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Q&A on support for SMEs in Horizon 2020: EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation

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Horizon 2020- The EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation

Member States have put research and innovation at the top of the European political agenda, by adopting the Europe 2020 strategy and endorsing the Innovation Union in February 2011, making it a cornerstone of plans for investment in sustainable growth and jobs. On this basis, the Commission in 2011 proposed a €80 billion budget for the next research and innovation programme Horizon 20201. Horizon 2020 focuses on advancing scientific knowledge and discovery, but also more than ever on making Europe more competitive through research.

Speaking today at the Successful R&I in Europe 2013 - 5th European Networking Event in Düsseldorf, Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn outlines key measures in Horizon 2020 to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the backbone to the European economy. This event is organised by the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Why is research and innovation important for SMEs and the European economy?

  1. SMEs are important for growth and jobs because 99% of all European businesses are SMEs.
  2. R&D expenditure by SMEs is lower in the EU than in the U.S. and less than a third of EU SMEs have innovative activities

Why are taxpayers funding R&D at EU level?

EU research funding generates enormous added value for Europe. €1 of EU Framework Programme funding leads to an increase in industry added value of between €7 and €14. The expected long-term macro-economic impact of the current Seventh Framework programme amounts to 900,000 jobs, of which 300,000 in research, and an extra 0.96 percent of GDP.3

Studies show that SMEs who are active outside their country of origin are more innovative: 26% of internationally active SMEs introduced products or services that were new for their sector in their country compared with just 8 % of domestically-focused SMEs. Internationally active SMEs are also more active with process innovations that are new for their sector, in their country (11% vs. 3% for the SMEs without international activities)4. EU research funding is designed to encourage such cross-border links.

How will SMEs be funded?

SMEs will be encouraged to participate across Horizon 2020 programmes. It is expected that through this integrated strategy a minimum of 15% of the total combined budgets of the 'Tackling societal challenges' Specific Programme and the 'Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies' objective will be devoted to SMEs.

Besides participation in collaborative projects, SMEs will be encouraged to participate in the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and in the activity on Future and Emerging Technologies under Horizon 2020. Furthermore, a new dedicated SME instrument will be supported to fill gaps in funding for close-to-market innovation aspects in SMEs detailed below.

In addition, a number of activities will be funded from the €619 million budget of the specific objective 'Innovation in SMEs' which includes:

a) a specific action for research intensive SMEs building on the Eurostars joint programme.

b) measures to enhance innovation capacity of SMEs through new and experimental types of SME innovation support. Measures may include, for example, projects animated by intermediary organisations to develop and demonstrate new industrial value chains between innovative SMEs and a commitment of regional authorities to put value chains in practice. Furthermore they may comprise assistance to SMEs to connect with research and innovation partners across the Union ('spin-in projects').

c) support for market driven innovation, for example, through procurement networks.

In this context, it is also envisaged to strengthen the role and innovation services of the Enterprise Europe Network - EEN (under the COSME Programme).

A new dedicated SME instrument

The new instrument will integrate R&I-related SME support that is currently spread across several programmes and initiatives [notably the EU's current Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for research and technological development and the Competitiveness and innovation Framework Programme-CIP] into one comprehensive, simple and easily accessible scheme. It will target highly innovative SMEs showing a strong ambition to develop, grow and internationalise, regardless of whether they are high-tech and research-driven or non-research conducting, social or service companies. Only SMEs will be able to apply for funding, and even single company support will be possible to ensure market relevance and to increase commercialisation of project results. SMEs can decide how best to organise the project and with whom to collaborate.

What financial instruments (equity and debt) will support SMEs?

Greater use of financial instruments will help leverage yet further private research and innovation investments, including venture capital investments for innovative, high-tech companies, and in particular SMEs. In its 2011 proposal on Horizon 2020, the European Commission had budgeted a total amount of € 3.5 billion for financial instrument facilities, and accompanying measures, for research and innovation. At least one-third of this amount should be dedicated to SMEs and small mid-caps. The leverage effect of loans (volume of loans divided by EU and other institutions' financial contributions) is expected to be from around 1.5 to 6.5, with a multiplier effect (investments by beneficiaries divided by EU financial contribution) of around 5 to 20. For equity investments, the figures envisaged are around 6 and 18 respectively.

Two financing facilities will be available:

  1. A debt facility providing loans, guarantees and other forms of debt finance to entities of all forms and sizes, including research and innovation-driven SMEs
  2. An equity facility providing finance for early- and growth-stage investments, with a particular focus on early-stage SMEs with the potential to carry out innovation and grow rapidly.

They will be implemented via a mandate to, or a partnership with, the European Investment Bank Group and/or other international financial institutions and national intermediaries. These Horizon 2020 facilities will be operated in conjunction with the financial instrument facilities of COSME, the Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and SMEs, where €1.4 billion has been allocated to debt and equity financing in support of SMEs.

What measures help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to innovate in FP7, the current research programme?

Special attention was given to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the last Work programme (2013) for FP7 published in July 2012 with a package worth around €1.2 billion. This included financing for SMEs of around €970 million out of the €4.8 billion call budget for the "Cooperation" (10 thematic research priorities) programme. Ring-fenced budgets for SMEs, in some calls, covering up to 75 % of available funding, exist in nine of the 10 themes. There was also €250 million for the dedicated SMEs programme "Research for the benefit of SMEs", including demonstration actions for FP7 research results. It is forecast that by the end of FP7 (2007–2013) some 30,000 SMEs will have received around €7.3 billion in EU research funding5

What other financial instruments already exist?

The European Commission has partnered with the European Investment Bank Group to launch a loan guarantee facility to support lending by commercial and public banks to innovative SMEs. The Risk-Sharing Instrument (RSI) is managed on behalf of the EIB by the European Investment Fund. Guarantee agreements have already been signed in Austria (UniCredit Bank Austria), Czech Republic (Česká spořitelna), The Netherlands (ABN Amro), Germany (Deutschebank), Spain (Bankinter), Ireland (AIB) and Italy (Banca Popolare and CR Cento).

The RSI aims to encourage banks to provide loans and leases of between €25,000 and €7.5 million to SMEs and small mid-caps undertaking research, development or innovation, and seeking finance for investments and/or working capital. Some 15 or so banks and 5 guarantee societies are expected to be involved in the pilot phase, allowing the RSI to reach up to 1000 beneficiaries with a total loan volume of up to €2.5 billion.

More information

Horizon 2020: http://www.ec.europa/research/horizon2020

Risk sharing instrument: http://www.eif.org/what_we_do/guarantees/RSI/index.htm

1 : Budget figures and percentages indicated in this document refer only to the Commission proposal (COM(2011) 809 of 30.11.2009 ) and could change following the final decision on the Multiannual Financial Framework and the negotiations with the European Parliament and the Council.

3 :SEC (2005) 430

5 : Commission source

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