer innovations.

Project Goal

Against this background, the project pursues on a broad regional basis the objective of enabling and supporting SMEs to exploit their customer innovation potential and thus to strengthen the productivity and competitiveness of SMEs, to secure existing jobs and to create new ones. The following main activities will be carried out to achieve the objectives:

Project milestones

  • In 13 countries, analysis and comprehensive investigation of best practices on how SMEs generate, process and realise customer-centric innovation approaches and which digital
  • technologies they can use doing so. The best practices obtained will be processed, transferred to SMEs in the context of training and consulting, and supported in their implementation in the companies.
  • Development of a toolbox with instruments, methods and procedures for the realisation of customer innovations in SMEs.
  • Through the development of two specific training and coaching programs, SMEs gain digital skills and are enabled to continuously realise comprehensive customer-centric innovations. The learning takes place mainly at the workplace and at the same time includes individual company development projects, so that digital technologies are already used and corresponding innovations are realised during the further training.
  • Comprehensive qualification of teachers and consultants of SMEs.

Project Execution

The qualification, consulting and support programs are carried out by chambers, which, as central SME supporters, have direct access to SMEs and, with their training and technology centres, also have corresponding capacities.

However, many teachers and consultants lack the knowledge and skills to qualify and advise SMEs and their staff in the application of digital technologies and in the acquisition, processing and realisation of customer innovations at a high quality level. Therefore, two specific train the trainer programs for teachers and consultants are being developed, which will be implemented and permanently run by 18 colleges and universities from 9 countries.

These programs are:

  • strengthening and promoting the knowledge and skills of teachers and consultants on digital technologies on the one hand and on the realisation of customer-centric innovations on the other hand.
  • constantly providing well qualified teachers and consultants on a broad regional basis.

The developed instruments, digital models, educational and support programs will be tested and evaluated under different national conditions in several countries and implemented by all project partners. A continuation of the work after the end of the project with an ongoing implementation of the educational and support programs is secured, including financing.

The partners

The project is carried out by eight experienced partners (chambers, other institutions of vocational training and universities) from Denmark, Germany, Poland and Hungary with different levels of development and conditions. The transnational project approach enables learning from each other, identification and transfer of best practices and joint development work.

All results of the project will be transferred to 68 chambers, SME associations and colleges/universities from 13 countries, which will receive implementation advice and will be involved in the project work as associated partners from the beginning of the project.

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