A group of French public authorities and institutions is finding that, when it comes to supporting eco-innovative SMEs, there is strength in unity.
The INNOV’R initiative was started in 2008 by the Rhône-Alpes regional authority in south-eastern France, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, the National Industrial Property Institute (INPI), the French Standardisation Association (AFNOR), the Rhône-Alpes regional development agency, the Caisse des Dépôts, a public investment group, and OSEO, a public-sector institution dedicated to economic development (OSEO is currently being reorganised as BPI France).
Together, the organisations seek to stimulate investment by eco-innovative SMEs by providing a one-stop-shop for project finance. INNOV'R publishes a rolling call for proposals, and pre-assesses potential projects. Eligible projects are directed to the most appropriate source of finance. The system is straightforward for SMEs that might struggle with more complex and demanding calls for proposals. For 2013, projects can be submitted until 19 September. While a call is open, monthly lists of eligible projects selected for further negotiation on financing are published. Public finance can take the form of grants or loans.
Projects must conform to the Rhône-Alpes' priorities of energy efficiency and renewables; sustainable construction; greener products and services; pollution management; and environmental measurement and evaluation. Projects should be carried out by SMEs and should have a maximum duration of three years. Projects can encompass feasibility studies, research and development, technology transfer, all the way up to full demonstration.
According to the organisations involved, INNOV'R's joined-up approach has been a great success. In four years after the initiative's launch in 2008, 177 projects were pre-qualified as eligible for financing. Of the eligible projects, the greatest share - 37% - dealt with eco-innovative products and services. Project budgets have averaged €321,000.
By mid-2012, 118 projects had obtained financing. A further 26 were in negotiations. Other projects had not proceeded for various reasons. The amount of public funding for the projects stood at €10.5 million, with each euro of public money triggering €3 of private investment for a total investment in eco-innovation of €42 million. SMEs have found the process to be effective, helping to ensure its continuation.
INNOV'R has promoted eco-innovation in a wide range of sectors. Examples include low-energy elevators, new processes for producing environmentally-friendly polymers, bio-based packaging and insulation materials manufactured from recycled glass fibres.