Christoph Meier: Czech companies should be more international
Christoph Meier is the managing director and founder of platinn, a network organisation for business innovation support to start-up companies and SMEs. Since 1991 he has implemented innovation projects with more than 1000 companies. He came to Brno to share his experience with European agencies working with small and medium enterprises via project Peer-BIT (link to the details about the project). In the interview below he reveals the background of platinn and his experience with its Czech version.
What was the original situation and the idea at the beginning of Platinn?
There was a political awareness coming out from our regional innovation strategy study, which depicted quite clearly that we were losing a lot of jobs. Industrial sectors with less innovation performance and jobs we generated newly in strong innovation based economies were not sufficient to compensate the loss in poor innovation sector. The second thing was that only about half of strategic innovation projects of our companies in western Switzerland might be implemented because of real problems, bottlenecks and constraints they have. So we had a huge innovation potential which was idle and not being used.
One of the solutions was the program Platinn operating in six cantons of western Switzerland. Can you describe what this platform is about?
The platform is about supporting the business innovation and activities mainly of the smaller companies with less than 50 people and mid-sized companies. This is the main mission we have. We need to know what the real problems of these companies are to find the couching competence, which really fits their demand. This led to a broader network including many different competence profiles, experiences and people.
What solutions and services do you offer to SMEs?
One big group of problems is the question of how to commercialize new products. Complex solutions through business models, distribution, branding are covered in our coaching service. We cover also another group of problems that is connected with the question of how to organize companies and how to align new resources, choose a strategy of business innovation, establish the team of experienced people organizing production. Then there is a need to succeed in very early cooperation and partnerships, which led us to bring in management and strategic consortia building. Another service is connected with the money - 11% of companies we work with need additional financing for innovation projects, so we started to cooperate with extra private investors.
You helped to establish a Czech version of the platform, JIC PLATINN, a program that is provided by JIC to Czech companies. Are there differences between Czech and Swiss companies?
Problems in Czech companies are not that different from those we see in Switzerland. We could copy paste it from Switzerland here or the other way around, problems are generic. Only minor problems of these SMEs are linked to technological aspects, the rest is linked to material, human aspects, organizational, business or softer factors in the innovation process. I think you have adopted platinn very well. I got a really good impression about the way you build the partnership between a coach you select and a company. In all cases I saw there was a really close relationship. What came out is also that South Moravian companies used to feel alone in this huge complexity of problems. They could not speak to anybody, they did not get support, so now they appreciate the partnership so much.
Is there anything about the Czech Republic that has surprised you?
I expected Czech people to be more international, integrated in Europe. Czech companies live as separated “islands” using single language. This causes a lot of problems when the companies intend to go global. I think it is really important for your companies to get more actively supported in transitioning to international business.
Jindřich Weiss, JIC (on the left) and Christoph Meier, Platinn.ch (on the right)
Christoph Meier has been cooperating with JIC since 2014. During upcoming months he will be one of the international experts helping to develop not only the service of JIC PLATINN but also the services of two other innovation centres, which are involved in the Peer-BIT project. These include the Lithuanian Innovation Centre based in Vilnius, Lithuania and the Upper Austria Business Agency based in Linz, Austria.