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Editorial

FP7 2013 Work Programme: Stimulating innovation, growth and jobs through SMEs

Magda De Carli

The 2013 Work Programme (WP 2013) is the latest Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) initiative supporting SMEs. It strives to enhance the research and innovation capacities of European SMEs which have little or no research capacity themselves to turn innovative ideas into products and services with clear future market potential. In this way, WP 2013 encapsulates a determined focus on fostering new ideas, supporting world-class teams tackling significant societal challenges, and on ensuring that the results of investments can be properly exploited.

Magda De Carli, deputy head of SME Unit at the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, shares her overall vision for WP 2013: ‘This is FP7’s last WP, and the “winds of innovation” have brought new ideas and approaches which will be concretised in Horizon 2020; however, these ideas and approaches are already influencing the entire WP 2013, even if it still maintains its research focus.’ She emphasises: ‘SMEs, as main actors in innovation, are ideally placed to transform ideas into market products and therefore to contribute to growth and job creation. 99% of all European businesses are SMEs, and 85% of net new jobs in the EU between 2002 and 2010 were created by SMEs. We are therefore pleased that as a result of this, greater emphasis is being placed on SMEs throughout WP 2013.’

As highlighted by Ms De Carli, the main objectives of ‘Research for the benefit of SMEs’ WP 2013 are ‘to strengthen the innovation capacity of European SMEs and their contribution to the development of new technology-based products and markets, as well as to bridge the gap in the innovation chain from idea to market through European-level collaboration.’

WP 2013 was adopted on 9 July 2013 and the call for proposals was published on the following day. The call comprises four activities: ‘Research for SMEs’ and ‘Research for SME Associations’ constitute the two core activities, complemented by ‘Demonstration Action’ which is restricted to projects having already participated in the two aforementioned schemes, and a ‘Support Action’ for mentoring and coaching. The deadline for submissions is 15 November 2012.

WP 2013 takes the right steps to ensure EU policy development

WP 2013 aligns with, and contributes towards, the objectives of broader EU policies. This is the case in particular for Europe 2020, the EU’s strategy to support economic growth and job creation, as well as the Innovation Union, which defines political guidelines for a new broad European innovation policy and is one of seven flagship initiatives supporting the implementation of Europe 2020. Ms De Carli explains the WP’s alignment and contribution to the two policies: ‘Europe 2020 has clearly indicated the need to reinforce the competitive advantage of our businesses - particularly in manufacturing - and of our SMEs, as well as to promote the internationalisation of SMEs. The Innovation Union places particular emphasis on innovation and support measures for SMEs, seeking to ensure easy access and more robust participation of SMEs in upcoming EU research and innovation programmes, especially those with high growth potential. With WP 2013, we have already started by fostering new ideas and ensuring that the fruits of our investments can be properly exploited.’

WP 2013 also provides for a smooth transition towards Horizon 2020, the new research and innovation programme for the period 2014-2020. Ms De Carli points out that all WP 2013 actions emphasise the importance of exploiting R&D results, namely through ‘Research for SMEs’ and ‘Research for SME Associations’. ‘Our ultimate goal is a clear business case and full exploitation of research results in the market involving the complete innovation cycle from idea to market.’ She adds that this WP is also expanding its activity by supporting exploitation of EU funded results with a budget increase of EUR 7 million, thus leading to a total of EUR 27 million. These demonstration projects are specifically for FP7 funded projects under this programme.

Furthermore, this WP contains a specific support action aimed at the development of coaching and mentoring support for SMEs wishing to innovate, which is foreseen in the Commission proposal for Horizon 2020. ‘All this represents a seamless changeover to Horizon 2020,’ she says.

The leading role of SMEs

‘This is the last year of a very successful Framework Programme, which is being implemented during difficult economic times and increased global competition,’ says Ms De Carli. WP 2013 sees a strong emphasis on increased SME participation not only through the ‘Research for the Benefit of SMEs’ of the Capacities programme, but also through targeted measures in the 10 thematic priorities of the Cooperation programme. With an estimated 20% of the Cooperation budget share going to SMEs, WP 2013 will strongly contribute to the positive trend of increasing EU contribution going to SMEs (15.3% of the overall budget at the beginning of 2012, 15.6% in June). Ms De Carli continues: ‘This means that SMEs in WP 2013 will have access to a package of more than EUR 1.2 billion, with around EUR 970 million from the Cooperation programme and EUR 252 million from “Research for the benefit of SMEs”.’

