Supporting The Sme Sector Through Innovation Vouchers Management
This paper investigates the link between universities, innovation, technology and the interaction with local industries. The flow of knowledge that drives innovation, but knowledge transfer from universities to industry is a fluid, complex and iterative process involving many different actors. As a consequence, the role of universities in technology transfer and commercialization is much more nuanced than traditional linear conceptions of the innovation process assume (Stokes, 1997; Branscomb, 1997). In this new system, universities were privileged as a principal site for the conduct of scientific research and their autonomy in this endeavour was left intact. underlying the post-war 'social contract for science' (Martin, 2003) was the 'linear model' of innovation based on the assumption that "a rather straightforward conversion takes place from investments in basic science to economic growth, passing through applied science, technological development, and marketing" (Lundvall, 2002, p. 3).
With the deepen of the economic recession in Ireland and a reduction in the number of multinational companies due to competition from global competitors, there has been an effort from the Irish government to support the Irish Small to Medium Size companies (SMEs). Enterprise Ireland identified several ways to support the SME sector, but the one outstanding success was the introduction of innovation vouchers. The innovation voucher scheme is not a new phenomenon it was developed in Netherlands in the early part of this decade to increase the interaction between SMEs and public knowledge institutes, e.g. universities and technology transfer institutes. Enterprise Ireland issue innovation voucher worth â‚¬5000 to SMEs to exchange for knowledge and expertise from one of the 24 'knowledge provide' - participating Institutes of Technologies, Universities and public research bodies located throughout Ireland. A successful application for the innovation voucher must involve an innovation solution; provide additional value for the company and having ongoing benefits. One of these benefits is to create a cultural shift in the small business community's approach to innovation.
More and more SMEs production activities rely on scientific and technical knowledge and that increasingly firms are drawing on the scientific and technical expertise of universities. With the development of new technology the question arises who has ownership of this technology which would be Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). While WIT receives funding from the government and have claim on IPR on a new technology this could be a cost that a company could not afford. What is more worrying is that companies may well fail to actually benefit from this public funded research. This could be because of their lack of absorptive capacity in dealing with information overload for new R&D. Firms may need to develop upstream research activities to be able to benefit from the available information and knowledge produced by universities while universities are being pushed to increase their technology transfer (TT) activities. With this increase in technology transfer should researchers be rewarded for devoting part of their time to TT activities? As WIT goes in the direction of partnerships with companies in industry and greater involvement in IPR for technology developed on campus, how will this effect WIT as a centre of learning and research (Geuna, Nesta, 2006).
To test the performance of innovation vouchers a case study will be used, which is receiving funding in the form of an innovation voucher. The product is call The Hangout, it is a gazebo where clothes can be attached to a line under the roof, which has protection from rain, UV damage and soiling from bird droppings. The product was shown on dragon's den and received funding for further research. The first model is expensive to manufacture and requires two people to assembly. It is hoped to be able to redesign the gazebo to reduce manufacture costs and reduce assembly time.Methodology
The two main methods used in order to obtain results or this research is qualitative research the gathering of data in the form of face to face interview with people who have experience of innovation vouchers. The qualitative research focus on the interview on people's experience of innovation vouchers and the impact of innovation vouchers on SMEs. The second method is quantitive research which was part of the case study that is used to understand the impact of innovation vouchers on SMEs. This was done in the form in the form of 3D design, FEA analysis of the new design for the hangout Gazebo.
The research carried out involved a face to face interview with Tom Corcoran head of arclabs part of Waterford Institute of Technology business development campus. Arclabs is a knowledge centre which facilities the knowledge transfer in two ways. The interview process is an opportunity to gather vast amounts of data and to get the interviewee view on the success of innovation vouchers and their impact on SMEs. Furthermore interviews are flexible and allow the interviewer to investigate, explain or question an interviewee's answer. Subjects can be probed, issues pursued and lines of investigation followed over a rather long time span Denscombe (2003).
