Companies based in the Grand Ouest region of France (Brittany and the Pays de la Loire) profess a keenness to innovate. However they find it difficult to get innovation processes up and running, often due to a lack of information on support available locally.

Innovation Management: Many French Companies Unaware of Local Support Initiatives

Some 21% of the companies based in this part of Western France see innovation as an opportunity to gain competitive advantage. This figure results from a survey carried out among 325 local entrepreneurs by the Loire area CGPME, a federation representing the interests of small and medium-sized businesses, in conjunction with Hisséo, a consultancy firm based in the region. The purpose of the survey was to assess the role played by innovation in the region’s companies and to identify innovation practices and methodology in use at companies of different sizes, plus the main obstacles to innovation. It turns out that there is still a long way to go to get innovation processes running smoothly, and that available information and support resources are not being used to the full. Rémy Poupin, Partner and Chief Executive at BDO France – the French member firm of the international accountancy and consultancy network – stressed that company bosses need to realise that they must apply new management models if they are to meet the demands of today’s highly competitive and constantly evolving markets.

Lack of information on support resources for company innovation

Company size has an impact on how innovation processes are implemented. Half of the firms polled which employ with more than 50 people can point to an in-company initiative designed to foster innovation. Overall, only a quarter (26%) of respondents reported that their company had set up a systematic Innovation Management structure, the remainder saying that they proceed with innovation as and when opportunities or ideas arise. The study also reveals that companies lack relevant information. There are a number of regional initiatives designed to help companies drive forward innovative projects, but 71% of the managers interviewed reported not having enough information about such resources. Moreover, 40% did not know how to obtain support, or what organisations they could approach for advice. In addition, close to a third (32%) of respondents said that the administration involved in obtaining support is often a stumbling block.

Innovation remains a strategic priority

Nevertheless, some 48% of those surveyed regard innovation as a strategic priority. Risk is always a factor in innovation decisions, but close to three quarters of the firms said they were ready to take risks and deal with them. However, there still remain 11% of respondents – for the most part those working at companies with less than ten employees – who simply do not see innovation as a strategic priority in their sector. Asked where innovation comes from in their business, 65% of those quizzed replied that customer needs were a major source of innovation. On the other hand, the collaborative approach, bringing together players from the private and state sectors, seems to play only a very minor role, with just 12% of the company manager reporting that they have an external collaborative structure in place. Moreover, almost a quarter (22%) of the region’s companies are actually against this approach, mainly as they fear losing control over their innovations. Nevertheless, around one third of those surveyed do recognise the benefits of collaborative working practices, once the sometime hard-to-dismantle work culture barriers have been overcome.