In the Cooperation WP 2013 there are 107 research topics that specifically address SMEs for the 10 thematic priorities (either with ring-fenced budgets or through SME-friendly topics and conditions) which are expected to lead to an estimated budget share of 20% for SMEs. In WP 2012, there were 91 research topics and an estimated budget share of 18.5%. Through these measures, the increased involvement of SMEs throughout Europe continues to be fostered in diverse research and innovation participation.

For instance, the Health theme is allocating EUR 150 million to a pilot SME-dedicated activity with 50% of that budget ring-fenced for SMEs. Furthermore, it requires as additional eligibility criteria the leading role of SMEs, small-sized projects and small consortia. Ms De Carli stresses that the scheme, which was piloted in 2012, has been very successful. ‘My colleagues at the Commission in charge of the scheme and the community are extremely positive: time to contract has been considerably reduced thanks to the work done on the rules that facilitate the participation of SMEs.’

‘We hope that with these new approaches and a EUR 1.2 billion budget allocation to SMEs willing to innovate, WP 2013 will constitute an incentive and support to SMEs in overcoming the current obstacles and difficulties, as well as taking the lead in restoring competitiveness, growth and job creation,’ concludes Ms De Carli.


Success Story – EPOSbed-Demo

Making life more comfortable for patients and caregivers

EPOSbed

2012 marks the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations (EY2012). The number of Europeans aged 65 to 80 is expected to significantly increase in the upcoming decades, posing enormous challenges and tremendous implications for both the ageing population and primary caregivers. EPOSbed-Demo (Demonstration action for an Easy POSitioning of in-BED patients with reduced mobility) is now poised to bring to the market an intelligent medical bed to assist bedridden patients to reposition themselves without any assistance.

‘We are currently in the commercialisation phase, with the aim to turn this innovative bed into a product with clear future market potential,’ says Oscar Valdemoros Tobia, general manager at Industrias Tobia S.A. (Spaldin). This Spain-based SME coordinated the initial two-year EPOSbed project that successfully developed a lab-scale prototype for the bed at the end of 2010.

The EPOSbed-Demo project, which is set to run until August 2013, consists of four partners from Germany, Portugal and Spain. The consortium is once again being coordinated by Industrias Tobia S.A. Over EUR 300 000 in funding under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) have been allocated towards commercialisation, namely to achieve medical device certification in compliance with EU directives.

Providing safety, comfort and autonomy

The proper in-bed positioning of confined patients can prevent declining health and improve quality of life. For these immobile, bed-bound patients however, lack of autonomy leads to anxiety and discomfort.

The bedridden also take a physical toll on primary caregivers, particularly nurses. Work-related back injuries are attributed to the regular repositioning of patients, resulting in substantial man-days lost as well as skyrocketing costs for hospitals in Europe. According to EPOSbed website figures, nurses are required to reposition patients every two to four hours. It is reported that 85% of nurses suffer a back injury at some point in their career as a result of this manual repositioning. Such injuries account for 15 billion working days lost each year; bringing annual costs to approximately EUR 6 billion for European hospitals.

As the average age of hospital personnel increases, so does the demand for assistive mobility systems that allow nurses to work effectively for more years. In addition, a bed that puts less stress on primary caregivers reduces injuries, thus requiring less staffing by hospital personnel.

According to Mr Valdemoros, the expected project impact is ‘improvement in the quality of life of reduced-mobility patients and those that care for them at hospitals, but especially at home where older carers have serious difficulties in changing the position of their bedridden relatives.’

State-of-the-art bed interface

Patients are able to change position without the use of traditional remote controls or assistance from hospital personnel. The speciality bed is equipped with easy-to-use automatic vertical and lateral positioning that is operated by artificial intelligence software system which responds to changes in body pressure.

The software, thanks to a sensor inserted into the mattress, interprets in real time the patient’s intended position and executes functions accordingly. It responds to any natural movement or pressure applied by the patient in a given direction. This intelligent sensing system then causes the bed to move to the desired position.

EPOSbed website figures reveal that revenues in the hospital speciality beds market reached approximately EUR 800 million in Europe in 2005, with an annual growth rate of 9% on account of population ageing. Despite a robust demand for an assistive device that enables improved mobility for patients, Mr Valdemoros claims no other product fills such a gap. He explains the product’s added value and competitive advantage: ‘The existing solutions resolve specific problems dealing with lack of mobility, or cater to a certain type of patient. We are not aware of any bed that deals with reduced mobility and targets patients in a broad and affordable manner, while at the same time taking caregivers into consideration.’

