Digital technology is introducing exchanges and collaborative ways of working everywhere: open innovation is increasingly becoming the general model of innovation for companies. "It must therefore be the absolute priority of public or private aid schemes to support open innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to encourage their growth and their transformation into intermediate-sized enterprises (ITEs) that create new jobs," concludes the report by the French Academy of Technologies "Open Innovation and SMEs", which has just been published.
It is now recognised by a number of economic studies (OECD, Banque de France, etc.) that new jobs in France will come mainly from the creation and development of SMEs and TWAs and, more specifically, from the transformation of SMEs (from 11 to 250 people) into TWAs (from 250 to 5,000 people). Open innovation, a major source of business creation and development, consists in involving players from outside the company in its innovation process in order to meet current or future challenges. Widely used in the strategies of large companies, it now appears to be necessary for the growth of SMEs and their transformation into ETIs. It is this transformation process that poses a problem in France, where ETIs are sorely lacking in the economic and employment fabric.
Indeed, many opinion surveys indicate a real shift in favour of business creation and innovation, especially among young people. Nevertheless, innovation in France still faces real cultural reluctance to change and a tendency to wait for problems to be solved in a global and centralised manner, hence the multiplicity, already mentioned, of national innovation support structures. Moreover, innovation is often perceived as a risk of losing one's job. This attitude is a brake on initiatives to open up to others and to what is new.
More generally, this spirit of openness towards others will have to develop throughout society because open innovation depends on all the actors in the company. This question relates in particular to training: how to prepare young people for the rapid and often
unpredictable jobs of tomorrow and to convey the notion of innovation?
Some experiments are being carried out at the high school and BTS levels as in Rouen, or in the new region of Occitania, but the difficulty is both to convince the teachers and to give a space of freedom to those who are motivated.
The working group of the Academy of Technologies (1) today delivers the conclusions and recommendations of a year-long study. Based on the hearing of some fifteen innovation process managers, the group of experts has carried out an inventory of the practices of SMEs and the innovation system in France. The profound changes in the economic, cultural and social environment will lead to a rapid transformation of economic models towards more individual and local initiatives based on innovation in the broad sense (technological, commercial, financial, social, etc.). A large number of such initiatives already exist at all levels. They need to be encouraged, made better known and make the most of these experiences.
The report concludes that there is a strong need to integrate an open innovation process in SMEs and ETIs and makes five main recommendations:
1. Continuing to give priority to indirect aid for innovation - such as the research tax credit - but targeting it more towards SMEs, including in the assessment of these firms the whole innovation process, which will encourage both their development and their openness to new partnerships.
2. Redirecting direct aid - now mainly directed towards the creation of start-ups - towards the development of SMEs, giving priority to the growth of existing SMEs to bring them to the ETI stage. This presupposes having competent controllers in these processes and not only in the field of research.
3. Launch an overall critical review of the French system of public support for innovation to simplify and harmonize technology transfer structures, involving representatives of SMEs. The profusion of structures set up by the State since 2004 (71 competitiveness clusters, some 50 CRITTs, 14 SATTs, 34 Carnot institutes, 16 IRT/ITEs, 8 mutualized innovation platforms, France Brevet) leads to a very high level of administrative complexity that discourages SMEs and their managers. The Academy recommends that this system be simplified and that these entities be given clear and priority missions of assistance to business innovation, like the Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany.
4. As part of this reflection, carry out analytical work on non-technological innovations (commercial, organizational, design, social, etc.). Little taken into account by current innovation support mechanisms, most of which are technology-driven, these innovations, which are more often the result of research in the human and social sciences, play an essential role, including in transforming a technological breakthrough into an innovation.
5. To promote exchanges of researchers between public bodies and companies, by easing the administrative and statutory barriers which separate public research and companies, such as staff regulations and remuneration. The creation of "Business Innovation Referent" posts, proposed in a previous report by the Académie des technologies, would encourage SMEs to link up with public research.
(1) The Academy of Technology is to make proposals and recommendations to public authorities and socio-economic actors for a better exploitation of technologies at the service of mankind.