In Lüneburg Region tailor-made and demand-oriented innovation and technology transfer advice for SMEs is organized via municipal business development agencies.
Competitiveness of regions depends increasingly on the ability of regional stakeholders to adapt to the worldwide rising market pressure. At the same time, SMEs, which mostly do not have own research and development departments, characterize the economy in Lüneburg Region. The progressing technological structural change poses a major challenge for those regional SMEs.
Against this background, municipal business developers in Lüneburg Region decided in 2006 to group together and build up a jointly operated transfer-centre, the Transfer Centre-Elbe-Weser (TZEW). The TZEW is, simply put, an interface between SMEs in rural areas and research institutions and external service providers.
Municipal business development agencies and the TZEW accompany innovation processes in SMEs in different steps. The process is tailored to the individual needs of each enterprise. The first step is usually an information consultation with the TZEW to define the explicit task and needs. For the following process the TZEW draws on a network of external researchers, experts and service providers. Those specialists and the experts for innovation processes working at the TZEW, support the SMEs to develop and implement solutions for optimizing business operations.
The TZEW works for ten out of eleven counties in Lüneburg Region, in one county a comparable system exists, but the described demand-oriented innovation transfer is organized slightly different via a cooperation called Produktion+.
Municipalities in the region fund the TZEW and Produktion+. The ERDF funding guideline “Advise of SMEs for knowledge and innovation transfer” grants subsidies (up to 50%) for qualified counselling of SMEs via TZEW or Produktion+. EU-funds per year: ca. 357,000 Euro. The TZEW has 9 employees (2019).
Evidence of success
The biggest evidence of success is the excellent feedback from companies, which made use of the services provided by the TZEW and Produktion+. Between 2013 and 2015, 97,9 % of the SMEs answered in their evaluation sheets that they would make use of services from TZEW again and 97,4 % replied that the activities of the TZEW provide added value for the region. In addition, other regions in Germany have already copied the model of demand-oriented innovation and technology transfer.
Potential for learning or transfer
Many SMEs in Europe do not have own research and development departments and, consequently, might need assistance to secure their competitiveness in a time of ever faster technological change. X The model of tailor-made and demand-oriented innovation and technology transfer advice for SMEs has proved to be successful and can be replicated in other regions. Also the approach of grouping together with neighboring counties to operate jointly a transfer center with (approx. five) employed innovation experts (engineers and economists) and a small back office is transferable. However, one relevant factor of success is the embedment of TZEW and Produktion+ in a system of well-positioned municipal business agencies, which are in regular contact with the companies in their county. Such structures do not exist in all European countries. Nevertheless, the cooperation behind the TZEW started in 1999 with only two counties and until now already ten counties and two towns have joined the cooperation