Research collaboration and R&D outsourcing: Different R&D personnel requirements in SMEs

Peter Teirlinck1, André Spithoven2

    1. Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel and KU Leuven, Brussels, Belgium
    2. Belgian Science Policy Office, Brussels, Belgium


The literature on ‘open’ innovation emphasises the need to engage in external knowledge relations in order to innovate. Particularly for SMEs, research cooperation and R&D outsourcing can offer possibilities to complement the often limited internal research resources. However, they also bring in their wake requirements in terms of absorptive capacity and managerial skills of the internal R&D personnel.

The paper focuses on the different requirements in terms of availability and training of research managers and R&D experts for research cooperation versus R&D outsourcing in SMEs. An empirical analysis of micro-level data provided by the OECD business R&D survey for Belgium reveals that the relation between R&D personnel requirements and research collaboration and R&D outsourcing depends upon the SME size. Therefore, to study this subject appropriately a distinction between very small, small, and medium-sized firms is relevant. Very small firms engage significantly less in research cooperation than medium-sized firms and the propensity to engage in research cooperation is positively associated with the share of PhD holders among the research managers and R&D experts. For R&D outsourcing a lower involvement is noted in medium-sized firms, and the propensity to outsource increases with the formal qualification level of the R&D personnel and with R&D training. Among the SME, small firms are most engaged in research cooperation and in R&D outsourcing. In the case of research cooperation they rely on highly qualified experts. For R&D outsourcing activities both the presence of research managers and R&D experts is important.


    • Small firms heavily rely on the availability of research experts for engaging in research cooperation.
    • In medium-sized firms research cooperation is strongly related to the presence of research managers.
    • The propensity to outsource R&D increases with the availability of research managers and experts.
    • Small firms engage more in research cooperation and outsourcing than in very small and medium-sized firms.