Regional SME Development Project Brings Innovation Lift to Manufacturing Hub

The Situation

Small to medium-sized businesses are key pillars in global economic structures, providing employment, stimulating economic expansion, and addressing essential market needs. However, these enterprises often lack the necessary resources and systems to sustain a dependable process for innovation. They’re missing structured approaches and quantifiable metrics for evaluating and enhancing innovation. There’s a need for a shared framework and vernacular to encapsulate and measure innovation activities and for internal and external collaborations.

While they may not possess the extensive resources of large-scale corporations, SMEs have the potential for significant innovation. Their proximity to market dynamics allows them to adopt a ‘need-seeker’ strategy, closely associated with disruptive innovation, transforming everything from internal processes to business models and product offerings. Their size often makes them less susceptible to regulatory disruptions, giving them an edge. Moreover, their small size enables them to build a unified, strong culture that motivates innovation across the board.

Individual company or departmental creativity is seldom sufficient to overcome organizational inertia or the status quo. Businesses, and their resulting innovations, exist not in isolation but within a network of other businesses, clients, partners, and customers, all intertwined in a complex global landscape.

To tackle the need for a more extensive and deeper impact, the Growkomp Regional Development Project was initiated. Aimed at enhancing the innovation capabilities of 28 manufacturing businesses in Sweden’s Småland region over a span of two years, this EU-supported project was started in 2016 with a budget of 8.2 million Swedish crowns.

Claes Johansson, CEO of Nässjö Näringsliv AB (the leading business region), stated,

“Our area boasts remarkable entrepreneurs with untapped capabilities. I recognized the necessity for fresh viewpoints and tools to widen their horizons, and Innovation360 delivered on that.”

Claes Johansson

The project orchestrated a collaboration among regional business growth bodies from Nässjö, Vaggeryd, Sävsjö, and Jönköping. These businesses collaborated intimately with Jönköping University, Science Park Jönköping, Codeq, and Innovation 360 Group for resources and assessment tools for business development.

Initiatives like Growkomp offer a stage for business proprietors and entrepreneurs to unite, share assets and expertise, and establish a formalized framework for innovation that benefits not just current business operations but also future sustainability.

The Challenge

Sweden boasts a robust manufacturing sector, which constitutes 21% of its GDP and three-quarters of its exports. Particularly in the Småland region, home to well-known companies like IKEA, the manufacturing industry serves as an economic cornerstone and entrepreneurship incubator. However, these firms encounter challenges common to global manufacturers: rising competition, technological shifts, and environmental regulations adding internal and external pressures.

Advanced digital manufacturing sets new productivity and specialization norms, while global competitors can offer similar but cheaper products. This scenario leaves manufacturers in a tight spot, pushing them to innovate and find fresh ways to engage newer generations of customers for sustainable growth.

Practical difficulties also include skill and talent shortages and the absence of tangible tools and methods for business development and innovation. There’s a pressing requirement to be more strategic and collaborative, challenging established business models and reimagining value propositions. Attracting skilled talent in an increasingly digitalized world also calls for greater diversity and inclusivity.

The Solution

To meet these objectives, a collective of local business development organizations collaborated closely with the Innovation360 Group. They launched a two-year program aimed at future-proofing the business models of Swedish manufacturing firms, with a focus on optimizing productivity and operational aspects for enhancing growth and competition.

This project unfolded over 30 months, with initial stages concentrated on assessment and strategy, followed by the execution and value creation stages.

The program was inaugurated with an introductory session with all managerial teams to outline the project and clarify expectations, ensuring everyone was aware of their responsibilities. Transparency of this sort is critical for the success of large-scale initiatives.

The project utilized the Innovation360 methodology and the InnoSurvey® digital tool to gauge each company’s capabilities, culture, and competencies. This resulted in comprehensive profiles, detailed reports, and InnovationIQ scores for each company, backed by years of research and an expansive innovation database.

