The concept of Smart Specialization has been introduced by the European Commission to ensure concentration of scarce resources in few strategic directions, to leverage on critical mass and create an impact, not only at local level, but also at a larger scale (international). SMEs and Entrepreneurs (start-ups are also very important to be able to tackle new market opportunities) are at the same time key actors and targets for Smart Specialization Strategies actions. The “entrepreneurial discovery process”, based on a strong involvement of entrepreneurs is at the heart of the selection and policy mix definition processes of any Smart Specialisation Strategy (RIS3).
The definition of “innovative SMEs” is part of this process. Every context has its own features and peculiarities and adaptation is crucial to avoid a “cut and paste” negative effect. Recent experiences from Europe show that nearly all regions have a growing number of enterprises; most of them growing slowly, with only a few that are “champions” either at national, regional or world level. Only these champions become an engine for the local economy. Defining an intervention portfolio tailored to their needs is a key priority for any support organization willing not just to “pick the winners” but to “support winners”.
When understanding how to support winners, the following types of enterprises should be looked at:
- SMEs competitive in global niche markets;
- Start-ups with high growth potential (gazelles);
- Local champions (SMEs serving local markets, including healthcare and other services);
- “Hidden” champions (according to a definition by EURADA, enterprises with a growth potential not yet fully exploited);
For strategies based on sectorial approaches, an option is looking for industries and sectors where SMEs are:
- Investing in R&D+I
- Leveraging equity investments
- Growing through M&A.
Andrea Di Anselmo is partner at Meta Group. He has a background as civil engineer and research experience in materials science at the Storrs University in Connecticut, USA. He sits in the Board of Directors of ZMV, the management company operating Ingenium seed funds and of several SMEs; Andrea Di Anselmo has a 20 years deep, experienced-based, knowledge in innovation services and start-up creation gained participating to several international assignments and influencing strategic addresses as member of the BoD of several organizations and SMEs.