Steinbeis 2i GmbH provides advice on going international and innovation management
Internationalization and the ability to innovate often go hand in hand. Together, they offer enterprises an important opportunity to develop, especially in the craft industry. Despite this, many small companies have yet to understand how important these issues are for them. This is where an initiative called Innovative Manual Trades comes in. The project was launched by S2i in collaboration with the Baden-Württemberg Chamber of Skilled Crafts Handwerk International. It was backed by the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labour, and Housing.
Over the past two years, more than 50 events were organized for over 800 participants across the state to raise awareness of the initiative. 250 enterprises received advice through so-called innovation and foreign country checks, and 47 companies qualified for fast-track consultations.
To unveil the potential of companies to innovate and go international, Steinbeis 2i and HI wrote an innovation and foreign country questionnaire, which was also filled out by enterprises during the short consultation sessions. The aim was to create a kind of discussion guide and depending on the focus and needs of companies, the questionnaire could also be expanded. If companies showed further interest, they could receive a fast-track consultation revolving around their actual needs run by two consultants working for S2i and HI. Indeed, this service proved highly popular. Company visits were also a good opportunity to go into the individual needs of enterprises and examine their specific situation.
For companies in the craft industry, it’s crucial that their potential to innovate in everyday business is highlighted in the first short consultation session. It also needs to be shown that innovation is not just the responsibility of the development department at big companies. Innovation can be about developing a new product or re-engineering an existing product, and in services it can involve internal or external processes.
The Steinbeis 2i GmbH and Handwerk International campaign showed that small and medium-sized enterprises have a tendency to focus their core business on domestic markets. Foreign business is typically only a second leg to stand on. This is particularly the case now that the German economy is booming. Some of the answers that kept coming back also point to one of the key obstacles encountered by companies: Domestic business is going so well at the moment that there are insufficient resources to manage orders, especially when it comes to personnel and time. Companies also lack certain know-how when it comes to the business environment in foreign markets, and sometimes they have language problems. It was also ascertained that marketing and sales tend to focus on domestic markets. It therefore proved helpful to the companies to point to good examples of other firms that made their first steps abroad or into new markets, and show examples of good ideas.
When it comes to innovation management, it was found that companies need more support with getting things done. SMEs often lack strategic orientation concerning business development, especially if they want to systematically identify and enter new markets. They often use company equity to fund their own developments and are not sufficiently aware of financing options.
S2i and HI will continue to offer companies advice and support with innovation management and internationalization. The experts can offer help and pointers on all kinds of issues:
- How to recognize and evaluate innovation, especially with regard to marketability
- How to work out who should be responsible for the innovation process and how to organize decision-making processes within a company
- How to systematically assess strengths and weaknesses when it comes to trends, the competition, in-house competence, company resources, and expansion in the sales department
- How to access finance and funding options
- Long-term project and customer management
- Internationalization skills and how to gain an understanding of foreign markets and market opportunities
- How to acquire market knowledge and quickly identify requirements when it comes to order processing, also for scheduling and project costing purposes
- How to establish networks in order to enter markets and process orders
- How to gain expertise in order to manage orders efficiently, also adhering to legal requirements
- Intercultural skills, language skills, and how to gain an understanding of a target region in order to acquire and keep foreign business and collaboration partners.