AIM taps Germany’s Steinbeis model to bridge SME expertise gap

  • Accelerating academia engagement with industry to boost productivity
  • Challenge is to get all sectors on the same page, match expectations
AIM taps Germany’s Steinbeis model to bridge SME expertise gap

THE Malaysian Government has long been actively engaging with small and medium enterprises (SMEs), creating programmes and partnerships that can benefit them, especially when it comes to technical assistance.
But while Malaysia has had a mixed record with these kinds of initiatives, Germany has been a world leader in showing how both technical and management expertise from academia (both private and public), industry, trade and science can work with SMEs to help them fill their technical and management gaps.
What’s notable about the German experience is how it has been entrepreneur-led by the private sector, specifically the Steinbeis Foundation – which Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM) partnered with to create the non-profit Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation in 2014.
AIM’s hope is that by tapping the expertise, experience and models of Steinbeis, Malaysia too can build a bridge between academia and industry to promote effective and efficient cooperation.
“[Germany’s] unique model is recognised for its successful knowledge and technology transfer from universities and research institutions to industries and companies,” says Steinbeis Malaysia executive director Dr Abdul Reezal Latiff (pic above).
“And we want to see that happen here as well,” he adds.
An academic-turned-entrepreneur, Reezal is ideally suited to the task of helping fill the knowledge gap that SMEs face, having once been the founder of an SME himself.
“One thing for sure is my experience in being an academic, entrepreneur as well as a technocrat has helped me to better understand the personalities and expectations from each sector. This understanding helps in getting all sectors on the same page and to match expectations,” he says.
The end goal of Steinbeis Malaysia, as Reezal explains it, “is to increase the number of SMEs that have their own R&D (research and development) unit and to get academia to carry out projects that will contribute towards SME productivity and output.”
Three key challenges stand in the way however, he acknowledges:

  • The perception of SMEs in utilising expertise from academia – many SMEs feel that academics are not interested in working with small companies that are mainly in the supply chain of larger players;
  • The reluctance of industry players to pay for developmental work where, counter-intuitively, they rather pay for off-the-shelf solutions instead of paying local experts to solve their solutions, with the bonus of owning any intellectual property or trademark around the solution; and
  • The reality that the solutions for some industry problems are not available in Malaysia, which means having to find and pay for the relevant expertise from overseas.

As a former academic who offered his expertise to Malaysian companies, Reezal is keenly aware of the size of the task in convincing companies that the solutions to their problems can be found locally without the need for international expertise.
“Over the past two years, Steinbeis Malaysia has built an extensive database of experts who are on par with their international peers,” he says, adding that, if need be, through Steinbeis’ network in 49 other countries, Malaysian companies are also able to tap international expertise.
While the focus is on SMEs, all companies can access the Steinbeis pool of experts, with Reezal citing a listed company requesting assistance in getting an international expert to assist it in moving from being a labour-intensive manufacturing facility to a fully automated one.
“This would not only remove its dependency on labour – especially foreign labour – but will result in higher efficiency and productivity as well,” he adds.
Tackling the reluctance of companies to pay for development work, Steinbeis Malaysia provides 50% payment through the Steinbeis Innovation Voucher (STIV), “but on condition they put skin in the game by paying for 50% of the project costs involved in solving their problem,” says Reezal.
In addition to its ongoing projects that require technical and non–technical solutions, Steinbeis Malaysia is currently carrying out three major programmes as well:

  • Technical Export readiness programme for Malaysian companies preparing to export products to Japan and South Korea, done in collaboration with various agencies such as Matrade and Exim Bank, among others;
  • Medical  Device Programme assisting companies which are planning to be market-ready in the medical device industry; and
  • Capability Development Programme to assist companies preparing for industrial certifications such as GMP, HACCP, Halal, ISO 9001 and various others.

Digital News Asia and Steinbeis Malaysia will be jointly hosting a roundtable on May 25, at 10am at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang titled What’s Choking The Road To Success?
Those interested are welcome to send their details to [email protected].
The venue is: Auditorium Murad Mohd Noor, Ground Floor, Block C, [email protected], Universiti Sains Malaysia, 10, Persiaran Bukit Jambul 11900 Bayan Lepas Pulau Pinang.

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