Scientific and technological research is increasingly becoming a motor of economic development. Even for small and very small enterprises it is possible to innovate. A stimulus in this direction is provided by the fact that research can also take place outside companies: they can make innovation by interacting and cooperating with those who already do the research, without necessarily having a research department.
There are several types of innovation:
- Product innovation consists in the introduction on the market of new products (tangible, intangible and/or services). A product can be technologically new (radical innovation) when its technological characteristics or its intended uses differ significantly from those of the products obtained previously, while technologically improved (incremental innovation) in the case of an existing product whose performance has been significantly improved or updated;
- Process innovation, which consists in the introduction of new production processes in the various areas of the company, is aimed at improving the efficiency and/or effectiveness of the business. It therefore consists in the adoption of technologically new or significantly improved production methods. These methods may consist in changes of equipment, but also in the organisation of production or distribution of the product;
- Market innovation, which concerns the adoption of new marketing practices, new advertising promotion techniques, new product and/or service pricing policies. It may include significant changes in the design, packaging, distribution, promotion or pricing policy of products and services and is aimed at increasing their commercial success.
The innovative activity of companies varies considerably depending on the sector, the size and the reference context to which they belong. These differences also characterize the sources from which the company draws to generate innovation, these are different and among the main ones we find:
- research and development (R&D): it generally refers to a function within the company itself, which employs resources and human resources to introduce innovations in the enterprise, through some characteristic phases:
- the basic research;
- the applied research;
- the development;
- the technology transfer;
This approach to research and development is ineffective for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and it is even poorly applied in many large enterprises. A small medium-sized enterprise (SME) that wants to innovate through research and development can adopt a tailor-made approach, which transfers investment from research by focusing on strategic design, flexibility of business organisation, the competence and creativity of human resources. The ability to collaborate with external actors establishing strategic partnerships that can create real change is particularly important;
- Customers: the active and continuous involvement of customers in the participation in the processes of the company, is the basic condition to achieve positive results in markets dominated by competition and change. The customer is not to be considered only for marketing research as a taxable person but must become an integral part of the innovation process. To engage your customers, you can use various tools: internet and social networks to create a continuous dialogue, evaluation questionnaires on products and services, focus groups and ongoing collaborations;
- the suppliers: they are, for a company, those from which they acquire raw materials and services indispensable for the operation of the enterprise. They can also prove to be deep connoisseurs of the sector where the company operates and can be valuable advisors on the main innovations and technologies, able to improve their products compared to the competition;
- competitors: their presence must be a stimulus to innovation. The impact of technological innovation on competitors is greater among companies that operate and compete in non-casemented markets, where the same types of products are produced and there is, thus, greater competition. In the case of segmented markets with a wide differentiation of products, such as pharmaceuticals, innovation has less influence on competitors;
- companies from other sectors: in some crucial phases of the innovation process it is necessary to search partners in the territory where your company operates in order to develop a lasting cooperation and to accompany the entrepreneur in every phase of implementation of the innovative project, whether said partners are companies, institutions or professionals. This form of collaboration, also called cross-fertilization technique, involves experts from other fields to identify the problem and suggest solutions directly from their areas of expertise. The aggregation of different companies for specific projects is in fact one of the success factors for an innovative business idea;
- research institutions and universities: SMEs which wish to develop innovative processes and do not carry out independent research can benefit from the activities and services of universities and regional research centres, science and technology parks with their laboratories and offices, either as direct collaboration in specific projects presented by the same SMEs or research entities, or as the acquisition of know-how or services. To better promote the relationship between research institutions and the territory, the universities, research centres, science and technology parks, have set up real technology transfer offices. The aim of the Industrial Liaison Office (ILO) and Technology Transfer Office (TTO) is the economic exploitation of the results of scientific and technological research achieved in the relevant organizations. Public bodies have offices and regulations for access to services by users. Among the most important services are patenting and related services; services for the creation of new high-tech (spin-off) and related enterprises; information services to enterprises; support services to research.
For more information, please consult the website of the Ministry of Economic Development.