The target markets for the bed are public and private hospitals, residences and private homes. Private hospitals will serve the high-end market, while residences and private homes the low-end. Price is deemed the main factor driving success in these diverse segments. For that reason, Mr Valdemoros emphasises that different versions of the bed will be offered as different products in order to serve various market niches: ‘It offers the flexibility to add or remove certain features depending on the needs of the patient, caregiver, the setting - be it a hospital or a home - and the degree of mobility.’

Mr Valdemoros gives examples of the commercialisation of the complete product, which comprises the bed frame and the intelligent movement detector, or as individual products. The medical bed with lateral positioning can be marketed independently with remote control only (no intelligent movement detector). Furthermore, the intelligent movement detector can be offered as an open product which is able to operate cheaper commercial beds from external suppliers. The functions of the bed frame can also be adapted to different applications.

‘The overall goal of EPOSbed-Demo concerning SMEs is to strengthen their competitive positioning through their strategic placement in more technological sectors which are characterised by substantial R&D investment, and therefore out of the scope of SMEs that lack public aid,’ stresses Mr Valdemoros. Furthermore, results are expected to have a significant impact on the competitiveness of SME participants. ‘This project will hopefully introduce us to a sector beyond our core business, a sector that is controlled by multinationals, but where we believe we can fill an unmet market need.’

The EPOSbed system has been validated in pre-clinical trials, and results were extremely favourable: male and female subjects recognised the system as a natural and attractive way to interface with the bed. Having demonstrated the bed’s viability, the consortium is now seeking certification prior to launching sales. ‘We are still finalising the test to certify the bed as a medical device. It is encouraging to see hospitals and other organisations that rent beds to homes showing an interest in the project,’ concludes Mr Valdemoros.


FP7 2013 Work Programme

Stimulus for growth and jobs

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On 9 July 2012, the European Commission announced Work Programme (WP) 2013, the final and largest call for proposals for research projects under its Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). On 10 July 2012, 52 calls for proposals were published, with the deadline for applications starting from September 2012.

In total, WP 2013 provides a EUR 8.1 billion investment in the future stimulus for growth and jobs. This funding will support ideas that will advance Europe’s competitiveness and engage in such issues as improving human health and preserving the environment, as well as finding new solutions to growing problems such as urbanisation and waste management.

The funding makes up the vast majority of the EU’s proposed EUR 10.8 billion research budget for 2013. It is open to all research actors in the EU and the Associated Countries: universities, research organisations, public authorities, large industry, SMEs and financial institutions.

Exploiting research for innovation and growth

The FP7 calls are important in that research and innovation are critical for stimulating growth and jobs in Europe. They enable the tackling of the biggest societal challenges facing Europe, the supporting of the best researchers and innovators in Europe and on exploiting research for innovation and growth.

Since its launch in 2007, FP7 has provided EUR 25.3 billion to support some 19,000 projects with a total of over 79,000 participants (universities, research organisations and businesses) from throughout the EU. By 2013, it is estimated that FP7 will have directly supported 55,000 individual researchers’ careers (European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant holders).

The WP 2013 call is expected to produce an additional EUR 6 billion of public and private investment in research, and increase employment by 210,000 in the short-term. Over the next 15 years, it is expected to generate an additional EUR 75 billion in growth.

The WP 2013 call takes an innovation and challenge-based approach in order to build a bridge to Horizon 2020, the successor funding programme for EU research which will run during the period 2014-2020. This manifests through the promotion of excellence wherever it is found, through the focus on strategic priorities, through boosting innovation, through helping firms move from idea to market, and with a special focus on SMEs.

Putting the focus on main challenges and SMEs

There is a new special focus on key challenges, providing around EUR 1.4 billion in total. These include the ‘Oceans of the future’ priority which will provide EUR 60 million to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors, EUR 363.5 million to be invested into technologies to transform urban areas into sustainable ‘Smart Cities and Communities’, and EUR 248 million earmarked for research to provide ‘Secure, Clean and Efficient Energy’.

Industrial innovation is supported through closer-to-market activities such as piloting, demonstration, standardisation and technology transfer. Notably, SMEs will benefit from a package of just over EUR 1.2 billion, including ring-fenced projects for SMEs of around EUR 973 million of the EUR 4.8 billion call budget for the Cooperation programme. Other measures include an extra EUR 150 million to provide loan guarantees under the Risk Sharing Instrument, which should generate about EUR 1 billion in loans for SMEs and small mid-cap enterprises.

To help spread excellent research more widely, a new ‘ERA chairs’ initiative is being launched. ERA (European Research Area) chairs are academic positions for outstanding candidates to build top-quality research teams at universities or other eligible research institutions in less developed regions in five different countries. To host an ERA Chair, these institutions must demonstrate their ability to support excellence through providing the necessary facilities and complying with ERA principles such as open recruitment. EUR 12 million will be available to support the five ERA Chairs.


