The Northern Netherlands Provinces Alliance (Samenwerkingsverband Noord Nederland or SNN), along with Groningen University Professor of Innovation and Organization Dries Faems, published a study about innovation by companies in the Northern Netherlands last week, with some surprising results.
The research report shows that the popular notion of big tech companies and startups are the main and usual suspects when it comes to innovation, doesn’t really ring true. A big group of small and medium Northern Dutch enterprises that have existed for 10 years or longer and with less than 10 employees, dubbed ‘Micro-elderly’ in the report, are responsible for most innovation. Out of the 105 of those SMEs, no less than 23 (22%) are leaders in innovation.
Frugal super innovators
On average, the more a company invests in innovation, the more it will pay off. Companies investing in research and development will end up with a higher revenue for their products and services. However, there is also a group of companies that relatively little financial investments in R&D, but still manage to come up with huge innovation results. These so called frugal super investors also appear to come from unexpected sectors, like the ship-building and leisure industries.
Another more surprising outcome is that the SMEs featured in the research report know very little about government grants and subsidies for extra investments in innovation. And the companies that do know, seldom seem to apply for them.
Testing Grounds and innovation labs
Collaborations between business, government and citizens in so called testing grounds or innovation labs, where new products and services are developed by their combined efforts, seems to be a great way to increase innovation power of SMEs. On the other hand, less is true for collaboration between government and business in multi-disciplinary innovation networks. One possible explanation is that the value of these types of collaborations will only manifest itself in the longer term, while the costs of collaboration is mostly visible in the short term.
The findings of the research report were based on the 3000 Northern SMEs that were contacted for this study. Of those 3000, 432 companies have substantially filled out the questionnaire.
Northern Dutch Innovation monitor
Last week also marked the signing of a four year agreement to monitor local and regional innovation, by SNN deputy Henk Brink and Chairman of the Executive Board of the University of Groningen Sibrand Poppema. The goal of this collaboration between the two parties is to closely monitor, map out and analyze innovation activities, investments and achievements of SMEs.