Andri Zindel

Helping SMEs to Motivate Their Employees in an Open Innovation Partnership

A Design Management Approach to Overcoming Challenges Originating in an Open Innovation Partnership Between an Sme and a Start-up

The constant changes in the economy force companies to adapt to be sustainably competitive. Innovation can be difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with long-existing structures. The principle of open innovation offers companies the opportunity to share knowledge and experience to innovate together. This paper investigates the specific case of a collaboration between an SME and a start-up in an open innovation context. Such collaboration allows both parties to benefit from each other. However, it also brings challenges. In this paper, two collaborations between Swiss companies are analysed.


For the research, two cases of such collaboration were analysed. By applying different design methods in primary and secondary research, it was found that the biggest challenge lies in integrating the employees of the SME into the process and maintaining the communication between the organisations to increase the motivation of the employees. To address these challenges, different concepts were co-created, tested and evaluated. The strategy is to regularly inform the employees about events of the cooperation in order to arouse their interest. In addition, as many employees as possible should be involved in the project in one way or another to make them feel part of it. The design intervention creates value for SMEs and start-ups in an open innovation partnership by integrating employees and providing a basis for regular exchange between the organisations.


The intervention includes the formation of a task force consisting of a small group of people from the start-up and at least one person from the SME. The task force is elected in a meeting of all core stakeholders and at the same time, a leader is appointed who takes responsibility for implementing the measures.
The task force publishes a newsletter for all stakeholders of the collaboration at a certain frequency. After each newsletter, the task force holds a retro meeting to discuss questions, tasks, and next steps in the collaboration.

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