How to stimulate innovation processes at SMEs through Credit facilities and cooperation with Universities and Research Centers

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By Fabrizio Landi

In the last few months I have been involved in a project to provide extra credit facilities to SMEs if and only if the specific SME will have been using Universities  and  independent Research Centers to solve the company needs in term of process and/or product innovations.

The basic idea is that too often SMEs are reluctant to talk with Universities for solving their innovations needs and Universities are scared to talk with SMEs due to limited and sometimes also uncertain budget: furthermore technology transfer processes at Universities have been often burocratic as they have to follow stringent public domain rules.

SMEs have also limited management forces and often lack ways and systems even to know the local Universities R&D and problem solving capabilities: on the other hand Universities contractual approach could again be scaring SMEs while, and this is the base of all, the typical innovation needs of SMEs could be very often relatively simple to solve within the offer of know-how of a large University.

So the project, carried out by one of the major Italian Bank (Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze part of Intesasanpaolo Group) as in this case the credit facilities were offered by a Bank, has been organized through a few key points:

–       SMEs express their innovation needs in a simple format questionnaire (the Format) to the project organizer (the Bank),

–       This Formats have been transferred by the Bank to a network formed by the Technology Transfer Officers of the Universities active in the Region: the TT Officers have been looking to these Formats, selecting which Dept., within the all Universities involved, will better be able to solve the innovation needs defined in each Format,

–       In parallel a simple, straight forward Contractual scheme has been defined to avoid any dispute on legal issues,

–       Finally each SME meet the specific University Dept. selected for solving their problem: if they agree in a few time the Contract will be signed with a specific M/L term credit facility up to 3-4% of the SME revenues.

So far more than 70 SMEs have started this regional project and the first research Contracts have been already signed.