The launch of the Enterprise Europe Network should help small and medium enterprises to boost innovation throughout Europe says Janez Potocnik

The launch of the Enterprise Europe Network should help small and medium enterprises to boost innovation throughout Europe says Janez Potocnik

The European Commission wants small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to be drivers of economic activity and innovation. We believe that thinking and acting on a European level increases the scope for innovation.  


© European Commission

Innovation very often stems from new encounters between different ideas, scientific disciplines and technologies. The European funding programmes are trying to multiply these encounters, and thus multiply the opportunities for innovation.  

Thanks to their size and their drive, SMEs have the flexibility to seize new opportunities. At the same time, the networking and commercial opportunities that come with participation in European programmes can turn SMEs into powerful innovation engines.  

I hope that the new Enterprise Europe Network, launched in February 2008, will help SMEs become more successful in the European programmes. The network provides information, advice and contacts for EU businesses on European legislation and funding matters, making it the world’s biggest business network. 

Research and innovation drive  

For the current 7th Framework Programme (FP7), more than €50 billion (£37.4 billion) will be invested in research and innovation up to 2013. 

To encourage SMEs to get involved with FP7, we have increased the EU funding rate from the normal 50 per cent for companies to 75 per cent of total project cost for SMEs. We have introduced a guarantee fund, which will allow financial risks to be shared among all participants, big and small. As a result, no bank guarantees are required from SMEs, which is what often hampered their participation in the previous funding framework. We are also reducing the requirements for audit certificates and reporting. All in all, FP7 should mean more research and less paperwork for SMEs.  

We have allocated 15 per cent of the €32 billion cooperation programme for research-intensive SMEs. This represents more than €4.8 billion in funding, dedicated for SMEs, up to the year 2013.  

We also want to be responsive to the needs of different categories of SMEs. Innovative SMEs that have no research capacity of their own, but need new knowledge or technology to advance their business, can apply for financial support for outsourcing the R&D work to research centres or universities.  

This activity has an overall budget of €1.3 billion for the period 2007-2013. Participating SMEs will have the right to fully use all the results from the research project, and not just the results they have generated themselves directly. 

Trans-national funding opportunities can also benefit SMEs, such as those organised through EuroTransBio, which focuses on biotech SMEs and start-ups. In the first two calls for proposals, EuroTransBio committed €38 million funding to SMEs and mobilised another €31 million of private money. 

How to become a Eurostar 

Another important step is the Eurostars Programme for those conducting market-oriented R&D, which we have developed with the 27 countries in the Eureka network, and which is now up for approval by Council and Parliament. The EU will support Eurostars with up to €100 million during the next six years, on the condition that the member states contribute an additional €300 million. Eurostars will offer fast decision-making, flexible procedures and secured funding for project participants.  

We are encouraging EU member states to introduce R&D tax incentives targeted at SMEs, and have also set up 34 European Technology Platforms. These industry led-stakeholder forums aim to develop European research strategies for specific sectors.  

The Enterprise Europe Network will have a great deal of work to do, but it could not come at a better time. There is plenty of information to disseminate; there are plenty of SMEs to be mobilised; there are plenty of support services and funding opportunities to be coordinated. But above all, there is a lot of scope to stimulate openness and creativity, and to promote collaboration across Europe.  

Janez Potocnik is European Commissioner for Science and Research