Accompanied by financial audits and PESTLED360 market positioning analyses, businesses could align external variables with their strategic plans. InnovationIQ scores were awarded to set a baseline and celebrate achievements. In the end, a re-evaluation was conducted, revealing intriguing correlations with performance indicators.

Among the more compelling aspects of this initiative were the boot camps, synthesizing lessons into actionable plans. This shared learning methodology provided deep insights and opportunities for knowledge transfer. Tailored workshops and coaching sessions addressed specific issues and solutions, enriching the process.

“Participation in Growkomp was invaluable, particularly the boot camp sessions where we gleaned valuable insights and tools to articulate our business model and define actionable steps for attaining our goals. We have had numerous enriching dialogues and follow-ups throughout the journey, and the entire management team benefitted from the information.”

Martin Møller

Mentioned Martin Møller, Business Development officer at Expedit.

The project encompassed:

  • A full-scale digital analysis, including financial and market positioning assessments
  • Boot camps and workshops aimed at business development
  • Individualized coaching for in-depth analysis and custom recommendations
  • Implementation and subsequent evaluations

Key Insight

The concentration on one industrial sector allowed us to identify specific trends and weaknesses. Data indicated shortcomings in product choices, ideation processes, and market introduction. This data allowed us to zero in on those areas. The business with the most substantial increase in orders also exhibited the most improvement in these metrics, thereby confirming the accuracy of the data.

Key Insight

The Outcome

The Growkomp Regional Development Project, a two-year program that concluded in May 2018, has yielded remarkable results, which were announced at a media conference. These included:

  • An average growth in order books by 25%, with ranges between 10-100%.
  • An overall average growth rate of 12%, outpacing Sweden’s national GDP growth of 5%.
  • Revisions in business plans aimed at maintaining sustainable growth.
  • Enhanced workforce and management diversity.
  • Significantly reduced product development cycles.

These achievements have led several SMEs to create their own innovation centers, integrate innovation into their existing processes, and build an organizational culture focused on innovation. Feedback from participating entrepreneurs was overwhelmingly positive, with continued collaboration planned with Innovation 360 in subsequent years. By 2021, the lead region had even earned the title of the fastest-growing region in the county.

Johan Ragnar, CEO of Ragnars Inredningar, praised the project:

“Our CSR investment has already spawned new business. The innovation area within the Growkomp project was highly beneficial, providing us with incredible opportunities to strengthen our innovation capabilities.”

Johan Ragnar


The Growkomp project exemplifies the transformational potential of open innovation and large-scale development initiatives. It challenges the notion that innovation is the exclusive domain of select individuals or massive corporations. Successful innovators are those who engage their communities and operate within collaborative ecosystems.

They often transition from an incremental market reader approach to embracing need-seeking and technology-driven strategies. These are not innate traits but can be developed and nurtured. Once gaps in capability and competency are identified, appropriate responses may include training, hiring, or restructuring.

The Continuum

The success of the initial Growkomp model was validated with the launch of Growkomp 2 in January 2019, backed by an investment of more than 12 million Swedish crowns and involving 37 companies. Notably, JSC IT Partner increased its Innovation IQ from 61 to 71 during the program, ranking it among the EU’s top 10, a commendable achievement indicating both dedication and progress.


The Growkomp program has extended its influence beyond Sweden. A new program, called InnovationNI, has been launched in Northern Ireland in collaboration with partner Orryx. Noel Lavery, Permanent Secretary at the Department for the Economy, emphasized the program’s potential to make Northern Ireland one of the UK’s most innovative regions.

About Innovation360

Innovation360 Group has carved out a reputation as a global leader in innovation management. Operating in 30 countries, they have built the world’s largest database of practical innovation concepts. Their services include workshops and transformation plans to help organizations increase innovation capability, profit, and growth. With offices in New York and Stockholm, they oversee global initiatives through accredited practitioners trained in the Innovation360 methodology.

The urgency for such programs is underscored by data suggesting that approximately 40% of today’s thriving companies may not exist in a decade, making innovation not just advantageous but essential for survival.

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