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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.