Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have long struggled to identify and pursue opportunities to grow their businesses. Often these companies have limited bandwidth to both manage their daily operations and make time to develop new products that meet their customers’ changing needs.
In addition, smaller companies do not always have the skill sets or knowledge to identify new market opportunities or consider new paths to diversifying their markets. When encountering technical challenges in developing new products, SMEs need help to expand their networks and find existing technologies to help solve their challenges.
Working with SMEs to Take Advantage of Market Opportunities
To enhance the productivity and technical performance of U.S. small- and medium-sized manufacturers, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) created the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). Since 1988 the NIST MEP program has worked with more than 86,000 SMEs, producing $96.4 billion in sales, $15.7 billion in cost savings, and nearly 800,000 jobs. This public-private partnership has centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico that provide professional business services to help SMEs grow.
Since 2007 a team of RTI experts has supported the NIST MEP program, mentoring MEP centers and teaching their staff members to help SME clients find existing technologies to solve their technical challenges and to navigate the opportunities and challenges of bringing new products to market. These two services—technology scouting and technology-driven market intelligence—are offered by MEP centers to their SME clients.
As of 2013, our experts have trained more than 350 program agents and directly assisted more than 80 manufacturing companies, which reported nearly $2.5 million in new revenue and cost savings as a result.
Collaborating to Forge Business and Technology Connections
Our work with individual MEP centers has led to other projects that foster collaboration between local, state, and regional partners and MEP centers. In 2016, we began working in five different states to forge new partnerships between state-level MEPs, federal labs, SMEs, large companies, and government stakeholders to strengthen regional manufacturing industry clusters through technology and innovation.
Our team is guiding the process to inform these collaborative partnerships with real-time industry feedback and global market growth areas. Our work catalyzes these partnerships and enables them to follow up on specific research, product development, or other opportunities that will foster growth in the industry cluster.
As these relationships strengthen, SMEs will have greater awareness of and access to market opportunities that can aid them in maintaining success and promoting growth.