Cohesive Enterprises, Open Innovation, and Sustainability

The report "Coesione è Competizione" reflects on the importance of collaboration to foster research and innovation.

03 Aug 2023
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The environmental, economic, and health crises, rising raw material costs, supply chain disruptions, and major global challenges require collective responses involving citizens, businesses, the world of research and education, banks and the financial system, associations, and institutions.

By bringing together multiple actors of different nature and taking shared actions towards a common goal, "purpose networks" can be built to facilitate the virtuous exchange of knowledge, best practices, and shared values. An example comes from the reorganization of production chains for renewable energy (local energy communities) or for sharing waste and materials (waste from one company becomes secondary raw material for another).

The Value of Cohesion

The "Coesione è Competizione" report by Fondazione Symbola, Unioncamere, and Intesa Sanpaolo demonstrates that cohesion in businesses enhances their connection and roots in communities and territories, increases employees' sense of belonging and life satisfaction, deepens dialogue with customers, strengthens supply chain and district relationships, generating positive effects on competitiveness. Cohesive businesses know that only by working together with others can they make their supply chains circular, adapt to changes, innovate, and compete.

By adopting this relationship-based business model, cohesive businesses achieve better results compared to other companies:

  • for 2023, 55.3% of cohesive businesses expect revenue increases (compared to 42.3% of other businesses).
  • 34.1% of cohesive businesses plan to increase employment this year (versus 24.8% of other businesses).
  • 42.7% of cohesive businesses anticipate an increase in exports (compared to 32.5% of other businesses).

The Northern regions host the highest number of cohesive businesses (around 70%). In absolute terms, 50% of cohesive businesses are concentrated in just three regions: Lombardy (24.1% of national cohesive businesses), Veneto (13.5%), and Emilia-Romagna (12.2%).

In relative terms (reporting the number of cohesive businesses as a percentage of total manufacturing businesses), Trentino-Alto Adige ranks first in the regional list (64.2%), followed by Valle d'Aosta (55.9%), Friuli Venezia Giulia (55%), Veneto (46.7%) and Emilia-Romagna (46%).

The incidence of cohesive businesses increases with the size of the company: from a relative presence of 39% in micro-enterprises (up to 9 employees) to 43% in businesses with 10 to 49 employees, 61% in the 50-249 employee range, and up to 81% in larger companies (250-499 employees). However, micro-sized cohesive businesses (1-9 employees) are the ones that are increasingly engaging in structured collaborations (+10 percentage points from 2020 to 2022).

Open Innovation

Cohesive businesses see innovation as a daily practice through which they structure their organization and create value. Innovation requires significant organizational openness and the ability to collaborate with other entities to share resources and knowledge.

Businesses that embrace research beyond their corporate boundaries (open innovation) collaborate with universities, designers, and creative minds to accelerate innovation or discover new applications for materials and products.

In recent years in Italy, the increase in collaborations and partnerships with other businesses, particularly with universities, research, and advanced education, has contributed to the formation of innovation ecosystems where various entities work together to stimulate innovation.

Many medium to large-sized companies have established open research and development centers for external collaboration, promoted co-creation of knowledge programs with customers and suppliers, and formed strategic partnerships with startups and universities. While established formulas at the international level constitute widely replicable best practices for larger enterprises, small businesses require specific policy adjustments.

The architecture supporting innovation in small Italian businesses has not yet succeeded in creating stable innovation ecosystems.

A report by the European Commission on Digital Innovation Hubs (DIH) - which provide support and advice to small businesses in adopting and implementing 4.0 digital technologies, connections to laboratories, equipment, and software for experimenting with and implementing new solutions - has highlighted critical issues that confirm the difficulty of connecting research entities with the innovation and growth paths of SMEs.

Sustainability and Digital Technologies

The focus on sustainability is driving companies - and not only - to come together to create phenomena that are reorganizing supply chains with a circular perspective.

Sustainability is also an effective lever for business since consumers perceive sustainable products as high quality and are willing to pay a premium for them.

Among cohesive businesses, nearly two out of three (62.1%) have invested/will invest in environmental sustainability (compared to 33.2% for other businesses).

The share of businesses that have adopted or are planning to adopt 4.0 digital technologies (Big Data, IoT, Robotics, 3D printing, Blockchain) is 47% for cohesive businesses, while it's 24% for non-cohesive businesses.

Source: Coesione è Competizione 2023 (Fondazione Symbola, Unioncamere, and Intesa Sanpaolo)

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