For the interview process "a decision will have to be made about the type of interview which is most likely to produce the information required" as noted by Bell (2005). The type of interview method selected was the one stated by (Bell, 2005) a standardised/structured interview "can take the form of a questionnaire or checklist that is completed by the interviewer rather the respondent". It was decided that this approach would best suite the author's relative inexperience in terms of carrying out the interviews. This type of interview allows the interviewee to express their personal opinion if it is related to the topic. Pre-interview preparation included agreement with the interviewee of a date, time and duration of the interview. In the interest of client confidentiality and to record an accurate description of the interview, a request was made to the interviewee if a Dictaphone could be used during the interview. The interviewee from Arclab was offered anonymity but decline this offer. In the next interview process companies will be interview on their impression of innovation vouchers scheme, they will also be offered anonymity. Having completed the interviews, the results will be discussed in the next section and also the general conclusions which may be drawn from the results obtained.
For the quatitative research the data was gathered from the Gazebo design the client required a redesign of the main structure of the gazebo. Before this could be carried out the structure would have to be tested to see how the new structure would perform under extreme weather conditions. To have data to compare to the data from the new design finite element analysis (FEA) was carried out on the existing gazebo, using the ANSYS computer package provided by the college. Wind force of 50 Newton's was applied to the model of the structure.
The gazebo structure was redesigned using the Solid Works 3-D computer package; while there were issues with software compatibility these were eventually overcome. While the client appreciated the computer modelling the was carried out on the design, it was felt that due to time constraints that a field trials would be carried out on the new design. At a later date the model would be tested on the finite element analysis package and the data results compared to the data from the first model.Results/Discussion
The interview with Tom Corcoran generated good data in relation to innovation vouchers and their impact on SMEs. The innovation voucher scheme originated in the Netherlands and was designed to increase the interaction between SMEs and public knowledge institutes. In Ireland the innovation process is similar to the Dutch approach. Arclab do not take on a company right away they prefer if the SME goes to a third level institute like Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT). The third level institute prepares the project, be it a business plan or R&D for a new product. A key area that was address by Tom was the area of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), he clarified that the SME owns the IPR; the third level institute does the research under contract with no rights to the IPR. In 2008 there were 120 SMEs that with WIT and Arclab sponsored through the innovation vouchers scheme. Although the scheme is been scaled back in 2010 he believes that Enterprise Ireland is committed to the scheme and wants to keep the structure intact.
The Finish economic model came up in discussion and he highlighted how the Finland government invested allot of money into research and development and was reflected in the high number of patents that have been issued in Finland which is the highest in Europe, in contrast to Ireland were the only R&D was done by multi-national companies who sent their patents back to their home country. The high level of entrepreneur in Ireland compared to Finland was discussed and how by increasing R&D and the number of patents would put Ireland on a par with Finland. He responded saying "there is a high level of entrepuership taught at both undergraduate level and graduate even more so than in Irish third level institutes". Finally he stresses that while the innovation voucher scheme was very successful initially its long term success depends on the absorptive capacity of the company that is developing the new product.
The quantitative research showed up some interesting results with the finite element analysis showing the stress point which is at the base of the frame, this frame can be seen in figure 1. This data will be used for comparison with the data from the new design. If this is successful then the process of selecting new materials to be used will be carried out and tested using FEA. Materials such as amorphous polyethylene (APET), Vivak and Axpet, will be tested using FEA. Axpet which is a transparent cold blending plastic sheet which could be used as a roofing material, and can provide UV protection to the clothes which are attached to the gazebo.
The traditional linear model relationship between third level institutes has been replaced by a more open approach where academics have come down from their ivory tower. The SMEs are gaining information that one time would have been unattainable, but the success of this programme depends on the absorptive capacity of the SME. If a company can improve their adsorptive capacity then the potential to grow the company could be greatly increased. By been able to deal with information overload it could push the company in new directions.
With regards to the case study communication issues arose due to the use of the different 3D computer packages, which resulting in different calculations use in the design. Any design changes that were sent by computer would have to be confirmed by email. While this is a small project it does highlight the difficulties when there are several computer packages in use. The Airbus 380 design had the same issues because the German engineers were using different computer software to the French engineers.
Figure 1 FEA of Gazebo
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