Establishing SME–university collaboration through innovation support programmes

Martin Kurdve (Division of Supply and Operations Management, Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg, Sweden) (Materials and Production, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden AB, Mölndal, Sweden)
Anna Bird (Innovation and Design Technology, Mälardalens University, Eskilstuna, Sweden)
Jens Laage-Hellman (Division of Supply and Operations Management, Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg, Sweden)

Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management

ISSN: 1741-038X

Publication date: 8 October 2020



The research purpose is to analyse when and how innovation support programmes (ISPs) can affect collaboration between universities and established small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The paper specifically considers SME’s absorptive capacity.


A Swedish research centre is studied in the context of innovation support and two of its SME-ISPs are examined with regards to industry–university collaboration and impact on firm innovation capabilities. Data collection and analysis are performed, using interviews, survey answers, document search and reflectional analysis to evaluate processes and effects of the centre and the programmes.


A developed research centre, integrated into both academia and industry, can support translational collaboration and promote SME innovation absorptive capacity. The action learning elements and the organisational development approaches used when coaching in the ISPs contribute to the SMEs internal absorption capacity and collaborational skills. Organising collaboration into ISPs can provide a relational path to future collaboration with universities, which, for example start with student projects.

Research limitations/implications

The study, though limited to one Swedish region, adds to empirical innovation research as it connects industry–university collaboration and absorptive capacity to organisational learning.

Practical implications

The empirical results indicate possible long-term gains for industry and universities in building collaborative innovation into SME-ISPs.


The contribution of this study pertains to the practice of innovation support for established SMEs with the inclusion of absorption capacity and collaborative innovation development.



Funding: This research was performed in connection to Mälardalen University, XPRES and Living-Lab, RISE production system development and Area of advance--Sustainable production at Chalmers University of Technology. It was partly funded by the Vinnova (Sweden’s Innovation Agency) project Pin3.


Kurdve, M., Bird, A. and Laage-Hellman, J. (2020), "Establishing SME–university collaboration through innovation support programmes", Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, Vol. 31 No. 8, pp. 1583-1604.

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