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Support systems for new activities in rural areas

Part 3 - Various techniques
Business and Innovation Centres (BICs)
and their Innovation Centre Network (EBN)

[Technical Factsheet 7]

How to use this guide & Table of Contents


Initially set up to provide assistance to
businesses in areas undergoing industrial
restructuring and financially-disadvantaged
areas of the European Union, BICs have
become a proven local economic development
tool, able to adapt themselves to any area.
In the case of rural industrial companies,
BICs can prove to be a valuable resource to
complement LEADER.


The concept of a "Business and Innovation Centre (BIC)" was launched in 1984 by the Directorate-General for Regional Policy and Cohesion (DG XVI) of the European Commission. The BIC's "philosophy" is in some ways comparable to that of LEADER and LEADER groups: it "allocates public and private resources to initiatives which, through their innovative nature and the economic opportunities they present, enable wealth and jobs to be created and activities to be diversified. It also promotes SME access to the international market and to cooperation".

Like many LEADER groups, BICs are supported by public-private partnerships, but their support mission is above all targeted at innovative industrial or service companies.

The operating area of the BICs is also far more extensive than that of the LAGs: with its average catchment area covering approximately one million people, the BIC's field of action covers the whole region. This is reflected in the location of the BICs, most often in regional or provincial capitals. In fact, LEADER groups and BICs have different but complementary functions: the former have a "generalist" mission in the area, whereas the latter are more involved with individual companies which have very specific needs (in terms of production technology, marketing strategy, etc.). In concrete terms, a LAG is going to direct an industrial company with ambition and needs in terms of technical assistance which exceed the expertise and support that it can mobilise itself in its own area to the BIC in its region.

In it basic form, a BIC is a small team of skilled men and women whose aim is to help SMEs succeed and therefore contribute to local economic development. However, many BICs have a more complex structure and offer, at beneficial conditions, a whole range of support services for the creation and development of businesses and projects: information, advice, training, business planning, financial engineering, technological expertise, marketing, accommodation (in the form of short-term workshops, business incubators, enterprise hotels), etc.

Most of the BIC's income is from providing services to local authorities (25%) and to businesses and entrepreneurs (55%). The average contribution from the European Union to the BIC's funding is approximately 20%, except during start-up (the first two years) where it can reach 40% (in Objective 2 and 5b areas) to 50% (in Objective 1 and 6 areas).

The success of the BICs can be measured according to the average survival rate of their customers: 95% of the businesses survive longer than 5 years, whereas the European average is less than 50%.

Spread out throughout the European Union and in existence in some Central and Eastern European countries, the 140 BICs that are operational in 1998 are part of the EBN network ("European Business and Innovation Centre Network"), which aims in particular towards the harmonisation of know-how, the exchange of experiences and interregional cooperation between companies. Based in Brussels, the EBN provides different services: publications, promotional tools, the organisation of technical seminars, special events, specific searches, databanks, etc. The network also has an Internet site:

EBN / European Business and Innovation Network
188A, avenue de Tervuren,
B-1150 Bruxelles
Phone: +32 27728900; Fax: +32 27729574;

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