| SME Participation
The Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for research 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 Commission’s Communication ‘Towards a European Research Area’ which also highlights the importance of research-intensive SMEs for sustainable economic growth and employment in Europe.
SMEs are encouraged to participate, first of all, in FP6’s thematic priority areas – 15% of the more than €17 billion budget has been earmarked especially for them – but also in projects found under the programme’s horizontal research activities. Two such schemes – Collective Research and Co-operative Research (CRAFT), together worth €430 million of the FP6 budget – have been created to help the large community of European SMEs that demonstrate a willingness and ability to innovate but sometimes lack the research facilities and resources to get involved in research.
SMEs and environmental research
More than €100 million has been set aside in the FP6 budget for integrating SMEs in European research projects in the ‘Global change and ecosystems’ thematic sub-priority during the Framework period 2002-2006. 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. It also covers such topics as waste management and recycling, water saving and purification, hazardous waste and soil remediation, energy saving and use, air purification, economical and low-emission process engineering, environmentally friendly products, noise reduction, etc.
On 28 January 2004, the Commission adopted the Environmental Technologies Action Plan (ETAP) as a joint initiative by the Commission services for Research and for the Environment (see also Research Challenges on this site). This is an ambitious plan to further environmental technologies within the EU and globally. It seeks to exploit their potential to improve both the environment and competitiveness, thus contributing to growth and possibly creating jobs. As a contribution to the implementation of ETAP, the work programme of the ‘Global change and ecosystems’ sub-priority has, in 2004, been reoriented more towards environmental technology, also reinforcing the possibilities for SME participation.
SMEs can get involved
FP6 provides a number of opportunities for SMEs to participate in research and innovation activities supported by the EU. For example, project consortia are encouraged to include SMEs – as technology providers, research performers, service providers or technology users – in their research. Other possibilities are for SMEs to take part in the post-research stages, helping to disseminate findings, ‘roll out’ new technologies, or carry out training activities.
Specific Support Actions (SSAs) provide measures to stimulate and support innovation and SME participation in EU research, as well as activities boosting the exploitation and dissemination of knowledge. SSAs are also welcomed to support the strategic actions identified in ETAP. SMEs can also take part in research aimed at supporting EU policies, such as in the fields of environment, energy, transport, health, etc.
SMEs and the thematic priorities
The Union has come up with a number of measures to encourage the participation of innovative SMEs (see Commission press release) in the priority thematic areas of FP6, including ‘Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems’, and especially to facilitate SME involvement in the new funding instruments – the Networks of Excellence (NoE) and, in particular, the Integrated Projects (IP).
Of relevance to environmental research, these measures include:Activities aimed at encouraging and facilitating SME participation:
- Adjustment of thematic content in the work programme and calls for proposals, identifying research topics and areas that are of particular interest to SMEs. SSAs are especially welcome in order to encourage and facilitate future SME participation
- Including additional SMEs during the lifetime of the contract. Setting aside a budget for adding SMEs to a consortium during contract negotiations, where appropriate
Promotional and awareness-raising activities on the benefits of SME participation
- Adjustments to the budget allocation between the instruments in the work programme. The financial balance between the new and traditional instruments has, for several reasons, been altered from the first two calls to the third in favour of the traditional instruments. This change will favour SME participation, since SMEs relevant to the ‘Global change and ecosystems’ sub-priority are generally more attracted to the traditional instruments than to the new ones
- Participation in meetings, fairs, conferences, etc. to promote SME participation
- Close collaboration with potential SMEs encouraging networks like National Contact Points (NCPs) and Innovation Relay Centres (IRCs)
- Support to promotional activities of relevant Economic and Technological Intelligence (ETI) and SSA projects. Organisation of events and tools favouring networking among SMEs and project participants
More detailed information about the many ways in which SMEs are being encouraged to take part in FP6 can be found on specialised websites.