FP7 Capacities Work Programme

‘Research for the benefit of SMEs’: Supporting innovative SMEs

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A new call for proposals totalling EUR 252 million with four activities under the 2013 FP7 Capacities Work Programme (WP)Research for the benefit of SMEs’ was published on 10 July and has a submission deadline of 15 November 2012. The overall aim of the activities is to enable participating SMEs to innovate and to become more competitive in a global market.

The main focus of the WP remains the outsourcing of research by SMEs to specialised ‘RTD performers’ (research service providers such as universities, research centres and other research performing companies), as well as by research-performing SMEs which need to complement their core research activities. The measures ‘Research for SMEs’ and ‘Research for SME Associations’, which constitute the two core activities of the WP, facilitate the achievement of these objectives.

The third activity is aimed at funding demonstration projects based on previous successful ‘Research for SME’ projects. These projects are required to demonstrate the viability of a new solution which offers a potential economic advantage, but which cannot be directly commercialised as further technological or other developments are needed.

The final activity is an SME coordination and support action in order to prepare for the next funding period 2014-2020 (Horizon 2020).

Research for SMEs

The objective of this scheme is to support SMEs in the project to outsource their research activities. Projects aim at creating new knowledge or achieving results with a clear exploitation potential to improve or develop new products, processes or services which meet the needs of the participating SMEs. This scheme can assist SMEs in acquiring technological know-how and accessing international networks for their medium- to long-term business development. It is a bottom-up scheme: projects may address any research topic across the entire field of science and technology.

An important aspect of the scheme is that SMEs are able to retain the rights for exploitation and often the ownership of all project results.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to form small consortia typically involving at least five participants, but generally not exceeding 10. The overall budget of the project should be between EUR 500 000 and EUR 1.5 million, and its duration should normally be between one and two years.

Research for SME Associations

The underlying purpose of this scheme is to indirectly support SMEs through their associations and groupings in order to outsource research activities. It targets SME associations which act on behalf of their members to identify and address common technological problems, and to promote the effective dissemination and take-up of research results. Projects may address, among other matters, pre-normative research issues, new business, management, production and service models, as well as technological problems related to the development and implementation of legislation, that cannot be dealt with by the ‘Research for SMEs’ scheme. It also follows a bottom-up approach. The rights for exploitation and preferably the ownership of all project results will remain with the SME associations and groupings.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to form consortia typically involving between five and 15 participants; the SME end-users group should be limited to the two to five members necessary to achieve the objectives. The overall budget of the project should typically be between EUR 1.5 and EUR 3 million, and its duration should normally be between two and three years.

Demonstration activity

This scheme helps SMEs to increase the impact of their projects or to explore new ways of using the acquired knowledge from their research for SMEs or SME association projects. SMEs often need to follow up research projects with work linked to ‘demonstration’ or production of prototypes before actually commercialising goods and services, but funding for this kind of activity is not readily available. SMEs applying to this scheme need to be former participants in a successful ‘Research for SMEs’ or ‘Research for SME Associations’ project.

Activities may include the testing of prototypes, scale-up studies, performance verification and implementation of new technological and non-technological solutions, as well as detailed market studies and business plans. There are no thematic restrictions, and it too is a bottom-up scheme.

Applicants are encouraged to form small consortia suitable for the purpose of the proposed demonstration project. The overall budget of a project should typically be between EUR 500 000 and EUR 3 million, and its duration is expected to be in the range of 18 to 24 months.

Coordination and Support Action

The coordination and support aims at screening the current available mentoring and coaching models at national and European level and developing one or several scenarios for a workable approach to be linked to the SME instrument proposed under Horizon 2020. The project can also contain direct actions to test and to validate the developed scenario(s) with a view to possible roll-out, comprising training of and dissemination to potential actors.

Members of existing European support networks dedicated to SMEs are particularly encouraged to participate. It is expected that the duration of a project shall not last longer than 12 months. Only one proposal will be selected for financing.

Budget

The available budget for WP2013 is EUR 252 million. The indicative budget for the four activities is as follows:

# Activity/ Area Indicative budget (EUR million)
2.1 Research for SMEs FP7-SME-2013-1 169.56
2.2 Research for SME Associations FP7-SME-2013-2 55.00
2.3 Demonstration Activity FP7-SME-2013-3 27.00
2.4 Coordination and support action FP7-SME-2013-4 0.75