The Enterprise Europe Network helps European SMEs to find business and technology partners and apply for EU funding. In addition, small businesses operating in 17 key industry sectors from retail to space technology can count on customised support from the Network. In these sectors, specialists from across Europe come together to organise brokerage and matchmaking events, using their expertise to find new markets and opportunities for companies.
Business support experts in 17 key industry sectors have teamed up to provide companies with customised support in their field. They are part of the Enterprise Europe Network, which links 3 000 experts working through 600 local organisations in 48 countries.
The Network helps small- and medium-sized enterprises to find business, technology and research partners, as well as advising on how to make the most of European and international marketplaces and funding opportunities.
In order to customise its support further and make sure it meets the needs of specific sectors, the Enterprise Europe Network pools its expertise in key industries in 17 sector groups (see box), ranging from agri-food and the environment to intelligent energy and information and communication technologies.
The tourism and cultural heritage sector group seeks to enhance the competitiveness of European tourism and promote innovation within the sector. Moreover, it provides support to the cultural heritage sector, a key asset for European tourism. The EU is the world’s leading tourist destination and its tourism sector is made up of some 1.8 million companies, many of them SMEs, accounting for about 5% of the Union’s GDP and employment.
“Our main objectives are to promote innovation within tourism and to foster the sustainable use of natural and cultural heritage resources, through support to the EU’s new political framework for tourism,” says Sabrina Montaguti of Florence-based Network member Promofirenze, who chairs the sector group. “We also want to promote business co-operation and sustainable partnerships.”
The sector group is made up of business experts from 13 countries. It carries out a number of activities, including drafting guidelines for starting up a tourism business, mapping national, European and international tourism events, disseminating good practice, and maintaining a constant dialogue with policy-makers. The sector group has also conducted benchmarking analysis on tourism promotion strategies at the national, regional and local levels.
To date, the brokerage events organised by the tourism and cultural heritage sector group have resulted in partnership agreements between European SMEs. For a German travel agency organising holidays for individuals with reduced mobility, a meeting with a Greek hotel company yielded fast results.
Less traditional industries are also supported. Micro-technology, especially in the field of computing, electronics and machinery, has revolutionised the way we work and play. “For the past quarter of a century, micro-technology has been extremely important and its importance is growing every year,” says Rim Stroeks, a consultant with the Enterprise Europe Network based at Syntens in the Netherlands. “The industry used to be focused in a handful of countries, but the geographical distribution has spread in recent years as new players have emerged.”
The next technological revolution looks set to occur at the nano scale (a billionth of a metre). Nanotechnology has been attracting considerable attention, both from scientists and the business world.
At the miniscule nano-scale, the properties of materials are very different. By harnessing these properties, scientists hope to develop stronger, more lightweight and more resilient materials and devices in a range of different fields, from computing, semiconductors and nanoelectronics to medicine. Possible applications include super-strong, lightweight fabrics, diodes that emit light and not heat, and a computer chip so small that you could fit 400 on to the head of a pin.
To help SMEs keep up with the high pace of innovation and technological change in this rapidly changing field, the Enterprise Europe Network has established a nano- and microtechnologies sector group. “Nanotechnology is a very important emerging sector and that is why we need a sector group to connect industry with academia,” explains Stroeks, who chairs the group.
The group provides more specific assistance to both industry and research bodies; promotes business, technological and research collaborations; assists in addressing market barriers which can be high in cutting-edge technologies; helps deal with related ethical issues; maps the situation in the United States and Japan; and builds understanding of new EU policies and regulations.
“Because nanotechnology is such a young and fresh sector, it raises a number of safety, health and ethical issues,” notes Stroeks. “The sector group can help raise public awareness and facilitate a public debate grounded in fact.”
Sector groups organise regular brokerage and matchmaking events, as well as company visits. The nano- and microtechnologies sector group organised a brokerage event, the seventh of its kind, at last year’s Micronora, the biennial French micro- and nanotechnology trade fair which attracts hundreds of exhibitors and some 15 000 visitors.
Spread over one and a half days, the brokerage event brought together companies and institutes from France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Based on preferences they had expressed prior to the event, the participants were able to meet representatives from companies and institutes of interest to them in a series of half-hour-long ‘speed dating’ slots.
As an example of company visits, the nano- and microtechnologies sector group introduced businesses from a Dutch precision engineering and mechatronics cluster based in Eindhoven to a German cluster in Thuringia which specialises in a number of areas, including direct-drive technologies, power electronics and sensors. In June, a Dutch delegation visited Thuringia while, in December, a German delegation visited Eindhoven. The visits resulted in four partnership agreements between the Dutch and German companies.