Here's a really interesting idea. Ireland is issuing "Innovation Vouchers" to small businesses to help them better connect to the "public knowledge system (i.e., colleges and universities). Each voucher is worth €5,000 and can be redeemed for things like:
- new product / process development;
- new business model development;
- new service delivery and customer interface;
- new service development;
- tailored training in innovation management;
- innovation / technology audit
The program came out of a recommendation from a 2006 report called Small Business is Big Business. More information about the voucher program can be found here.
Ireland is not the only place to try this strategy. It has also been implemented elsewhere in the UK and in the Netherlands. Here is a study that evaluated the impact of the Dutch program. It found that the system does indeed stimulate innovation - eight out of ten vouchers issued resulted in an innovation that otherwise would not have come to fruition.