How tech SMEs and large organisations can work together

30 Mar 2022

Image: © Love the wind/

With an investment of €5m, The Innovation Exchange aims to support more than 300 Irish SMEs in 2022 through exposure to large multinationals.

Recent figures have shown that it is a great time to be an Irish tech start-up. According to the latest Irish Venture Capital Association’s survey, investment into Irish tech start-ups and SMEs reached a record €1.3bn last year, marking a 44pc increase from the previous year.

What’s more, many of these start-ups are developing tools and services that can meet the requirements of larger businesses that are facing digital transformation challenges.

However, tech start-ups and SMEs still face a number of their own challenges, especially when it comes to identifying and accessing buyers.

Even when SMEs do get access to big players, the length of the sales cycle and the complexity of the procurement process in large organisations can be barriers to getting business done in a way that is efficient and commercial. Companies that are scaling have their own struggles too when it comes to accessing new markets or broader industry expertise.

In order to address some of these challenges, Skillnet Ireland teamed up with Dublin Business Innovation Centre (BIC) to launch The Innovation Exchange, which aims to connect SMEs with large multinational organisations.

It was launched in February, with Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, announcing a €5m investment for the initiative.

‘SMEs in the programme get access to world-class training designed to help them succeed’

Dublin BIC’s Oonagh Fox said The Innovation Exchange could “make a real and immediate impact on scaling companies”, with benefits such as access to a customer pipeline, a deeper understanding of industry challenges and help in pitching to their market.

“As well as the opportunity to pitch solutions directly to corporate buyers, SMEs in the programme get access to world-class training designed to help them succeed when selling into multinational corporations,” she said.

“The Innovation Exchange supports SMEs every step of the way, from selecting the right opportunities, helping participants to prepare to pitch, providing feedback and by giving them the right techniques, tools, guidance and support to succeed through the full process, from pitching to procurement.”

The initiative started with a pilot programme in 2021 before being launched nationwide earlier this year. There are now plans to support more than 300 companies.

Aurobinda De, co-founder of digital health company Empeal, took part in the pilot programme and said The Innovation Exchange solves the challenge of “getting in front of the right people” as well as the long sales process.

For multinationals that participate in the initiative, Fox said there is a lot of value to be had from collaborating with SMEs when it comes to innovation in the area of emerging technologies.

“These partnerships give corporates access to start-up creativity, new ways of working and comfort with emerging technologies,” she said.

“Established businesses in Ireland have an appetite to work with innovative SMEs to solve digital challenges, but find it time consuming and complex to navigate their way to the right providers and the right solutions.”

Large organisations currently partnering with The Innovation Exchange include IBM, Microsoft and Expleo.

Mark Kenny, a client director at Expleo, said The Innovation Exchange is opening new and different channels of innovation and collaboration for both large and small companies.

“We have found the journey with The Innovation Exchange hugely positive and has injected great energy into our thinking.”

Fox said the current call for applications is focused on identifying challenges within the area of digital transformation and using emerging technologies such as AI, IoT and robotics across sectors such as energy, food, travel, health, education, human resources, logistics and compliance.

“The Innovation Exchange is currently recruiting innovative SMEs with a proven ability to create and deliver digital transformation solutions.”

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic