InnovENT-E: training PMEs in innovation and export skills

Innovation and presence in export markets go hand in hand: the more an SME is innovative, then more it can export, the reverse also being true. Bearing this in mind, 4 university partners (including the UT Group) decided to join forces to propose training modules for SMEs to encourage and enhance development in these two areas. The Innov-ENT project was selected by the National Research Agency (ANR) – the Government’s research project assessment operator in the framework of the Investments for the Future and the call to tender for “Excellence initiatives in innovative training programmes” (IDEFI)

InnovENT-E: training PMEs in innovation and export skills

With a 6 year budget (2012-2018) of 13 Meuros (of which 5.5 Meuros from public funding), InnovENT-E aims at developing the capacities of SMEs to innovate and export via adapted training programmes. “InnovENT-E was given a very positive assessment by the IDEFI Jury, for whom the only surprise was that academic institutions should be concerned about SMEs”, recalls Jean-Louis Billoët, Director of INSA Rouen who gave the initial impetus to the project.
The training modules were developed by the academic partners of IDEFI, viz., the UT Group, the INSA Group, the CESI and the University of Lorraine, with close collaboration with the INPI (France’s Intellectual Property Bureau).

The Four ‘Mousquetaires’

This partnership provides for a nation-wide coverage in France and also to mutualize the efforts in design and mediation of the training modules. “Our operational mode is like the four mousquetaires: if one actor is absent, the group suffers and we have equitably shared the budget allocation and the IDEFI pilot activities to as to build up a collective dynamics” says Jean-Louis Billoët.
The aim is to propose courses that can be accessed on line (distant learning) in both initial and continuing education, for SMEs and other students. “For example, by combining modules from INSA Rouen, CESI Paris and UTC, we now offer a training course for the timber industry and for a pharmaceutical sector”, adds Pascal Albert, who is InnovENT-E coordinator for the UT Group.

How exactly can one train for innovation?

InnnovENT-E has not yet reached this stage. Its first year of business activities was given over to producing a skills benchmark which called for a wide-reaching enquiry that addressed the SMEs and experts.
We wanted to be sure we would be in a position to propose a full and adapted training. The enquiry allowed us to identify our shortfalls and to remedy the gaps,” explains Pascal Alberti.
To illustrate: we needed to add a more practical add-on for training in inter-cultural contexts, the original being deemed too theoretical. One of the difficulties in this particular IDEFI is to share training modules, with all the associate issues of intellectual property rights and share of revenues (once the modules have been placed on the market-place), not forgetting dissemination of the training courses. Following a distant-learning programme about theory of creativity seems fairly simple but just how does one go about mediating a course about implementing innovative practice?
We are currently thinking about these issues that the IDEFI investments must solve. We are co-financing a ‘hands-on’ innovation support centre that will be located at the INSA Lyons and we are already contributing financially to the development of a professional software package (UTC) to help teachers prepare and create on-line course material”, says Jean-Louis Billoët. “The IDEFI is an excellent mirror for UTC and its Management of Innovative Projects major”, adds Pascal Alberti. “IDEFI forces us to discuss the way we do things and helps detect various questions that must be explored. It provides for a vision that is more export intensive and international than the MIP Major”.

A new university diploma for the UT Group

There are 70 000 students in the 4 universities of technology (forming the UT Group) who can benefit, if they wish, from the new diploma. The INSA Group will be offering a training course via apprenticeship (with a dozen or so modules) and the UT Group a course derived from InnovENT-E activities leading to award of an inter-UT diploma. “Late on, we intend to transform the offer into a Master’s degree”, forecasts Pascal Alberti. InnovENT-E has begun to formalise a catalogue of training modules in order to propose them as soon as possible to potential SME clients. “The minute-writer for the national HE and research assessment agency (ANR) who sits in on our bi-annual meeting has assured us that we are one of the most advanced IDEFIs and indeed are in phase with respect to the objectives”, underscores Jean-Louis Billoët.

Guaranteed development?

The following stages will be to rely on partner networks (competitivity poles, clusters, sectors, employer organizations, public institutions and specialist reviews) to enhance the visibility. To give an example, InnovENT-E has already signed an agreement with the competitivity pole Mov’eo, specialist in mobility. _ “The major groups and contractors could also be interested: when they gain international contracts, they often need to raise the level of skills in their SME suppliers to associate them more efficiently”, adds Pascal Alberti. InnovENT-E will then be pursuing a national and international development scheme.
UTC already benefits from partnerships in Brazil in innovative areas. We know that InnovENT-E will be of interest to the partners. We provide a capacity for SMEs to adapt their innovations to the constraints of foreign market-places and the possibility to secure the positions”, says Pascal Alberti. The same logic and approach will be applied in China, Morocco and Chile and with the international partners of other universities. One of the main objectives for 2014 will be to create a foundation to pursue the work when the 6 year IDEFI phase comes to a close.
INPI (intellectual property rights), Oseo and 6 French Regions has assured us that they will support our activities and we are making proposals to others to integrate our seeding fund”, concludes Pascal Alberti.

Key figures for InnovENT-E

Budget: 13 Meuros over 6 years (2012-2018), 48% public funding

What is an IDEFI ?

The acronym IDEFI, in French for Excellence Initiatives in Innovative Training, the management of which has been entrusted to the ANR (the Government’s research assessment agency) was initiated in Autumn of 2011 to complete the ‘research’ of the Government’s Investments for the Future incentive campaign with a specific action to encourage and enhance innovation in training. Thirty-seven projects were selected by the Jury after a preselection phase among the application files (58 out of 93) and a final selection where the project directors were auditioned.

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