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Turkey's SMEs make enthusiastic leap into European research arena

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Their entrepreneurial spirit and keenness to innovate, supported by the activities of an extremely proactive Programmes National Coordination Office (NCO) and National contact Point (NCP), is driving up Turkey's response to FP7.

The 2005 Eurobarometer survey "Europeans, science and technology" asked around 1,000 people in each European country "will internationally collaborative research funded by the EU become more important?" In Turkey, 67 per cent agreed. The same survey asked "should scientists and industrialists cooperate more?" This time 69 per cent said yes. Of this figure, 50 per cent agreed strongly - one of the highest scores in Europe.

Turkey has a long tradition of science and technology policy making dating back to the 1960s. Its government has set itself ambitious targets: to gradually increase the Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD) as a percentage of GDP from 0.67 per cent (2002) to two per cent in 2010.

"This is very necessary. Increasing industry's share in research and development investment is key to achieving this target. It should be Turkey's top priority to create the necessary conditions to stimulate investment in research by the private sector," says Okan Kara, EU Framework Programmes National Coordinator and SME NCP.

Turkey participated as an associate country in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), which helped it to stimulate the country's research community and become familiar with research cooperation at EU level. "Our association yielded impressive results during the last two years of FP6. This was mainly the consequence of the learning process and a more active research policy in Turkey itself," says Kara.

A fiercely proactive Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) - the lead agency responsible for promoting, developing, organising, conducting and coordinating research and technology development in line with national targets and priorities - has also helped boost SME interest in FP7. Its EU Framework NCO stirred companies up for the first FP7 SME Activities call - applications were up three-fold compared with FP6.

"Turkish SMEs tend to be small - with an annual turnover of less than 10 million - but they all have technology acquisition strategies," says Kara.

SMEs went through the usual process of identifying their research needs, searching out other SMEs experiencing the same technological bottlenecks, and then jointly outsourcing research to the providers of research services, such as universities. Their projects are quite diverse and range from forging, powder metallurgy, dried food processing and e-training technologies, to plant nursery processes, waste water treatment, energy efficiency, and nano-encapsulated ingredient production.

Turkey's NCO targeted SMEs with Industry Awareness Programmes, organising 100 information events, workshops, and similar activities during 2007. To make Turkish SMEs attractive to potential international consortia, NCO promoted Turkish research and development expertise through its Research Catalogue and distributed it to all countries participating in FP7.

SMEs also form part of a comprehensive database that is used for matching up project partners with each other. "Turkish SMEs are quite interested in this service and we received quick responses," says Kara.

An SME Site Visit Programme helped identify the financial and management challenges faced by SMEs conducting FP7 projects. "The results helped us to remove administrative and legal bottlenecks. SMEs have a lack of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) knowledge. This causes very serious problems, especially at the end of the project. To bridge the gap TUBITAK has already initiated a new IPR Support Programme," says Kara.

Turkish SMEs are looking upon FP7 funding and expertise as a way of acquiring the competitive advantage they so desperately need to compete effectively in Europe. "It's opening the door to new markets, and that's a very attractive proposition for Turkish SMEs right now," says Kara.