In the Northern Netherlands, there is a remarkable group of SMEs that manages to be incredibly innovative with very limited investment. This is what Dries Faems, professor of Innovation and Organization, states in a sub-report of the Northern Netherlands Innovation Monitor. He found that 22% of all companies investigated demonstrate a remarkable pattern: they achieve excellent innovation results with little or no investment in research and development (R&D). ‘Thrifty super-innovators’ is what Faems calls this ‘new species’ in the innovation landscape.
The Northern Netherlands Innovation Monitor shows that about 30% of the companies investigated behave as might be expected: their innovation results increase with their investments in research and development. There is also a category of ‘expensive innovators’ (18%) that invest a lot in research and development but are not yet able to translate these investments into new products or services. Faems’s research focuses specifically on the third category of companies, the thrifty super-innovators.
Thrifty super-innovators are noticeably old and big compared to other SMEs. The average age of this category of companies is 33 years, and the average size is 27 employees. These companies are not only frugal in terms of internal R&D investments, but also appear to invest relatively little in external R&D, innovation grants, human capital and collaboration with external partners. Based on interviews with a number of thrifty super-innovators, Faems points to the importance of experience and skill within these companies as a possible explanation for their innovation success.
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