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Together towards More Innovative SMEs: EU and Experts Join Hands

Mr Uffe Bundgaard-Jørgensen

The implementation and impact of the SME-specific measures in Horizon 2020 will be closely monitored, promoted and even given direction by independent experts in the field. These experts are the members of the ‘H2020 Advisory Group on Innovation in SMEs’ (H2020 AG Innovation in SMEs - EAG).

The EAG will give the European Commission concrete feedback derived from personal and practical involvement and experiences with the SMEs targeted by Horizon 2020, the European Union's new funding programme for research and innovation for the period 2014-2020. The European Commission tasked the EAG with providing consistent and consolidated advice on the work programme ‘Innovation in SMEs’ under part II ‘Industrial Leadership’ of the Specific Programme, and on research and innovation policy for SMEs. It also advises the European Commission on SME support and actively promoting the specific SME measures under Horizon 2020, in particular on the SME Instrument, and on how to better involve SMEs in EU research and innovation support in order to create a kind of ownership in the SME community.

The EAG is composed of independent experts in the field – that is, people with day-to-day operational experience in guiding innovation in an SME context. The members come from all across Europe and have experience of working directly with SMEs, either as researchers, advisors or as entrepreneurs. Mr Uffe Bundgaard-Jørgensen, for example, Chairman of the Group, is currently also Chair of the Danish Energy Regulatory Authority and a former venture capitalist.

Aims and impact

The aim of the EAG is to assist the European Commission in the preparation of legislation or in policy definition. ‘The immediate goal is to promote a successful launch of the SME Instrument under Horizon 2020,’ explains Mr Uffe Bundgaard-Jørgensen. Central to this is the formulation of easy-to-use guidelines for SMEs to participate in the H2020 SME Instrument, in particular in Phases 1 and 2. ‘Our wish is for these guidelines – and also by the way the criteria on which projects are evaluated – to comply with the genuine needs and expectations of innovative SMEs in the field.’

A longer-term goal is to assist policymakers at the EU level in optimising its support to SMEs on the ground. ‘One of our objectives is to formulate advice that will help the EU to fit its public support programmes even better to the real needs and objectives of SMEs,’ Mr Uffe Bundgaard-Jørgensen emphasises. ‘To that end, we aim to provide direct advice on how the EU could improve its communication towards SMEs, especially in regard to promoting the new SME Instrument.’

On these issues, it is hoped that the EAG will have a significant positive impact. ‘We hope that our findings and recommendations, which are based on an in-depth knowledge of the European SME sector, will help the Commission to achieve its ambitious objective with its special SME measures. By continuing the dialogue with the SME world and by remaining open to advice, we believe that a success, not necessary in numbers, but in impact, will be achieved.’

Mr Bundgaard-Jørgensen underlines the challenge presented to the AG: ‘The impact generated by the work of the EAG depends both on the quality and realism of our advice and recommendations, and on how the EU system responds.’

Achievements so far

The EAG has been active since 26 November 2013. It met for a first plenary meeting in October 2013, and for a second time on 16 January 2014, and is in the process of forming subgroups to tackle specific issues and ad-hoc tasks. The aim is to hold 3-4 meetings per year, and to produce annual reports with recommendations and lessons learned from monitoring EU activities.

The meeting on 16 January generated a constructive discussion both on implementation of the current calls and on longer-term strategic issues related to SME policy. Issues discussed included ways to further limit administrative burden on candidate expert evaluators of SME instrument proposals, how to better promote the call for these experts, how information from the Commission services could be more explicit and easy to understand, especially in their Work Programmes, and how the Commission services could further broaden the topics of the calls for expression of interest under the SME Instrument, in order to let the law of supply and demand play optimally and tailor to real business innovation needs.

Mr Bundgaard-Jørgensen is highly appreciative of the Commission’s efforts. ‘The creation of the EAG shows a willingness by the Commission to involve direct representation from the SME sector in its policy-making work. We hope that our present fruitful dialogue and cooperation with the Commission will create useful – and hopefully also innovative – results. “It takes two to tango” – and we hope that we can continue the joyful dance for a long time to come!’