POLISS ESR and PhD student at the University of Pecs (Hungary)

One of the short-term objectives of the POLISS research project in the first academic year is research skills and techniques, which can be obtained through courses provided at host institutions or other universities within the POLISS consortium. In my second semester at the University of Pecs (Spring 2021), I had the opportunity to take core content courses for the Science and Innovation area at Bocconi University (Italy), one of the world’s leading universities in economics, management, and finance. This course is entitled Technology and Innovation Management (TIM) which Professor Paola Cillo teaches. I pay particular attention to the topic of Open Innovation, which has become a new paradigm in innovation studies since its introduction by Chesbrough (2003). This study has expanded to other disciplines such as engineering, policy studies, health and medicine, chemistry, physics, computer science, psychology, and even astronomy (Bigliardi et al., 2020). Even the government sector has also begun to link its policy framework with Open Innovation (West et al., 2014). Therefore, I am interested in making this topic a final semester examination paper that I offer at the end of the course.

The primary motivation for this research arose when I found many studies that revealed that SME companies often experience obstacles and limitations in implementing Open Innovation. These limitations are the most beneficial and thriving in the practice of Open Innovation. Unfortunately, the Open Innovation research cluster in SMEs is the least investigated. In this paper, I explore the experience of Open Innovation in SMEs, how it is implemented, how it affects enterprise innovation, what makes it successful, and the most common challenges faced. I started my research with a simple bibliometric analysis to track the development of Open Innovation research in SMEs and complemented the research with a semi-structured literature study approach.

This study raised three main factors that drive the success of Open Innovation in SMEs. First, Network Access and Search Strategy. It is a crucial initial stage where SMEs must formulate strategies to find new knowledge, partners, and markets for Open Innovation. The proper search strategy is proven to have a significant impact on the success of Open Innovation in SMEs. This factor involves SMEs in transferring knowledge and in interactions with other innovation actors in the external environment. Relationships between partners to produce strategic steps are likely to be produced through collaboration. Significant progress can also be made by transferring developments in their internal bodies to partners in these networks. In this case, universities and research centers are more connected with SMEs to facilitate the transfer of knowledge to realize Open Innovation (Fu, 2012; Lecocq & Demil, 2006; Lee et al., 2010; Pullen et al., 2012; Roper & Hewitt-Dundas, 2013; Spithoven et al., 2013).

Second, Collaboration. The collaboration of SMEs with suitable partners will increase the chances of Open Innovation’s success, especially when introducing their products or services in the market. This character distinguishes SMEs from large companies. In Open Innovation, collaboration helps introduce new products, while this is not the case in large companies. SMEs collaboration with suppliers will drive product development, while collaboration with customers will drive process development. Unfortunately, the company size factor also affects the size of the collaboration (Brunswicker & Vanhaverbeke, 2015; Parida et al., 2012; Spithoven et al., 2010; Teirlinck & Spithoven, 2013; van Hemert et al., 2013; Wynarczyk, 2013). Third, Capacity and Capability. Capacity is closely related to the ability to absorb, assimilate and apply new knowledge in innovation activities, while capability is related to creating a solid knowledge base for self-development. Absorption capacity may be limited for SMEs due to size and governance factors, but now they have been greatly helped through technology mediation (Braun et al., 2012; Grimaldi et al., 2013; Gurău & Lasch, 2011; Heger & Boman, 2015; Lichtenthaler, 2007).

The implementation of Open Innovation in SMEs has different characteristics from large companies. In SMEs, innovation activities tend to be more intense and dynamic. As a result, the performance measurement scale is also different. The innovation performance of SMEs is more influenced by the network approach to product development which is often obtained through collaboration with external organizational partners, including government support (Zeng et al., 2010). Collaboration is also considered capable of helping SMEs assimilate external ideas. In addition, there is the role of technology acquisition in increasing collaboration success. Some things need to be considered in the Open Innovation process in SMEs, not to open too many channels in the partnership search process because this can have a negative impact on innovation performance (Laursen & Salter, 2006). The relationship will look like an inverted U-curve; it can even negatively impact. The adoption of Open Innovation for SMEs has indeed been proven to affect the innovation performance of SMEs, but it does not always have a direct positive impact. Open innovation can provide indirect, intangible benefits in reputation, connections, and internal awareness (Fu, 2012; Parida et al., 2012).

