Europe's fleet of smaller businesses involved in developing cutting-edge environmental technologies will receive a welcome boost, thanks to a new EU project called PRODESTS.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are often touted as the backbone of EU competitiveness, quickly adapting to the market situation and employing millions of Europeans. But perhaps less known is their role in stimulating research and new technologies, especially environmental technologies. PRODESTS aims to promote SME involvement in this sector as well as inform future EU initiatives in this important field.
|Involving SMEs in EU environmental technology projects|
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PRODESTS – short for ‘Promotion, demonstration and development of sustainable environmental technologies for SMEs' – is run by a consortium of 27 partners from regions across Europe. Launched in April, it will receive funding worth €1.12 million from the Commission's ETI scheme, which aims to step up Economic and Technological Intelligence in the EU.
As its name suggests, PRODESTS wants to provide new business opportunities for European SMEs in environmental technologies by improving access to EU funding, particularly in technology development but also in rolling technologies out onto the market. Project participant, Heleen De Wever of the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (Vito), says their consortium has a lot to do in just two years, but they have got off to a good start.
Roadmaps to clean technology
The first priority for the project is to find ways of helping SMEs overcome the obstacles limiting their participation in present EU research schemes, such as the integrated projects (IP) instrument of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). To do this, a survey has been drafted and will soon be sent to the consortium's established network of SMEs. Visits will follow to find out if they have taken part in past EU programmes and what were the good and bad points about it.
The information gleaned from the survey and visits will be analysed to improve SME participation in future EU environmental technology research programmes and perhaps shape future calls for IP proposals. The consortium will create a ‘roadmap' of possible technology gaps still existing and establish what needs to be done to push the market forward in these areas. It will also set up a European network of local partners and research centres involved in environmental and clean technology.
De Wever says the Commission's input in the project is critical. “Just by getting together and submitting the proposal for EU funding, our consortium received a valuable stimulus and created some useful synergies,” she comments. “It is such a big study that we wouldn't normally be able to carry it out on our own without EU backing.”
Understanding what new and emerging environmental technologies are out there and translating this information into EU-funded projects will have spin-off benefits for SMEs, according to De Wever. What's more, it should also help SMEs make informed decisions about the environment in their daily operations.