Fostering Cross-Industry Connections: The SME Cluster Growth Workshop

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Author: Jose Villagran, UIIN 

The Irish playwright (and many other things) George Bernard Shaw said that “if you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas”. This statement, which might seem obvious, contains a powerful truth that we often forget about.

Last week, UIIN – supported by the SME Cluster Growth consortium – hosted the SME Cluster Growth Cross-industry network and collaboration workshop. This immersive workshop, aimed essentially at exchanging ideas, brought a total of 34 participants, the majority of whom were SME representatives from Spain, Turkey, Ireland, and Finland. The event served as a melting pot of insights and experiences from diverse business landscapes, regional contexts and sector-specific features.

Exploring trends, changes and challenges 

As participants logged in from different corners of Europe, the collective mission for the day was presented: To explore future trends, looming challenges, and potential solutions that could be useful for SME representatives experiencing or expecting to experience common growth-related challenges. The event kicked off with small group introductions, where participants shared their aspirations for the session.

Identifying Challenges 

Using Mural as an interactive tool, the participants worked to identify challenges across four primary domains: Managing Growth, Funding, Engaging with Ecosystems, and Going International. A voting process then distilled these issues down to the six most popular challenges that would set the stage for the second half of the workshop. These were:

  1. Recruiting and retaining staff during growth
  2. Balancing growth with operational continuity
  3. Managing increasing costs and ensuring timely payments
  4. Demonstrating the viability of business models
  5. Time management and prioritization for stakeholder engagement
  6. Partner selection and overcoming structural limitations

Co-Creating Solutions 

Participants then delved into discussions about their past experiences and potential solutions to these six challenges. In breakout rooms, participants were asked to wear their problem-solver hats and then share their perspectives and learnings from others’ experiences, laying the groundwork for future potential synergies. Some of the solutions and pieces of advice provided by the participants included:

  • In terms of recruiting staff, SMEs can seek out smaller/boutique HR companies that may be able to offer recruitment services at more affordable pricing
  • To properly manage growth, risk tolerance and acceptance of a certain amount of chaos are required
  • Finding technical talent in small regional communities, and ending up offering apprenticeships for internationals to come and providing incentives for talent to stay
  • Ensuring an aligned vision among the company leadership is essential to solidify the path towards growth

Final Reflections 

As the event neared its conclusion, participants were encouraged to reflect on their main takeaways and identify peers they’d like to stay in touch with. The closing message was clear: the conversations that started here shouldn’t end here.

By fostering a collaborative spirit and providing a platform for shared problem-solving, the SME Cluster Growth cross-industry network and collaboration workshop achieved its goals and sowed the seeds for potential new business relationships and collaborative ventures inside and outside the partner regions.

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