SMEs aiming for the sky
SMEs are recognised drivers of European innovation. But tapping this pool of talent has not always proven easy. One project called AeroSME has been working on improving the level of SME involvement in the EU aeronautics and space research programmes. Headlines asked how it works.
Through its marketing activities, newsletter, workshops and database, AeroSME has built up its network of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) eager to get involved in major aeronautics and space projects at the EU level. A joint activity between the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) and the Commission, the project has made solid inroads into improving SME participation in EU research activities.
|European aeronautics sector takes off: graphic mock-up of Airbus’ A380|
© Image: Airbus, I3m Graphics
Starting out as a pilot study in 1998, AeroSME was re-launched in 2000 as a full-blown project under the ‘accompanying measures’ instrument of the EU’s Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) for research and technological development. Since that time, it has built up an unrivalled database of some 760 contacts in the aeronautics sector, over 600 of which are SMEs – and most are keen to explore research and commercial partnerships.
“Of course, it’s impossible to have an exhaustive database in this field,” says Paola Chiarini, the project manager, “but ours gives a good idea of the SMEs from all over Europe which are interested and/or involved in the aeronautics sector.” More importantly, she adds, this information is collected in a no-fuss manner through the project’s website. It dispenses with passwords and restrictions, and the company information – contacts, products, activities, etc. – is freely available to the relevant stakeholders.
New opportunities on the horizon
“We want SMEs to feel free to use the database if they’re looking for research partners but also for commercial opportunities with other SMEs or with large companies and other aeronautics-related bodies,” stresses Chiarini. “Long-term competitiveness for SMEs can often depend on how well they network together, and our website and services are designed to be the meeting point for all these players.”
Since the Union’s enlargement in May this year, AeroSME has been keen to further expand its network in the ten new Member States. Various activities are envisaged in the coming months which should encourage even greater co-operation between the EU-15 and the newcomers, but also among the new members themselves. Chiarini says workshops are planned in the Baltic States for October and meetings are taking place with Slovakian stakeholders to explore ways of increasing new member participation in FP6.
According to the latest issue of Euroabstracts: “The enlarged Union of 25 countries includes no less than 25 million SMEs accounting for two-thirds of private-sector jobs. […] On the face of it, the huge European market now open to these countries should be a boon to their fortunes and to the Union’s economy.”
Bearing this in mind, Ms Chiriani wants aeronautics-related SMEs and other interested parties to see AeroSME as a “one-stop-shop for information and support, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the EU’s workings and, in particular, the research Framework Programmes”. She said, in just four years, the project has seen a substantial improvement in participation by industrial SMEs in EU aeronautics research projects, but more can be done to tap into these dynamic firms in the new Member States. Other EU-related initiatives, such as Scratch, Ecare and Navobs, are also actively contributing to aerospace research and growth in Europe, she credits.
Research Contacts page
AeroSME projectAeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of EuropeAeronautics and Space (Thematic research priority in FP6)Aeronautics Research (Europa)SME TechWebEU enlargement: new horizons for European SMEs (Euroabstracts Vol. 42-4/2004)ScratchEcareNavobs