Yes, small and medium-sized enterprises export! But to do so, they face a lot more difficulties than large corporations. Manon Enjolras of the ERPI laboratory (Équipe de Recherche sur les Processus Innovatifs – Research Team on Innovative Processes), at the University of Lorraine, presents her PhD thesis to us: a tool for evaluating the ability of SMEs to innovate and export based on a twofold innovation/export skills assessment. Available in cartoon and video format!
More than 98% of businesses in France are small and medium-sized enterprises. These SMEs thus represent an extremely important factor in terms of France’s economic development, and are highly present on international markets. To be sure, French SMEs export, however they face a number of significant hurdles: insufficient resources, competition, price wars, to name but a few.
To overcome these difficulties, one solution available to them is innovation. According to a survey by BPIfrance (“PME 2011”), one innovative SME in every two is present internationally. Through innovation, SMEs can stand out from the competition and make inroads into markets which they had not previously considered. For all concerned, innovation would appear to be a prerequisite to exporting.
By following this guideline, the ERPI laboratory examines the abilities of SMEs to innovate and export in order to provide them with suitable support tools.
An original positioning
The ERPI laboratory has chosen to simultaneously focus on innovation and export capabilities. A given business thus offers:
- Skills specific to innovation, such as creativeness.
- Skills specific to export, such as proficiency in foreign languages.
- Skills common to both innovation and export, such as the ability to create a professional network. These common skills define a common space for innovation/export.
The ERPI laboratory focuses its attention on these common skills, since these are the ones which SMEs must develop as a matter of priority. Remember, SMEs have limited resources; taking action on the skills common to both innovation and export thus means using a single lever to improve two areas of activity… Therein lies the original aspect of this undertaking.
A diagnosis tailored to SMEs
The ERPI laboratory seeks to offer a tool for evaluating the ability of SMEs to innovate and export based on a twofold innovation/export skills assessment. Why assess these skills? Quite simply to be able to present businesses with a diagnosis that will allow them to improve their performance. For this purpose, the tool uses a 5-level assessment corresponding to a maturity grid. Ultimately, a maturity grid is rather like a flight of stairs which you have to climb in order to increase your performance. This assessment boils down to placing the business on the right stair for each common skill. As a result, the business can visualise its weaknesses, i.e. the skills for which it is situated on the lowest-lying stairs, and its strengths, i.e. those higher up. From then on, the business knows which areas it needs to brush up on, and can set about implementing a gradual improvement strategy.
Promising first results
This tool has been tested with SMEs situated in France’s Lorraine region. Overall, the results obtained are encouraging. For businesses, the tool identifies suitable areas for improvement in accordance with their medium- or long-term strategy.
Dissertation via a comic and a pitch video
See the pitch by Manon Enjolras (ERPI), University of Lorraine (3 mins 36 secs).
Manon Enjolras is a PhD student at the ERPI laboratory (Équipe de Recherche sur les Processus Innovatifs – Research Team on Innovative Processes), at the University of Lorraine, France. Her research topic is the ability of SMEs to innovate and develop internationally: a sector-based approach to SMEs in France’s Lorraine region to develop a dedicated decision support tool.
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