The EU-funded Innovative Trainer Programme (ITP) sought to increase the capacity of Business Trainers and Mentors (BTMs) to support SMEs across the EU by developing a “Train the Trainer” blended learning training resource on non-technological innovation. By updating their skills, BTMs became better placed to provide guidance on how to keep small businesses to innovate better and adapt their services to the changing needs and ultimately improve their innovation performance and the growth of the enterprises they serve. The justification for the project was SMEs are crucial to future prosperity in the East Transfrontier Region and across the EU and are essential in attaining the goal of “a sustainable economy based on knowledge and innovation”.
The project was based on the premise that while good BTM practice existed, the potential of mentors to impact on SME performance was not being fully exploited. Funders and SMEs had a lack of awareness of the important role BTMs could play, not just as business experts, but also as business educators. ITP sought to increase the contribution BTMs could make as change agents facilitating the uptake of innovation & growth within their SME clients. Firstly, the project raised the quality of training available to them, carrying out a Baseline Audit then developing an innovative training resource which blended classroom-based real life learning & interaction, with online course content. The training goal was not only to teach the knowledge they required to provide expert, personalised assistance, but to improve their performance as mentors & teachers. This in turn had a significant impact on the survival & growth rates of the start-up and early stage businesses they worked with.
ITP’s strength lay in the way in which innovative resources were combined with the experience of 8 project partners, including Representative Bodies, Innovation Specialists & dedicated VET organisations, from 6 countries throughout the European Union.