Several challenges appear to be very prominent in Open Innovation in SMEs, including limited resources, access, coordination, and complexity. Resources are closely related to R&D and knowledge transfer. Even though it has a clear positive impact on innovation, the transfer of new knowledge will work effectively in the long run. Complexity, access, and coordination are closely related to network partners. Sometimes it also deals with cultural issues and high costs. Therefore, the effectiveness of Open Innovation in SMEs can be boosted by the capital of social skills and creativity (Abouzeedan et al., 2013; Andries & Faems, 2013; Bocken et al., 2014; Christensen et al., 2005; Padilla-Meléndez et al., 2013; van de Vrande et al., 2009)

Although SMEs are known to have limited resources in implementing Open Innovation, they have the opportunity to develop these limitations. R&D activities may not be easily realized in SMEs, mainly because of the cost and time consumption. However, SMEs can develop their social skills and creativity independently without needing much financial support. Technology mediation and digital platforms can certainly be used as initial capital in knowledge transfer, finding and expanding network partners, and starting collaborations. In developing countries, SMEs are more fortunate because they get significant support from the government, considering that in almost all developing countries, the development of SMEs has become the country’s development goal. In addition to having the opportunity to receive financial support and training, the involvement of SMEs in development opens up opportunities for partnerships and investments, which are essential in Open Innovation. Managerial abilities and basic competencies have proven to be the principal capital in building the company’s internal foundation. This solid foundation will help the company connect with the external environment. By mastering all these factors, open innovation implementation in SMEs will become easier.

The paper initially received a very critical response regarding its structure and content. The process required to complete this paper is approximately three months until the manuscript is ready to be submitted for publication, it was in April to June. Writing a paper for the course exam takes about a month. I receive responses and comments from the module leader within a month, and then I revise some parts for publication purposes in a month. I have tried to submit the manuscript of this paper to several leading journals in the field of economics and management indexed by Scopus or the Web of Science. However, submitting a literature review paper is also a challenge while I also must race against time. Therefore, I tried several alternative journals with the theme of innovation and technology management with reasonably good quality and reputation, hoping that at least one or two paper from the Spring 2021 course will be published in the 2021 academic year.

My activities were stopped for almost two months (June-July) due to an accident. Nevertheless, there are many things I can still do at home slowly, especially to continue working on all the pending publication plans. At that time, I had four papers from the Spring 2021 semester course: Technology and Innovation Management (Bocconi University), Qualitative Methods (University of Stavanger), Regional Governance, and Research Seminar (which resulted in a systematic literature review paper). Around the end of September, I have revised the four manuscripts sufficiently and resubmitted them to several journals.

STI (Science, Technology, and Innovation) Policy and Management finally became my choice for the Open Innovation paper. STI Policy and Management Journal is a second-level Indonesian national journal (https://sinta.kemdikbud.go.id/journals/detail?id=3406) published by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Policy and Management Research Center (IMS) P2KMIptekin-LIPI). It is a peer-reviewed journal, has open access, does not impose article processing charges, and is indexed internationally in several journal indexers such as Google Scholar, DOAJ, Crossref, CiteULike, WorldCat, and Dimensions. The journal discusses theoretical and practical science and technology policy issues for economic competitiveness, research and development management, and innovation management. The Open Innovation paper received a reasonably fast response because I had revised it several times. After being reviewed for approximately two months, the manuscript received a minor revision which asked me to present in more detail the steps of the bibliometric study and show my proposition in the study results. The manuscript was resubmitted in early December. The editor accepted and approved the revision and stated that this article would be published in the December 2021 issue.

It’s nice to have a good result amid very limited conditions. I close 2021 with gratitude. In the future, the task will be even more challenging. At least every semester will produce three or four paper assignments that have the potential to be published, and I still have three semesters ahead. Many challenges and opportunity in the POLISS project that motivate me to produce research-related to the Research and Innovation for Smart Specialization Strategies, whether it’s related to my role as ESR and at the same time as a PhD student at the university. Currently, I already have several papers related to the topic of Smart Specialization, which are being processed in leading European journals. It is closely related to my POLISS research topic and is also an essential part of my dissertation. It will be my next target in 2022. The course experience and partner research both at the host institution and other institutions in the POLISS consortium and experience going through the processes for publication in 2021 have been significant in increasing my research and writing skills. I feel very blessed and grateful that through the POLISS research project, I can access various knowledge networks directly from essential sources in Europe and have a better opportunity to contribute to the development of science, research, and innovation.

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