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Small size, big impact - the competitive advantage of the SME

Written by Jamie Hinton
Published on
Currently, there's a lot of discussion around what SMEs can learn from big business, but perhaps it’s time that we also consider how big businesses can benefit from working with smaller partners.

For a long time, it’s seemed that innovative technological projects alongside big businesses were traditionally reserved for tech giants.

Although businesses are beginning to see the value in working with smaller organisations, this can still sometimes be seen in play today.

Recently, we began working with a large company, who had to waive their usual policy of only working with businesses with a larger number of employees, in order to work with us.

In recent years, there’s been a push to ensure that SMEs have a fair chance at succeeding and support in establishing the same beneficial relationships and working partnerships that bigger businesses are able to.

In 2010, the Government introduced their own SME action plan to help SMEs to thrive, compete with larger organisations, and gain contracts to work with public sector businesses, with the aim of increasing opportunities for SMEs across industries.

Although government intervention is a positive step toward levelling the playing field and emphasising the potential of SMEs, we should be shouting about all of the incredible work that technology SMEs are already doing, the projects they’re enabling and how they are advancing alongside, and in some cases outperforming larger organisations and businesses.

It seems strange, when over 99% of businesses within the EU are considered to be SMEs, and in the UK, the combined revenue of SMEs is around £1.8 trillion, that some larger companies are still hesitant to establish partnerships with SMEs. Not only do larger businesses who rule out working with SMEs risk missing out on revolutionary approaches and innovative ideas, but there are a whole range of reasons why being open to partnering with small and medium sized enterprises can be of benefit.

Typically, smaller businesses have the ability to be much more flexible, disruptive and reactive than big organisations, who have rigid structures, processes and in some cases high levels of entropy.

SMEs adaptability and agility is ideal in fast paced technology driven marketplaces where advancements and business transformation are constantly at work.

SMEs are also generally able to dedicate more time, attention, care and detail to the work they do and the ways they contribute to projects than huge corporations. Big business risks missing out on different abilities, talent and ideas if they only work with the same solution providers and may not actually get the best support for them.

Initiatives such as the Government’s SME Action Plan, and the stated objectives of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are positive steps towards elevating tech SMEs, but more needs to be done. As an SME ourselves, we’ve found that getting involved with organisations such as the The University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has opened doors for us to have constructive conversations with larger businesses, and demonstrate our capabilities and value in delivering successful product development and service design.

If more big firms and organisations got involved with SMEs and helped to highlight the innovative work and development they’re playing an instrumental part in, perhaps many more of their peers would be willing to follow suit. Currently, a lot of discussion is around what SMEs can learn from big business, but perhaps it’s time that we also consider how big businesses can learn and benefit from working with smaller partners.