The European Commission is further strengthening the Enterprise Europe Network with new contact points in Asia and Africa. The growing reach of the Network was evident at its annual conference, which welcomed more than 900 participants from 50 countries. The event featured awards to companies which have successfully used the Network to find opportunities abroad or to develop their business and research activities.
The conference, held from 26 to 28 September in Warsaw, Poland, also presented an opportunity to reflect on the progress made since the Network was launched in 2008 as a key part of the EU’s Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme.
The Enterprise Europe Network now spans 50 countries and is made up of nearly 600 partner organisations, including chambers of commerce, enterprise agencies and research institutes. The European Commission is currently expanding the international outreach of the Network by opening new branches in Asia and Africa.
“In order to compete, Europe's enterprises must focus on innovation and internationalisation,” said Antonio Tajani, European Commission Vice-President in charge of Industry and Entrepreneurship. “The Enterprise Europe Network is a key tool for achieving these goals and these new centres in Japan, China and North Africa will create even more opportunities for companies.”
Five SMEs and innovators received Network Stars awards at the conference. The awards recognise companies who found opportunities abroad and developed their businesses, working closely with the Enterprise Europe Network.The New Horizons category, which highlights how the Network has helped companies branch out into new countries or fuel new ideas, was won by Danish wind firm APRO and UK company Cosalt. By linking up through the Network, the joint venture, which provides offshore installation, offshore service, and safety and inspection services to the wind farm industry, has already created 30 new jobs.
The two companies connected through a mission organised by their local Network branches, based in the Business Development Centre Herning & Ikast-Brande in Denmark and Targeting Innovation in the UK.
The Doing Good Business category was won by French scientist Dr Frederique Magdinier from the LBMC Institute in Lyon and British researcher Dr Mark Maconochie from the University of Sussex for their pioneering research into finding a potential cure for deafness. “We wanted to develop our technology in a new direction and the Network was there to help,” said Dr Magdinier.
The local Network team at the Rhône-Alpes Chamber of Commerce helped Dr Magdinier to write and post a technology offer in the Network’s technology transfer database, which contains more than 13 000 profiles. Dr Maconochie was alerted about this technology by his local Network branch at Enterprise Europe Network South-East UK. The research has potential implications for the treatment of inherited deafness, noise-induced deafness and deafness caused by the over-subscription of antibiotics.
Finally, Icarus Sailing Media, run by Greek former sailing champions Antonios Kondis and Jason Georgaris, won the special Rising Star award, given by the Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation, which runs the Network on behalf of DG Enterprise & Industry. The Network helped Kondis and Georgaris to identify and protect their intellectual property, making it possible for them to launch an innovative business broadcasting sailing tournaments.
“You can’t start signing contracts without knowing your legal rights,” said Georgaris. “Being a team of engineers with no legal expertise we didn’t know where to start.” Katerina Leoussi, Network coordinator at the Athens branch, based at the Chamber of Small and Medium-Sized Industries, recognised the potential of their innovation and briefed the team on how to legally protect their IPR and make their investments pay off.
The Network Stars awards underline the important role the Enterprise Europe Network plays in fostering SME opportunities and growth. In the past three years, the Network has served 3.1 million European SMEs, held more than 19 000 local events and attracted around 66 000 businesses to brokerage events and company missions. It has also helped companies to create 4 500 joint ventures and 1 490 firms to apply for funding from the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for research (FP7).
“Today, I see a fully integrated organisation that has developed into the biggest support network to enterprises in the world,” said Joanna Drake, Director for SMEs and Entrepreneurship and Deputy SME Envoy at the European Commission. “Considering it is just over three years old, the Network has achieved unexpected goals, laying the foundations for it not only to continue, but possibly to grow in terms of new instruments and tasks.”
Another highlight of the conference were the Network’s Best Practice Awards. The awards aim to give visibility and recognition to Network partner organisations which have developed outstanding management and working methodologies, excellent services and useful tools.
The Access to Finance category was won by Finnish partner Technopolis, which developed a matchmaking event to connect small businesses with financiers and corporations. The MoneyTalks Forum is held twice a year and enables entrepreneurs to request meetings with other participants. This event has become increasingly international.
The Innovation Support Services category was won by Germany-based firm ZENIT, which has developed a web-based self-assessment tool focusing on analysing innovation capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. The end result is an analysis report with a series of recommendations. There are already 35 new companies using the tool and it is hoped that by the end of the year there will be up to 50 to 60 new users.
The Network has 17 specialised industry sector groups, which pool expertise to help companies find partners and exchange technologies. This year, the Agrofood Sector Group won a Best Practice Award for its matchmaking tool, ProProProgram. It is designed to facilitate knowledge-sharing and maximise partnership opportunities when the members of the Sector Group meet.