A new report commissioned by the Finnish Research Impact Foundation on research utilization in Finnish SMEs was published in June. A video summary of the report launch is now available to view. The main findings of the report are presented by Minna Saunila, researcher at LUT University. Others who took part in the discussion were Katriina Juntunen, CEO of Kasvuryhmä; Joonas Mikkilä, Head of Digital and Educational Affairs at Suomen Yrittäjät (Federation of Finnish Enterprises); Tiina Lindh-Knuutila, solutions architect at Lingsoft Oy; and Tero Rantala, one of the authors of the report from LUT University.
Discussions at the report launch dealt with best practices and barriers to research utilization, the needs of SMEs, and research organizations’ communication and interaction with companies in the SME sector.
Minna Saunila from LUT University, one of the report’s lead researchers, explained that the aim of the research was to find out whether and to what extent SMEs were interested in assuming a trailblazing role in research utilization and what kind of support they needed in order to do that. She said it was clear from the findings that as far as SMEs were concerned, the most critical factors for research utilization were having access to the necessary resources and the opportunity to commercialize results. The most important means of research utilization were developing staff skills and competencies, for instance through training and networking. The principal benefits, then, were the achievement and adoption of new knowledge and the improvement of skills. Minna Saunila pointed out that typically, these types of benefits only accumulate in the longer term.
The major barriers perceived to research utilization were the sense that research does not address issues of practical relevance, or that research is not thought to have direct benefit to the company’s business. Minna Saunila said she was quite surprised by this result because Finland is known to produce a diverse range of high-quality research:
“It’s possible that SMEs just don’t have the skills and know-how to find and extract the research results they need, or that research organizations are not reaching SMEs with their communication. The latter is supported by the finding that lack of communication about research results featured among the major barriers to research utilization.”
Research knowledge is crucial to bolstering new growth
Katriina Juntunen, CEO of Kasvuryhmä, pointed out that high-level research is especially in demand when companies are faced with new situations that require investment and renewal.
Tiina Lindh-Knuutila, solutions architect at Lingsoft Oy, said that SMEs definitely had the drive and desire to put research to good use, but noted that in the search for new knowledge they would initially and primarily turn to their own networks. “If you can get to have an impact via more informal routes, that’s much more convenient,” she said.
Joonas Mikkilä observed that a large part of SMEs are under development pressure and that knowledge and know-how is the most important competition factor. In their collaboration with universities, he continued, SMEs placed great emphasis on training and education, a key factor in putting research knowledge to practical use: “I’d say there’s too great a separation between these two discourses, the RDI discourse and the training and education discourse.”
Tero Rantala from LUT University made the point that SMEs usually take an interest in cutting-edge research when they’re looking to generate new growth, which requires new sets of skills and competencies. It is at this point that they will start asking questions about how they can join in and get to benefit from research excellence and what this will require of them in terms of communications and dialogue.
Dialogue and networks between researchers and SMEs attracted much discussion
Tiina Lindh-Knuutila said that the key to searching out new and relevant knowledge is that the company has recognized its need for that knowledge: that is going to steer its knowledge mining. “Research utilization requires the exact same kind of sales and communications work as anything else. The world is full of knowledge,” Katriina Juntunen added.
Joonas Mikkilä said there are only few SMEs that have the competence to follow the communications of research organizations. For the majority of companies, the needs for information and knowledge come about on an ad hoc basis. “Instead of communication we should be talking more about guidance and advice,” Mikkilä said. He also stressed the role of universities, business associations and local operators in promoting networking.
Promoting research cooperation
Joonas Mikkilä expressed the view that the relationship between different public RDI funding instruments should be revisited in order to drive up the number of companies actively engaged in research. This, he said, would also entail discussions on the need for new funding instruments.
Tiina Lindh-Knuutila said a lightweight service model was a good idea in that it would help companies review cases of research utilization and run short-term pilot projects.
Katriina Juntunen stressed the role of good examples in encouraging business companies to make better use of research. “We need to gain exposure for cases that show how cutting-edge research has helped companies grow or reinvent themselves. That will get SMEs interested and make them see the benefits,” she said.