AWARENESS about the importance of innovation is very low among small and medium-sized enterprises in Slovakia. Only one quarter of Slovak companies are actively involved in pursuing innovations, either in technologies, processes or services according to available statistics. More than half of these active firms are larger companies with over 250 employees. Among the group of small companies (up to 50 employees) only 19.2 percent are active in pursuing innovations while the proportion of medium-sized companies (up to 250 employees) that are active in innovation is only 34.4 percent.
Slovakia’s National Agency for Development of Small and Medium Enterprises (NADSME) has launched a two-year project, Boosting the Innovation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises in Slovakia (BISMES) to address this low level of activity.
The Slovak Spectator spoke with Andrej Klimant, the manager of international activities at NADMSE about the activities undertaken thus far under BISMES and how it is doing in meeting its targets.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): How is the BISMES project going? How would you assess the interest of parties involved with it?
Andrej Klimant (AK): The BISMES project originated as a response of NADSME and the EurActiv.sk portal to a specific call of the European Commission for members of the Enterprise Europe Network. It started in June 2010.
First, it was necessary to carry out two surveys to define the needs of the target group – small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) – in terms of access to finances for innovations. The first survey focused on SMEs regardless of their past experience with innovation. This survey was important because in this way we wanted to find out what the general level of knowledge among SMEs was about innovations: what they are, where they can be used, and where to get money for them. The answers showed that more than 95 percent of the respondents do not have enough information about innovations and their funding. Apart from this, the survey uncovered other barriers preventing SMEs from making innovations – lack of money, the elaborateness of applying for EU Structural Funds, weak domestic legislation to protect innovative ideas, and a bad interconnection between academia and business.
On the basis of this information we plan to organise a total of 16 seminars, two in each region, at which SMEs will be able to get more information, discuss their problems with experts and submit their proposals to remedy the current situation. The first seminar took place on February 10 in Banská Bystrica. It was attended by 35 people who assessed it as meeting their expectations. They expressed 90 percent satisfaction with the quality of the lecturers, its organisation and themes.
TSS: Have you already succeeded in meeting some of the basic aims of BISMES such as an information office for SMEs?
AK: The implementation of the project is very satisfactory; the interest of SMEs as well as other relevant key players in the creation and implementation of supportive programmes is really significant. In December the first of a series of roundtables was held at which relevant institutions could discuss their opinions and responses in terms of innovations, their funding, and creation of related legislation. Based on experiences from this roundtable, we want to continue organising these meetings as they have been shown to be very beneficial and productive. The next one will take place on March 17 and a French expert will share his experiences with the Slovak participants.
With regards to the information office, it is actually working already. One should not imagine it as an independent undertaking but as a union of workers from NADMSE and EurActiv.sk who are willing and able to advise SMEs about innovations and their funding.
TSS: Why is support for innovation so important for the further development of Slovakia?
AK: Only a company which realises the importance of innovation can succeed in the current market. It is important to realise that innovations are not only related to technologies but also to marketing, services, management, design and so on. Nowadays, it is actually impossible to compete only on the basis of lower prices. Slovakia and SMEs are currently focusing particularly on the advantage of a relatively cheap labour force but in the future investors could decide to leave for a cheaper country. This is a reason why each company should think about how to be innovative and it does not matter whether it is a tradesman or a high-tech software development company. This is what we are trying to explain to Slovak businesspersons – innovation concerns them regardless of the sector in which they do business. They can succeed and be competitive only by making innovations.
21. Feb 2011 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková