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EuroSME2013 conference: participants’ view

The EuroSME2013 conference held in Dublin on 11-12 June provided a golden opportunity for SMEs to network and to learn about funding opportunities through Horizon 2020, the EU’s upcoming Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. It also provided fertile ground for entrepreneurs to influence the EU Innovation Agenda. Two high-profile participants share their experiences.

Aneta Maszewska
Poland’s SME National Contact Point for EU research programmes since 2001.

Luis J. Guerra Casanova
FP7 SME Committee Spanish Delegate, CDTI, Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

In what capacity are you involved in the SME domain through your job?

Aneta Maszewska:
I am responsible for the cooperation between industry and academia. I organise brokerage events for innovative enterprises to assist them in finding potential project partners and informing them on how to obtain European funding for innovation. I am also engaged in measuring the innovation capacities of SMEs in Poland, while teaching scientists how to commercialise their research results.
Luis J. Guerra Casanova:
I am dedicated full time to supporting SMEs in participating in framework programme projects and in benefiting from this funding, both at the operational level – dealing with their project ideas – and at the strategic level.

Why did you attend the conference?

Aneta Maszewska:
I wanted to obtain more information about changes planned under Horizon 2020, especially in the area of SMEs. I was also interested in receiving information about new trends in innovation development and networking.
Luis J. Guerra Casanova:
I was interested in debating the future support to SMEs under Horizon 2020, taking into account their needs on the global scene.

What was the added value of the EuroSME2013 conference?

Aneta Maszewska:
The opportunity to meet SME professionals and EC staff in one place. Furthermore, the roundtable discussion which offered insight into improving the EU ecosystems for innovative enterprises was very lively and effectively embraced by the participants.
Luis J. Guerra Casanova:
The conference brought together experts on both business growth and business innovation during a critical moment with respect to the forthcoming Horizon 2020 funding framework. It was not a conference solely on R&D, but on how to help SMEs to grow.

How will attending the conference help you personally in your work?

Aneta Maszewska:
I established valuable contacts for my work. I also broadened my knowledge about Horizon 2020 and its flagship initiative Innovation Union and Open Innovation. This is the required knowledge when preparing tailored workshops for SMEs and R&D performers. It is very important because research has shown that scientists use the industry to upgrade their research and not to commercialise its results.
Luis J. Guerra Casanova:
I drew inspiration from the keynote speeches, especially the one on business growth and the interactive approach to audience participation. From a practical aspect, I found the discussions around the future SME support under Horizon 2020 and their financial instrument quite interesting.

According to the conference, sustainable, long-term growth and job creation will be delivered best via SMEs that gain and sustain their competitive advantage through innovation. How can SMEs become more competitive and innovative in the future?

Aneta Maszewska:
SMEs should cooperate closely with academia to develop new products, processes or services which will help them to become more competitive than their market rivals. It is also very important to learn that having a long-term innovation strategy pays in the long run. For example, currently most of the SMEs in Poland gain advantage by low labour costs.
Luis J. Guerra Casanova:
SMEs need to keep focusing on creating value for the customer by maximising the impact from public support. This can be relevant especially for those SMEs that historically have just depended on their national markets and now need to go abroad and benefit from the single market. Mobilising these large shares of SMEs will have a tremendous effect on competitiveness at the EU level.

Do you think that the EU and its upcoming Horizon 2020 initiative can facilitate the funding prospects for SMEs? In what way?

Aneta Maszewska:
Yes, the SME instrument in particular, will be a great advantage for SMEs. Furthermore, the opportunity for SMEs to apply for funds individually, and not necessarily in big consortia, will make it easier for entrepreneurs and will encourage them to seize the opportunity.
Luis J. Guerra Casanova:
Yes, it will significantly support SMEs in their international business development based on innovation; however, if the support is too fragmented and if the SMEs are not strongly involved in R&D projects, it may not lead to the desired impact for the SME community. We are very pleased that during the Horizon 2020 negotiations, the SME target has been raised to 20% of the budgets from the Societal Challenges and the Leadership in Enabling and Industrial technologies allocated to SMEs. However, observing how the FP7 15% Cooperation figure has been achieved, basically as a response to the first underperforming progress report, we expect to have learned from the experience. This means that the budget targeted for SMEs is designed – from the very beginning – very close to the proposed target.

The conference brought together various stakeholders to provide their energy and ideas on how to improve the EU ecosystem for innovative enterprises. How do you think this ecosystem can be improved?

Aneta Maszewska:
The work to be done is changing people’s state of mind. The broad concept of the Humboldtian academic model dominates most countries. However, what we need instead is the American concept, one which puts emphasis on commercialisation. This is why the EC should support via Horizon 2020 the network of National Contact Points which cooperates closely with scientists and assists SMEs.
Luis J. Guerra Casanova:
It is not an easy question to answer as the SME ecosystem has several layers with many ’experts‘ at local, regional, national and European level, who are unaware about their usefulness in the various SME business domains. I do not have any formula to propose for improvement, but it is clear that an ecosystem that enables networking and eases the access to relevant information (already filtered) may help SMEs to develop their business with external support upon demand.

Are there any recommendations/observations you would like to make about the current state of play of SMEs in Europe, as they relate to the conference’s focus on SME aspects (primarily innovation, growth and jobs)?

Aneta Maszewska:
About a quarter of SMEs have never heard of the possibility of obtaining research results from academia. Others do not know how to initiate such a collaboration and this needs to change. SMEs need mentors and trainers who will help them to develop their capabilities and to adapt according to new rules.
Luis J. Guerra Casanova:
There is a clear political focus on SMEs in Europe at this stage. However, these political messages should lead to concrete actions if they are to really ease SMEs’ funding opportunities and liquidity and allow them to grow and create jobs. We cannot afford at this stage to behave with enlightened despotism, in the sense that ‘All for the SMEs but without the SMEs.’ On the contrary, we need to take into account that most SMEs approach R&D projects with the view to turn their outputs into marketable products or services, to generate profit and to implement Horizon 2020 in a way that is cost- and time-efficient from an SME perspective.