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R&D-intensive SMEs in Europe: What do we know about them?



The importance of SMEs in Europe’s innovation process can be seen in both the academic and the political arena. Adopted in June 2008, the ‘Small Business Act’ for Europe reflects the Commission’s political will to recognise the central role of SMEs in the EU economy and was the first to put in place a comprehensive SME policy framework for the EU and its Member States. One of its main aims is to promote growth among SMEs by helping them to tackle problems that hamper their development. This kind of policy calls for a more in-depth look into the nature of the SME population in Europe. Several attempts have been made in recent years to draw taxonomies of firms, but mostly they do not control for size effects within the defined groups of firms. The purpose of this paper is to typify different groups of R&D-intensive SMEs distinguished according to their inputs into the innovation process. In particular, we draw attention to SMEs that contribute the most to the industrial R&D investment in the EU. To do so, we run a cluster analysis on a sample of top European R&D SME investors based on a unique dataset made up of the different waves of the European R&D Investment Scoreboard. The results show that several clusters of R&D-intensive SMEs can be defined by certain characteristics, but that the diversity between clusters calls for a more careful understanding before developing measures to support European R&D-intensive SMEs. For companies labelled as ‘corporate laboratories’ according to the cluster analysis, it would be legitimate to question support for R&D, as these firms do not seem to have significant problems in finding investors that believe in their business model. On the other hand, e.g. the ‘Gazelles’ do in fact grow, but struggle with the high capital investment needed to become and remain large. In this case, it seems it would be more effective to focus on the weaknesses (physical expansion) of these firms rather than supporting their strengths (knowledge, R&D).

Suggested Citation

  • Raquel Ortega-Argilés & Lesley Potters & Peter Voigt, 2009. "R&D-intensive SMEs in Europe: What do we know about them?," JRC Working Papers on Corporate R&D and Innovation 2009-15, Joint Research Centre (Seville site).
  • Handle: RePEc:ipt:wpaper:200915

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    Cited by:

    1. Peter Voigt & Pietro Moncada-Paternò-Castello, 2012. "Can Fast Growing R&D-Intensive Smes Affect the Economic Structure of the Eu Economy?: A Projection to the Year 2020," Eurasian Business Review, Springer;Eurasia Business and Economics Society, vol. 2(2), pages 96-128, December.
    2. Francesco Bogliacino & Matteo Lucchese, 2011. "Access to finance for innovation: the role of venture capital and the stock market," ECONOMIA E POLITICA INDUSTRIALE, FrancoAngeli Editore, vol. 2011(4), pages 165-183.
    3. Pietro Moncada-Paternò-Castello & Peter Voigt, 2012. "Projection of R&D-intensive enterprise growth to the year 2020: Implications for EU policy?," JRC Working Papers on Corporate R&D and Innovation 2012-01, Joint Research Centre (Seville site).
    4. Pietro Moncada-Paterno-Castello, 2011. "Companies' growth in the EU: What is research and innovation policy's role?," JRC Working Papers on Corporate R&D and Innovation 2011-03, Joint Research Centre (Seville site).

    More about this item


    SMEs; innovation inputs; cluster analysis;

    JEL classification:

    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

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