Listening to what SMEs want
Nearly 400 operators, experts and policy makers from Europe gathered in Paris this month to examine how we could "do better" for SMEs and ensure the best economic impacts for their research and innovation projects.
SMEs lie at the centre of growth within Europe - "They are the DNA of the European economy," said the European Commissioner for Science and Research, Janez Potočnik speaking at this month's 'Innovation in Motion' conference (supporting research and innovation in European SMEs) held in Paris.
Commissioner Potočnik was keen to emphasise that in the current economic climate Europe can't expect to compete with the rest of the world merely by cutting costs anymore. It must do so with knowledge and added-value.
This can be achieved via a number or mechanisms. The newly launched Small Business Act promises to place SMEs into the mainstream of European policy making - "to provide the best environment and the best opportunities for SMEs to grow and flourish". The 2007 Green Paper on the European Research Area (ERA) also highlighted key areas for development: Creating a single labour market for researchers, creating leading research infrastructures, generating research programmes and international cooperation. With these developments, it is hoped that the ERA will turn Europe into "a spring of knowledge".
"But whilst the ERA is there to effectively convert taxpayers' Euros into that knowledge at the best possible exchange rate. It is businesses, especially innovative SMEs, that now have the job of turning knowledge back into Euros at a good rate of return," said Potočnik.
The Commissioner also noted that:
- Research organisations and policy makers must now listen to SMEs and appreciate their needs, in particular their 'time horizon' which may be very different from that of 'blue sky research'
- At the moment there are 70 different national cluster policies around Europe and hundreds of regional ones, so programme and initiatives must be better co-ordinated at regional, national and European levels
- If SMEs are to innovate effectively, they need fewer obstacles and better regulation
- They must also have better access to risk finance and markets
- Programme rules must be made simpler so SMEs can understand them
The complete catalogue of SMEs which have received funding under the Sixth Framework Programme is available on the Europa website. This document can be used to identify SMEs in your country who have participated in EU projects and provides the necessary contact details.