In this part of the expert interviews series we interviewd, Iris Fischl, project manager at the SME research Austria
SME Research Austria specializes in social and economic research focusing on SMEs. The areas of activity are studies and analyzes (situation and development of industries, economic sectors or regions), evaluations (projects, programs and institutions as well as databases (qualitative and quantitative information on the structure and development of the Austrian economy).
What are the main tasks of SME Research Austria?
SME Research Austria is specialized in social and economic research with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the following areas:
SME Research Austria develops decision-making, data and information for companies and their advisors, economic policy and promotion institutions as well as universities, technical colleges and other research facilities.
What are the key findings of SME research in the environmental sector?
Austria is well positioned in the field of environmental technology. Despite the global financial crisis, the industry has continued to grow steadily, partly as a result of the sustained increase in the importance of renewable energies and energy sources. Important for the competitiveness of Austrian SMEs in general is the achievement of so-called spill-over effects, the application of modern environmental technologies on the one hand and an increasing orientation towards the principles of ecological economics on the other. In addition to promoting research and technology in this area, it is also particularly important to provide support services, especially for SMEs in medium and low-tech sectors.
What support do young SMEs or start-ups of the Austrian environmental engineering sector need to establish themselves on the market?
Particularly young SMEs often need not only the classical project-based research and technology support - quasi as a catalyst - supportive advisory offers of various kinds in order to obtain information and access to further funding, but also to develop their own information base, eg about relevant markets and customers, Multipliers. In principle, sufficient support is available, but in the future it is important to pay more attention to making optimum use of synergy potentials within the framework of the different support measures. In addition, it is particularly important to address the respective "margins" of technology development, such as technology diffusion and marketing.
What advantages and disadvantages do you see in the SME structure of the Austrian business landscape, especially in the context of innovation?
SMEs are often better placed to bring new innovations, as well as to use them, because of their smaller organizational size and complexity. they are more dynamic, more flexible, faster and have fewer internal hurdles. However, compared to larger companies, they have to deal more with limited resources, Innovative projects are financially risk-sensitive or lack SMEs the necessary resources to carry them out. Furthermore, SMEs are much more dependent on direct return-on-investment, that is, an economic failure of a single project can jeopardize an entire company. For SMEs in Austria as a whole, SME dominance means, above all, that there is considerable potential for innovation, but can not be used without the corresponding support (eg co-financing of research and innovation projects).
In which areas of environmental technology do you see the greatest potential for development of domestic SMEs?
Due to Austria's strong export dependency, which also applies to the environmental technology sector, significant development potentials depend on foreign demand. Companies continue to perceive the regulatory framework as crucial factors for development opportunities. In combination with Austria's strengths, the following sub-divisions are particularly significant in terms of sales and employment development: cogeneration, energy-efficient technologies and renewable energy (eg photovoltaics, biogas).
How do you see Austrian SMEs in international comparison?
As far as international competitiveness is concerned, it must first be noted that there is an ongoing internationalization of companies. Austrian SMEs also had to lose their market share in the years 2009-2011 and thus were in the international trend. However, the Asian competition, i. especially China and South Korea, emerged stronger from the financial crisis. Austria 's environmental engineering sector is not to be considered as a competitive market. However, there are a number of countries whose environmental technology companies have greater comparative advantages (e.g., Denmark, Germany). Austria's relative competitive position is to be described as good, but there is a slight downward trend in recent years.
What challenges will SMEs face in the coming years and what are the possible solutions?
In the short to medium term, the biggest challenge for Austria's environmental technology SMEs is certainly the slowed and uncertain global economic development and the correspondingly decreasing investment intensity. As the growth forecasts are more optimistic, especially for non-European markets, Austrian companies must also become increasingly active there. With regard to the generally still high potential for growth in this area, the competition situation will intensify even more internationally. technological advantage is becoming more and more indispensable for Austrian SMEs. This increases the need for a continuous investment in research and development, which in turn increases the economic risk and the relevance of state support services. Due to the increasing importance of international markets, the local conditions and their knowledge are also central challenges. SMEs must increasingly support their export activities through accompanying measures, such as through company co-operation and participation in trade fairs.
Projektleiterin bei der KMU Forschung Austria im Bereich Evaluierung mit dem Schwerpunkt Innovation und Technologie
Evaluierungen von Fördermaßnahmen und Studien im Bereich Forschung, Technologie und Innovation (FTI)
Sprecherin des Arbeitskreises Evaluierung von FTI-Politik der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Evaluation (DeGEval)
Mitglied der der Plattform für Forschungs- und Technologieevaluierung (fteval).