How do cooperate when the partner is much bigger?

How do cooperate when the partner is much bigger?
  • 31. January 2020
  • News

The well-being of the science-based economy depends on how small businesses and research institutions learn to work together.

If there is a desire to work with universities, over 90% of Estonian companies have to ask themselves the same question. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make up 99.8% of all Estonian enterprises and 90.8% of them are so-called micro enterprises. SMEs employ 77.9% of the workforce and create 75.7% of the value. It is commendable to note that between 2013 and 2017, SME value creation has increased by a fifth.

The quality of cooperation depends on the motivation and innovation capacity of both, ie the company and the university. Collaboration is smoother and more productive if both the academic partner and the company have the same motivation and abilities. You can also say that symmetrically. Conversely, when the motivation and / or ability of one party is different from the other, the results of the cooperation remain modest and the cooperation does not proceed smoothly.

Size is not the key

First of all, coming back to the question in the title, size is not the key. This means that a small business does not have to worry about size when planning to work with a university. Collaboration is done primarily at the group or individual level where the size of the organization does not play a significant role.

Secondly, a small business planning a partnership with a university must carefully select their partner. The decisive importance of partner selection has also emerged from earlier studies.

Thirdly, even though small businesses, due to their size, have less experience in managing development projects than their expected academic partners, this fact may not prove to be fatal to the collaboration. One of the conclusions from the studies was that entrepreneurs appreciate the motivation of the researcher. This means that the role of motivation should not be underestimated. When both parties are highly motivated, the process and outcomes are evaluated positively and in case of poor motivation the outcomes are weak. The entrepreneur must feel that the academic partner wants to work with them. This can sometimes determine even more than the motivation of the company itself.

Fourthly, the need to create clearer incentives for researchers in the research system to facilitate meaningful innovation collaboration with small businesses can be highlighted. Given the results of research, the motivation for collaborative research should be given much more prominence in designing research policies and how to increase the motivation of researchers and their reflection on small businesses.

Fifthly, new questions arise, and finding answers to them will help solve practical problems. For example: what determines how small businesses perceive the motivation of academic staff to collaborate? Perhaps this is about removing barriers of perception and communication? The process is probably more complicated, but getting to know it is very necessary. The success of our science-based economy depends a lot on how small businesses and research institutions work together. Certainly, the image of the research community in society also plays a role. Here we are hoping for the best.

Maaja Vadi, Sigrid Rajalo

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