RTD info logoMagazine on European Research

N 41 - May 2004
  EXCELLENCE IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC  -  The bridgehead of a technological revolution

Business incubator, innovation consultancy office, assistance centre for the transfer of technologies, a showcase for national research and development… The Technology Centre at the Czech Academy of Sciences is all that and more. For Czech researchers seeking to participate in European projects, it functions as a critical lever. 

Presentation of the Sixth Framework Programme at the Prague TC
Presentation of the Sixth Framework Programme at the Prague TC
The Czech Republic is rightly proud of its reputation as a historic centre of technological excellence in Europe (see box). With a long tradition of entrepreneurship and openness to innovation, it has a remarkably dense fabric of SMEs. In 1993, several member institutions of the Czech Academy of Sciences helped set up the Prague Technology Centre (TC), a tool designed specifically to promote the transfer of technology to industry. At the same time, the TC opened the first Innovative Enterprise Incubator to offer advice and financial assistance to start-ups originating in research projects. It proved a rapid success.

A showcase for Czech technology
Alongside its other missions  – forward-looking strategic studies, advice and consultancy – the TC also acts as a 'showcase for national research and development'. Its remarkable internet site provides an access portal (in English) to all the country's major players: 136 faculties at 39 universities, 111 research institutes (including 59 linked to the Academy of Sciences), 90 high-tech companies and all the political, administrative and financial bodies involved in R&D. There is also a database enabling any industrialist or scientist wishing to develop links with the country to launch a search for a Czech partner.

Among the many fields of excellence, biomedicine and biotechnologies for agriculture and the environment are particularly important. Academic teams, as well as the country's 20 biotechnology companies, are active in all fields of this research area. One of the most remarkable recent successes can be credited to the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry, headed by Antonin Holy, which developed – up to the point of marketing – two new antiviral molecules which are active against AIDS and hepatitis B. 

A unifying exchange
The TC is becoming a very active bridgehead for integration with the Union and is stepping up exchanges by participating in various European networks –European Business and Innovation Centres, Innovating Regions in Europe (IRE) and Innovation Relay Centres (IRC). A significant result of this policy is that Czech SMEs topped the new Member States in terms of Exploratory Awards granted by the Fifth Framework Programme. 

The TC has a key mission in ensuring that Czech R&D becomes an inherent part of European research policy and is a focal point for the participation of Czech researchers in the Sixth Framework Programme. Its staff of 13 experts receive an average of four telephone calls and 15 e-mails a day requesting information, and its newsletter is sent out to 4 000 subscribers. The TC has also organised the translation of European forms and model contracts into Czech and, in January 2003, held an information day attended by 540 researchers.

'There are a number of contractual research funding agencies in the Czech Republic. Scientists too often prefer to turn to these for funding rather than presenting themselves as candidates for participation in European projects which are unjustly seen as complex and cumbersome,' explains Vladimír Albrecht, assistant coordinator of the national contact points for the Sixth Framework Programme at the TC. 'To facilitate Czech participation in Union programmes, we can, for example, finance the necessary travel and provide information on the benefits of Community financing.' These efforts are clearly bearing fruit. For the first call for proposals under the Sixth Framework Programme, 1667 Czech teams are participants in the projects submitted, which is already half the number of candidacies submitted during the four years of the previous programme.  

A good return
A statistician by training, Vladimír Albrecht has done his sums in terms of the 'pluses and minuses' of Czech participation in the Fifth Framework Programme. For a financial 'contribution' of 0.45% of the global budget granted by the Union to the programme, he estimates that the Czech Republic received a 'return' of 105%. It is in research linked to the environment and energy sectors that the involvement of Czech teams in European projects is most extensive. In these two fields, they participated in 345 and 123 proposals respectively and recorded a very satisfactory success rate: one-quarter of them were selected during the energy evaluation and one-third for the environment. The success rate was noticeably lower for the life sciences and information and communication technologies – the number of project proposals with a Czech partner (677 and 514 respectively) nevertheless reflecting a healthy interest. 

The participation of Czech companies in European thematic research programmes presents a mixed picture. Large companies are partners in just 100 projects, but have a 25% success rate. SMEs, on the other hand, show a remarkable interest in participation (involved in 700 projects, as are university laboratories), but their results are more disappointing, with a 17% success rate. It is on the latter point that the Czech effort under the present Framework Programme must be concentrated. With a strong tradition of industrial research, the Czech Republic is well placed to succeed.