Published 2018-04-10

This post is also available in Swedish

Boost to SMEs’ innovativeness from Mistra Innovation

Mistra Innovation’s second programme period is nearing its conclusion, but there are hopes that Mistra’s Board will give the go-ahead for a similarly oriented initiative this autumn.
‘Through Mistra Innovation, SMEs have been given the opportunity to exploit their innovativeness to develop new environment-friendly products and solutions,’ says Christopher Folkeson Welch, Programmes Director at Mistra.

Mistra Innovation differs from all other Mistra-funded programmes: first, because the Foundation manages the programme unaided and, second, because the money goes to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with concrete ideas on how to improve the environment.

‘Of the 24 projects included in the programme, 15 have now been completed and several have resulted in commercial products or solutions with positive effects on the environment,’ says Lars Frenning, Programme Director of Mistra Innovation.

Nine projects are still running, but due to end this year and next.

‘All the Mistra Innovation projects, including those that haven’t achieved all the goals set, have maintained high quality.’

One explanation for the good results is, according to Frenning, all the hoops the applicants must jump through before they get support.

‘Some companies have complained that our demands are so high, but those who meet the requirements have received SEK 5–10 million for their projects — a big enough sum for them to take their projects from ideas to more or less finished products.’

Going the opposite way and more casually allocating smaller amounts to a long list of projects is an inferior solution, Frenning thinks.

‘If the funding’s spread thinly here and there, it’s almost impossible for smaller companies to get any worthwhile results. At worst, an overambitious project with too small a budget can threaten a company’s survival.’

Another requirement for funding from Mistra Innovation is for companies and higher education institutions (HEIs) to cooperate in the projects. For the participating HEIs, this means that they can work on reality-based development, which in turn has resulted in a number of PhD students, while the SMEs involved have access to knowledge they do not normally have.

In the coming months, Mistra Innovation’s work and results— both the individual projects and the entire organisation of the programme — will be reviewed.

‘A number of good products have emerged within the programme, but there are also examples of sound ideas that have not borne fruit. As we now evaluate the results, we hope to be able to identify which factors bring success. But it’s even more important to understand why some projects fail to achieve their goals. The hope is that we’ll be able to correct errors and inadequacies and so achieve even better results in future programmes,’ Welch says.

When the reviews are completed by the end of September, it is up to Mistra’s Board to decide what will happen, but Welch hopes and believes there will be some kind of continuation.

He is in no doubt that a programme aimed at SMEs is needed.

‘They usually have few contacts with HEIs, which makes it difficult for them to keep up to date on the latest scientific findings. Through Mistra Innovation or a similar programme, Mistra can give them scope to use their innovative power to develop new environment-friendly products and solutions.’

One of the companies responsible for a project is Winfoor AB. Jointly with Lund University and Marstrom Composite, within the framework of a project under the name Triblade, Winfoor has developed a technology that enables the manufacture of rotor blades for wind turbines with a lattice design. The advantage is a weight reduction of up to 80%, which in turn makes it possible to manufacture rotor blades that are both longer and stronger than is possible today.

‘Being able to run our project in Mistra Innovation has been valuable to us. In this way, we’ve gained access to both penetrating scientific know-how from Lund University, and the skills possessed by Marstrom Composite as a manufacturing company. Both these contacts have been crucial for us to get to where we are today,’ says Rikard Bertilsson at Winfoor AB and Project Manager for Triblade.

The project has not yet resulted in a finished product; however, they have still taken significant steps closer to the market.

‘The progress we’ve made in the project has enabled us to apply for new funds to build a larger prototype. Here too, Mistra’s support has been important,’ Bertilsson says.

Text: Per Westergård