Inspiring experiences from Transnational Innovation Brokerage System (TIBS) created in GoSmart BSR project
GoSmart & Excel BSR project and TIBS
The ‘GoSmart BSR’ project (2018-2020) with its extension ‘GoSmart & Excel BSR’ (2021) aims to identify the joint strategic innovation fields with internationalisation potential in the Baltic Sea region and improve the access of companies to international markets. In practice, the project has developed a methodology to identify the joint economic priorities of various regions set in the regional Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3). Based on the knowledge on priorities, competitive strengths and business cooperation needs of the partner regions, the project has created a ‘Transnational Innovation Brokerage System -TIBS’.
TIBS is a network of trained innovation brokers in the Baltic Sea region that provide personal and practical help for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to support innovations, strengthen their international efforts and guide their transnational cooperation offers. Brokers are hosted by organisations that are partners of GoSmart & Excel BSR project. The brokers are professional business coaches with a solid background of working with companies. During the project, they are trained to gain good knowledge on strategic sectors and business, research & innovation cooperation needs of TIBS regions, build trust and long-term network with other brokers, support internationalisation process of SMEs and initiate collaboration between SMEs and other innovation actors using specific TIBS methodology.
This article describes the experiences, added value and challenges of TIBS. The article is based on interviews with the following brokers from Estonia, Germany and Finland:
- Laura Gredzens, Valga Municipality Government, Estonia (located on the Estonian-Latvian border)
- Steven Dehlan, Artificial intelligence Centre, Hamburg, Germany
- Jukka Antila & Marina Sorokina, Kouvola Innovation Ltd., Finland
TIBS added value
TIBS can be of help for companies when they have innovative ideas to create new or higher value, enhance products or services with internationalisation potential, search for a new technology, look for a supplier, are interested in development of new products or services together with foreign companies or research institutions or when they look for partners for their research & development activities.
The added value of TIBS is a transnational network of brokers that have good personal contacts with other TIBS brokers and very good knowledge on the strengths and cooperation needs of other BSR regions, which has been created during the GoSmart BSR and GoSmart & Excel BSR projects. The brokers have regular trainings and meetings with other brokers in the network to keep updated on cooperation offers and relevant information regarding the strongest sectors and joint interests.
Most important personal features and competences of brokers
Brokers need to have good awareness of companies’ needs. According to the interviewed brokers, the most important personal feature of a broker is an open attitude and own personal interest to help companies. A good broker is a good listener with analytical skills. These personal features enable brokers to understand and interact with various actors as well as deal with cases that are not familiar.
The most important competences of brokers were summarised as abilities 1) to communicate with many different people, 2) facilitate discussions, 3) translate the needs of a company to companies and research partners in another country.
“Broker is a needed intermediary and a ‘translator’ between various actors and always knows who to contact.”
Successful TIBS cases
The following list describes some cases that the TIBS brokers have facilitated:
- Estonian broker has helped a company from Valga that produces smart multi-functional furniture from wood with many useful contacts. The broker found potential suppliers of raw materials, logistic companies and furniture certification providers from Poland and Latvia.
- A Finnish company has developed an app that helps brains to take a short break during a working day to perform better. The company is interested in adding new languages to the app and entering new markets. The company was looking for professional voice actors abroad who could record the texts for the app as well as for efficient ways to promote the app. The Danish TIBS broker has identified several professional voice recording companies in Denmark that could provide the needed services for the Finnish company and acquired price offers from them. The Finnish company has also used an online service platform developed by an Estonian company and found suitable partners for promoting the app in the social media.
- A Lithuanian company that develops drones for aerial monitoring and diagnostics was looking for partners from Estonia, Latvia and Poland to apply EU-funding for testing the drones for agricultural purposes and optimisation of e.g. use of pesticides and detect irrigation flaws. The company was matched with an Estonian start-up that provides farm management software for grain producers.
- A German company that combines artificial intelligence with cameras was matched with Latvian IT cluster and AI center in Lithuania.
Value of TIBS for the BSR cooperation
As the brokers are professional business facilitators, many of them have a motivation to use the TIBS network also after the project. Furthermore, the GoSmart & Excel BSR project is currently working on creating interest among Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) members and other relevant business development organisations to become TIBS service providers and extend the TIBS network.
The interviewed brokers underlined that is important to understand that SMEs need time and support to develop their business to be ready for international market and cooperation. Often SMEs do not identify their innovation needs and are typically just looking for suppliers of raw materials. An important and valuable task of a broker is therefore to push companies to identify their innovation needs in e.g. marketing, digitalisation and development of new products or services. Broker can just provide new perspectives and – for example – provide contacts of entrepreneurs that can help with upgrading websites and developing online shops. Brokers can be efficient facilitators when a company tries to find innovative ways to survive Covid19-period.
Transnational Innovation Brokerage System is a strategic asset in facilitating the business cooperation in the Baltic Sea region. Its’ value and further support should be acknowledged at regional, national and macro-regional levels.
As a project partner, EUSBSR Policy Area Innovation (The Baltic Institute of Finland) contributes to dissemination and scaling-up of GoSmart & Excel BSR project results and experiences, such as TIBS.