Design4Innovation: Sharing Best Practice

By: Lucinda Dargavel Date: 23/11/2017

Design4Innovation 3 – Santiago de Compostela, 7-8 November 2017

Having explored the current design-innovation landscapes in our partner regions and the opportunities to influence Operational Programmes, Design4Innovation partners met for a third time to share best practice in design and innovation support for SMEs. The meeting on 7-8th November in Santiago de Compostela was hosted by the Galician Agency of Innovation (GAIN) and focused on financial support mechanisms for SMEs.

During these two days, the partners all presented cases of support instruments from their regions, looked at the support processes from an applicant/beneficiary perspective using service design tools and held study visits to design-driven businesses in Galicia.

To begin, PDR and the other partners looked into the different types of SME support programmes that provide businesses with funding to start-up, innovate or scale-up.

Financial support instruments in our partner regions range from innovation vouchers, grants, loans and equity investment to combined mentoring and funding programmes for young entrepreneurs.

There are dedicated programmes for design (such as grants for conducting design audit and implementing design strategy in Poland) or for creative sectors (such as innovation vouchers for collaborative projects with creative industry businesses in Flanders), but most of these address innovation broadly and design is included as an eligible cost. The experience of the partners illustrates that for programmes where design is not the main focus, a more active promotion of design projects eligibility is needed as businesses are usually unaware of this possibility and therefore only a small proportion of the funding goes to design related projects.

Financial support instruments presented during the workshop:

·      Wales – loans, equity investment and mezzanine funding for SMEs offered by the Development Bank of Wales through the Wales Business Fund
·      Flanders – CICI – call for innovation with creative industries
·      Catalonia – Innovation Vouchers grants
·      Greece – grants for micro and small companies to develop their skills in new markets
·      Latvia – Innovation Vouchers for SMEs
·      Poland – “Formula for Competitiveness” – design grants for conducting design audit and implementation of a design strategy
·      Malta – TAKEOFF Seed Fund Award which funds early-stage technology and start-up development
·      Galicia – CONECTAPEME – R&D&I grants for SMEs
·      Norway – design-driven Innovation Programme – grant programme for design projects in established businesses

In the workshop, the partners used service design tools – personas and user journey mapping, to think about the support programmes from the perspective of our end users – SMEs.

Personas are archetypes of the people that use a service or are affected by policy. By developing those archetypal users we can better understand their needs and expectations.

“We use a broad range of personas to sense-check our ideas for the support needed to innovate. A young entrepreneur, researcher, inventor, production manager in a medium-sized company, they all have different needs, experience and expectations towards innovation support, but we need to make sure that the offer is appropriate and user-friendly for all of them.”

User journey mapping is a tool for visualising a person’s experience of a service through the entire set of circumstances and tasks. It helps to identify pain points and improve the process by making it more transparent, effective and user-friendly. Often quoted challenges, such as excessive paperwork, unclear processes and long decision times are time-consuming and costly, and in effect these might deter small companies from applying for support.

“The user journey mapping exercise has really opened my eyes to the experience a SME is getting when applying for support. It can take over a year before an enterprise knows the decision on funding, if everything goes to the plan. That is not ideal in a fast-paced world of innovation.”

To conclude the first day of the meeting the partners heard from Lilita Sparāne from the Latvian Ministry of Culture about the recently launched design strategy ‘Design of Latvia 2020’ . This document presents a vision for an increased role of design in government, business, education and the citizens. You can view the whole document here.

Lilita’s speech has inspired us to think about our design action plans that we will be developing at the end of phase 1. Here are some of the vision statements from the strategy:

“Businesses receive state support for both increasing the competency and qualifications of their employees, as well as developing new and/or improved products and technologies that can be put into production. It enables the increase of Latvia’s GDP."

“Funding and other tools help create new companies and strengthen the existing capacity of innovation.”

“A design component integrated in the processes and services of the public sector creates accessible and quality services.”

On the second day, GAIN showed the partners a broad spectrum of good practices used in Galicia during a series of study visits. We saw how design helps to both add value and differentiate the offer in large, small and micro businesses and we also visited the technology park Tecnopole and CIS-Madeira wood cluster in order to see how innovation in Galicia is supported from an infrastructural perspective.

The partners used the opportunity of this partnership meeting to review the project progress, discuss what works and plan the next activities.

In 2018, we are planning to ‘go big’ and open our doors to the public. At the next meeting in Malta, our project will build on the opportunity presented by the Culture Directorate to participate in the events of the European Capital of Culture and we will be staging an exhibition of the value of design in SMEs from our partner regions which will be open to the public.

In the autumn, the partners are planning to organise a conference in Riga that will be dedicated to Design Action Plans. Watch this space for more information.