“Thanks to KARIM, our SME got involved with over 8 European-funded research projects and is exploring new technologies”
With Europe’s economic growth relying on technological innovation, finding ways to nurture and stimulate innovation is a priority. A key player has been KARIM, a three-year pioneering transnational European project for responsible innovation and technology transfer. Aimed at helping north west Europe become more competitive and stimulating growth opportunities, the project partners worked to promote innovation, improve SMEs’ access to high value innovation support and technology, and help them increase research and development relating to new products and solutions in areas including environment, materials, energy, and medical devices.
The support that KARIM provided was rooted in appreciation of the real world issues faced by SMEs and an awareness of what their non-operational activities need to deliver – namely return on investment, income, growth in the company or growth in terms of jobs. A case in point of how SMEs were able to get involved in the KARIM project and the resulting benefits to them is TE Laboratories. Based in the Republic of Ireland, TE Laboratories was formed in 1991 and employs 42 people providing chemistry products and services, including environmental chemistry, machine care, chemical manufacturing and dye production. For their Managing Director Mark Bowkett, research and development (R&D) is critical to businesses longevity and growth:
“The most important division of our business is R&D. A few years ago we identified that all of our traditional products and services were in very mature markets, which meant that there were no opportunities for significant growth. We realised that we needed to focus on developing new products and services in order to continue to grow and that to do so, we needed to have a steady stream of R&D in place within the business.”
However for SMEs like TE Laboratories, R&D can be incredibly expensive. Undertaking R&D with universities can easily cost 100,000 EUR or more, and for a small SME with limited budget, this kind of approach is often unfeasible. TE Laboratories therefore needed to find different ways of increasing the amount of R&D activity within the company, and an invitation to a KARIM-run networking event on the future of environmental technologies provided exactly the opportunity that the company was looking for. Mark explains: “At the networking and collaborative event run by KARIM I was able to meet and develop relationships with business people and researchers with an interest in fields similar to our own. The event and subsequent collaborative sessions led to working groups being formed that allowed us to get involved with over eight European-funded research projects. The outputs from these projects are now providing the product and service developments that we needed for the company.”
“The formation of collaborative groups and projects can be slow and you need to find people to work with who have a similar approach to you. But through KARIM events and support programmes, as well as our own hard work, we have been very successful in setting up these collaborative research projects. They have allowed us to explore new technologies and identify new opportunities for products and solutions to take to market.”
Crucially, the European projects have also enabled TE Laboratories to leverage funding for post doctorate and PhD researchers to work on R&D – something the business would not have otherwise been able to afford to do.
“Getting a cash injection into the business from the European projects is fantastic,” said Mark “but when this money is spent it’s gone. That’s why the researcher resources and the long term product development that these projects enable is far more important than the money itself.”
The project outputs make a precise fit with KARIM’s aims: they are allowing TE Laboratories to grow as a business whilst also providing new environmental technology and solutions for the European marketplace. In the four years since the company became involved with KARIM, it has increased its workforce by 20% and the future is looking bright. For TE Laboratories, KARIM has added significant value by enabling them to turn research ideas into new innovation – support that is greatly needed for many more SMEs across Europe today.