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Innovation strategies for SMEs

Innovation strategies help firms define structures, set priorities, and plan objectives, concepts, and products. If they also take the requirements of both market and customers into account, they can uncover additional potential to innovate. So strategies dictate which products, services, and business models a company will need to use to generate turnover and earnings in the future. Steinbeis 2i helps companies with this strategic process. Companies gain a clearer understanding of their potential to innovate, they can adopt a more methodical approach to product development, and they gain feedback on organizational development.

Companies that what to remain competitive need to develop innovations now and introduce them successfully to the market. But to do this, they require a structured approach to innovation management. This comprises systematic planning and control mechanisms for innovation processes within the company – from the moment an innovative idea arises to the launch of a product or service. Planning and following an innovation strategy is an essential key to success for an innovation project to bear fruit. And this strategy should be based on an overarching corporate strategy.


Depending on its long-term priorities, one option for a company is to place greater emphasis on products or technology in pursuing its innovation strategy. The latter emphasis makes more sense for companies with tech understanding, especially if they are aiming to move forward with a technology – so-called technology push. With a product-centric innovation strategy, the most important criterion is the focus on customer requirements. This strategy makes sense for companies with solid market know-how. A process strategy is derived from both a technology-centric and a product-centric innovation strategy, and this process strategy captures the materials and information-sharing processes that are required to deliver an offering. Aside from the process strategy, a company may also choose to pursue a timing strategy (as first mover, first follower, or late follower).

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To start the strategic process, S2i looks at the individual requirements of a company. For the first step, the experts assess business competences and the potential of the company to innovate, also identifying possible barriers. They then analyze the business environment of the company, looking at trends, the market, and competitors. Companies are provided with recommendations tailored to their business and can then receive coaching on aspects such as protecting intellectual property, going international, open innovation, innovation by target group, or funding innovations.

Steinbeis 2i leads the strategy planning process by running two one-day workshops with the company. The aim at this point is to develop an individual innovation strategy for each type of business corresponding to the know-how held by the company and its corporate goals. This should be as specific as possible, focus on actual implementation, and contain no contradictions. It also should be descriptive and clear. This is because strategic planning and launching innovations enhance the likelihood of succeeding in the market and thus also secure the long-term competitiveness of the company.


For one such project, S2i provided support to a solar energy specialist called sbp sonne. The company, which has been developing solar power plant technology for over 30 years, has earned a reputation for its parabolic trough collectors, heliostat systems, solar tower power plants, point-focusing dish systems, and concentrating photovoltaics.

To understand the hotly contested solar energy market, the experts at Steinbeis 2i analyzed the business environment and highlighted potential areas of innovation for sbp sonne, which develops technologies used to generate solar power. Based on the strategic competence and goals of the company and after assessing market potential, an action plan was drafted, defining potential projects and any collaboration partners that might need to be considered.

S2i also drafted a partnership profile for sbp sonne and published this on a website called the Enterprise Europe Network. This has already resulted in several potential partners getting in touch from Belgium, Portugal, Slovenia, Turkey, Tunisia, and Taiwan, and sbp sonne is currently looking into these partners.


Hartmut Welck (author)
Senior project manager for bio-economics, nutrition, industrial biotechnology, and innovation management
Steinbeis 2i GmbH (Stuttgart)