Tekes opened the innovation voucher up to applications in October last year. One voucher equals financing of EUR 5,000 + VAT and enables an SME to take its first, agile steps towards innovation activities by purchasing expert services. The popularity of the voucher and some related issues have created surprises along the way.
In summer 2016, our development team was asked to estimate how many voucher applications we would receive by the end of the year. I think the guesses were in the region of around 250 to 500. By the end of December, we had received 2,359 applications!
The innovation voucher can be used for expert services offered by universities of applied sciences, consultancies and institutions of higher education. They enthusiastically began to market their services on websites, banners and blogs. Partner organisations, such as the Federation of Finnish Enterprises, the Association of Finnish Regional Development Agencies SEKES and Chambers of Commerce, spread the news about the innovation vouchers. According to the Finnish news agency STT, they have been mentioned 256 times so far by various media outlets. I do not remember any other Tekes service gaining so much visibility from the outset.
Despite the huge number of applications, the voucher team has managed to keep the average processing time below six days. This can be achieved when the application form is simple, the process is streamlined, the terms and conditions are clear and the team members are passionate about what they do. I raise my hat to the team, led by Product Manager Risto Lustila!
Most voucher applicants have never used Tekes's services before. Should we fine-tune Tekes's events, programmes and funding services based on our experiences with the voucher? After all, the former have not reached all the hundreds of companies eager to develop, but the voucher has.
Universities of applied sciences praised the voucher because it forced them to productise their services. Several universities had been considering productisation for years, and were now forced to get on with it. In other words, the innovation voucher created a new service market – which was indeed one of its goals.
The latest surprise came when we exported the list of voucher recipients (1,350) into an Excel file and took a closer look. A total of 246 of the companies have an annual turnover of more than EUR 1 million. I hope the innovation voucher will be the spark that inspires these companies to engage in R&D and internationalisation on a larger scale. These are the kinds of companies that should be well equipped in this respect. Tekes's international growth package will provide the means of taking the next steps. Get in touch and we will delighted to tell you more!
The writer is responsible for communications with SMEs at Tekes
- News on 16 January: An international growth package for enterprises – the new Team Finland Explorer and the revised Innovation Voucher and Digiboost
Photo: Susanna Lehto