FP7 attaches great importance to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The Lisbon European Council, in 2000, set the ambitious objective for Europe to become the “most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010”. A year later, the Gothenburg Council added an environmental dimension to this objective. Underpinning this strategy is the European Research Area, which recognises the importance of research-intensive SMEs for sustainable economic growth and employment in Europe.
Reflecting the desire to encourage them to take part in environmental and other areas of research, the aim for FP7 is to allocate at least an indicative 15% of the total EU funding of roughly €50 billion for 2007–13 to SMEs.
Environmental technology and the environmental economy are closely interconnected, encompassing enterprises from all areas of business – from the construction industry to mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and metalworking, to trade and service companies.
SMEs have a role in a whole range of environmental research topics such as waste management and recycling, water saving and purification, energy saving and use, air purification, the development of environmentally friendly products and noise reduction, to name just a few.
FP7 provides a number of opportunities for SMEs to participate in research and innovation activities supported by the EU.
The Cooperation programme of FP7 features specific research topics of particular interest for SMEs. These can be SME-targeted topics (which are specifically adressed to SMEs with a significant proportion of the budget allocated to them) or SME-relevant topics (which are of interest for SMEs and benefit from their participation). Coordination and support actions also help boost the FP7 SME dimension.
SME-specific measures under FP7’s Capacities programme – Research for SMEs and Research for SME Associations – are dedicated to strengthening the innovative capacity of SMEs by providing financial support for outsourcing research critical to their core business activities.
Under the People programme, the industry-academia partnerships and pathways action seeks to open and foster dynamic pathways between public research organisations and private commercial enterprises, in particular SMEs. Also open to research-active SMEs are activities including initial training of researchers, lifelong training and career development, and international fellowships.
SMEs may also take part in Joint Technology Initiatives.