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Innovation tops bill at upcoming EU SME conference: A way out of the crisis?

The high-level conference ‘SMEs and Europe: with innovation out of the crisis’ (working title), which is to take place in Dublin on 11-12 June under the auspices of the Irish EU presidency, will take a closer look at what it takes to be a thriving entrepreneur in the 21st century, how small companies can compete effectively in an increasingly globalised world, and how they can gain maximum benefit from existing and future private and public support mechanisms. The event will spotlight Horizon 2020, the EU’s upcoming Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, which is less than one year away from its official launch. It also provides an opportunity to make a difference – or help entrepreneurs to make a difference – and shape the EU Innovation Agenda.

Strategically held during the culmination of the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (FP7) and before the launch of its successor Horizon 2020, the EURO-SME 2013 conference is seizing the momentum for SMEs and innovation. In the current economic conditions, the main challenge for the EU – and many other developed countries for that matter – is providing the conditions for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Sustainable, long-term growth and job creation will be delivered best via SMEs that gain and sustain their competitive advantage through innovation. The event promises to bring together hundreds of entrepreneurs, policymakers, SME support organisations from the private and the public sector, and other intermediary bodies that will provide their energy and ideas on how to improve the EU eco-system for innovative enterprises. Furthermore, it will introduce SME-specific measures in Horizon 2020 to this community.

‘At this moment in time in particular, the willingness of policymakers throughout Europe to help SMEs and to facilitate their needs is particularly striking,’ says Mr Sean Burke, Ireland’s SME National Delegate for FP7 and Programme Manager at Enterprise Ireland, who is at the driver’s seat of this event. ‘The conference wants to give SMEs and their representatives a unique and interactive platform to express their needs and to raise support for them, and this all in the historic and prestigious setting of Dublin castle, which will be at the centre of decision-making in the EU for the duration of the Irish presidency.’

The conference will focus on three broad themes concerning the future of SMEs: SMEs and innovation in the 21st century; SMEs in a networked world; and supporting SMEs in their ambition to grow.

With its inclusive and interactive character, the conference will go beyond so-called conventional wisdom and empty statements. Its ambition is to show SMEs how their strengths and weaknesses can be exploited or addressed through open innovation in order for businesses to remain successful, seize new opportunities, build partnerships and engage in innovation.

‘SMEs are at the core of business activity in Europe and they need to exploit current trends to their advantage,’ underlines Mr Burke. ‘Innovation in all its aspects and forms is the key to sustainability. So, promoting SME growth through innovation and entrepreneurship should be done at every opportunity.’ The EU for one has anticipated that climate change, resource efficiency and ageing will become drivers of future markets, and its support policies are programmed to help SMEs make the most of these emerging and global market opportunities.

The conference will also explore the business side of how to integrate innovation into today’s SME, which is challenged from all sides by competition, ailing markets and customers, dwindling or lacking resources and constantly changing technologies. Topics to be discussed include public networking solutions which SMEs can engage in, the way they not only compete but also cooperate with multinational corporations, or the way they might react in the future in an open innovation context with customers and technological solution providers, among other stakeholders.

Competitiveness, the driving theme of the conference, includes financial support structures, globalisation factors related to SMEs, business ecosystems and mobility and skills of labour which affect SMEs. ‘All these will have an impact on creating a competitive advantage for SMEs in a very difficult business environment,’ stresses Mr Burke. The closing session of the conference will function as a launching platform for the SME-specific measures under Horizon 2020.

Mr Burke is confident that the two-day event can also contribute to the education of policymakers. It will give a sense of where modern-day business is heading to, what would or should be future actions towards (continued) success and how SMEs can gain and sustain their competitive advantage. As such, the objective of the conference is not only to deliver this kind of information or highlight best practice examples from across the EU, but also to propose concrete steps on how SMEs will benefit by the use of innovation.

Mr Burke says that there was a lot of attention paid to access to finance and profitability at two previous EURO-SME conferences. Many of the recommendations resulting from these two events have contributed to reshaping the EU’s policy landscape when it comes to innovation in SMEs. The 2014 launch of Horizon 2020 will integrate SME business and innovation needs in a common framework, which proposes to look at innovation through a project-lifecycle lens.

Speeches, discussions, case-study examples and interactions at the conference will feed into the Dublin Declaration, a set of recommendations to the EU Competitiveness Council. Mr Burke argues that the conference will celebrate the status of SMEs with policymakers around Europe, which now more than ever recognises them as the main drivers of wealth and job creation: ‘It is a very opportune time to discuss aspects of SMEs innovation, jobs and growth. Public authorities have always been ready to set in place the conditions for businesses to thrive and grow. Horizon 2020 is one of the main vehicles for moving beyond that and helping to deliver innovation to the market. The Dublin Declaration has the ambition to be a reference document for the EU’s Competitiveness Council. It will provide plenty of ideas in terms of policy, and how to customise it even more to the needs of European SMEs, including on how funding can be channelled so as to be more effective at satisfying SME needs.’

The dedicated website ( will be operational from early February, with registration opening at a later stage.