Promoting networks involving industry, academia and the financial sector

Another barrier faced by entrepreneurs from disadvantaged groups is their limited connection with other entrepreneurs or innovation actors. Instruments to address this barrier include: 

(1) Innovation vouchers

Innovation vouchers are small non-repayable grants used in many countries to help SMEs introduce small-scale innovations with the support of public knowledge providers, such as universities and public research institutes. The main purpose of innovation vouchers is to build linkages between SMEs and public research institutions, which will: i) stimulate knowledge transfer directly between public research and business; and ii) act as a catalyst for the formation of longer-term, more in-depth relationships (OECD, 2010). Voucher programmes have been implemented in many countries, including Germany, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The range of activities that can be funded with innovation vouchers varies by programme, and private co-funding is often required. While the outcomes of collaborations also vary, there are many examples of successful collaborations that have led to the introduction of new or improved products, services or processes by SMEs. Another measure of programme success is the extent to which voucher recipients have further contracted public research organisations for follow-up assignments paid through other means

(2) Entrepreneurial networks

Entrepreneurial networks can help entrepreneurs obtain financing; find business partners, suppliers, employees and customers; and get ideas for new products, processes, organisational methods and business models. Positive peer pressure can also play an important role instimulating business growth and innovation. To be effective, these initiatives should allow for a great deal of interaction between the entrepreneurs in the target group and the wider business community, so as to enlarge the pool of resources they have access to. Such networks should also have clear objectives. For example, they can be aimed at building international connections to facilitate exporting, or connecting with potential clients or suppliers. While face-to-face interactions are always the most effective, the creation of online entrepreneurial networks can be an effective complementary initiative (OECD/EU, 2016). For example, Korea's Centers for Creative Economy and Innovation promote the creation of networks that include SMEs and other innovation actors. 

Innovation vouchers programme – Hungary


Objective: Support SMEs innovation performance by helping them to connect with universities and research institutions to support their innovation projects.

Target: Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) seeking to develop an innovative product, service or process.

Instrument: Non-repayable grants to finance innovation consultancy or innovation support services provided by universities and public research institutes.

Innovation vouchers programme for the design sector – Ireland


Objective: Assist SMEs in gaining the knowledge needed to explore a targeted business opportunity, sourced from higher education institutes and public research bodies.

Target: SMEs in the design sector.

Instrument: Innovation voucher for SMEs to explore a business opportunity or solve a problem with the assistance of a registered public knowledge provider.

Centers for Creative Economy and Innovation – Korea


Objective: Promote business start-ups and innovation by small and medium-sized companies, and build conditions for innovation in different cities and provinces across the country.

Target: Small and medium-sized enterprises, and potential start-ups.

Instrument: Business consultation services for start-ups; creation of networks including SMEs and innovation actors; assistance in (among others) R&D and marketing.


OECD (2010d), Innovation Vouchers,

OECD/EU (2016), Inclusive Business Creation: Good Practice Compendium, OECD Publishing, Paris,