Review of 2008

Funding is working well but SMEs need local, one-stop advice shop

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The head of the Directorate’s T.4 SME unit – Dr Bernd Reichert - reviews the progress that has been made to fund SMEs under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). Taking part in FP7 opens the door for an SME to become involved in ambitious, leading-edge projects. A new client-oriented network could also support a one-stop shop for SMEs, providing them with advice locally and matching SMEs up with funding and markets.

It has been a busy year. There is no doubt that FP7 has struck a chord with the European research community, and SMEs in particular throughout 2008. SMEs are increasing their share of the research pie. Research programmes specifically dedicated to SMEs and their associations are on track and appropriate to those applying for funding.

'The whole process of publishing calls, evaluating funding applications and awarding grants to SMEs in FP7 has been a huge success,' says Reichert. 'We have planted the seeds, as it were. The programme has grown and it is now a question of whether the harvest is what we expected. We have to ask ourselves: Is the yield high enough to make what we are doing worthwhile?'

The research outsourcing schemes under 'Research for the benefit of SMEs' remain popular. SMEs can also increase their participation in transnational research through their national funding schemes under projects such as EraSME and CORNET (SME Associations) and Eurostars (see SME Update Issue 2 for further details).

Research policy has also acquired a more regional focus: 'This is the logical way to go. We need to coordinate our networks better so they can deliver a more efficient service to SMEs,' says Reichert. 'This can be achieved by National Contact Points putting them in touch with their more local Enterprise Europe Network representative. Ultimately, they’ll be able to explore funding and market opportunities via some kind of web-based facility.'

The new TransCoSME project should improve the way high quality research activities are coordinated for SMEs in the new Member States, so that all NCPs can provide a research service that is harmonised throughout Europe.

Bureaucracy has not been eradicated but there has been a streamlining of processes from FP6 to FP7. 'We have learned lessons about how to organise processes better internally. Clients have also accepted the aim of the new programmes, emphasising the customer-seller relationship and outsourcing research activities from SMEs to research performers,' says Reichert.


Transnational opportunities for SMEs

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The first source of funding for transnational research projects is being offered through the Community FP7. Our Actions section reports on how SMEs can access an enlarged offer of support for their research and innovation ideas in international partnerships. CORNET II and EraSME² represent an alternative funding route to enter into international R&D cooperation with other organisations via their national and regional funding programmes.

CORNET II aims to improve the impact of collective research programmes by offering them a platform upon which to collaborate and develop a sustainable transnational programme at the European level. Collective research serves the need of a large number of SMEs represented by an Association acting on their behalf. Any knowledge generated through a collective research project is widely disseminated throughout the SME community. The 2nd call for proposals closed on 7 November 2008. Two further calls are planned for 2009 (please refer to the Cornet II website where the call information will be published).


Building on the participating national/regional programmes in the Member States and countries associated with FP7, EraSME² is targeting SMEs with limited or no research capacity which need to cooperate with research and technology organisations (RTOs) to acquire new knowledge for their product development process.

Over the next two years, the EraSME² consortium will launch four joint calls for funding proposals. The next joint call has already been announced and has a submission date of 31 March 2009.

Both CORNET II and EraSME² will work more closely together. As a first step, the two initiatives will establish a common back office which will deal with operations, each initiative keeping however its own identity and target group.

Points of View:

Enterprise Europe Network helps SMEs on the ground

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The new Enterprise Europe Network has a strong regional foundation, made up of professional business support organisations with extensive experience in dealing with SMEs. Beyond promoting entrepreneurship, its primary mission is to provide an array of customised services to SMEs throughout Europe and beyond via its more that 554 host organisations and even more contact points.

Laurent Volle is Head of the Dijon, France-based CRCI Bourgogne’s Enterprise Europe Network partner, one of the first business support organisations to sign up to the Enterprise Europe Network. According to Volle, any SME with questions related to the European market and to market opportunities in Third Countries – whether they be about policy, innovation, or regulations – can contact its local Enterprise Europe Network partner. “They will either provide them with an ad hoc service straightaway, or signpost it to the closest, best suited’ partner able to answer its questions,” he says.

The Enterprise Europe Network is not just a network of organisations; it is also a network of people. “Colleagues know each other quite well and essentially follow the same objectives. When I help another’s Enterprise Europe Network client by providing them with the right information on, say, the French market, or on partnership opportunities, I’m also helping my own clients,” adds Volle.

The Enterprise Europe Network framework of professional organisations is delivering services primarily to SMEs in 44 countries including EU 27, candidate countries, EEA and Third Countries. “As network ‘clients’, Enterprise Europe Network services are generally free of charge for SMEs. Some additional consulting services, participation to missions or events are charged for, but in some regions SMEs may benefit from other funding schemes to cover a part or the whole of these costs,” says Volle.

The Enterprise Europe Network is currently composed of former EIC members, former IRC members and nearly 130 enthusiastic newcomers. It is organised in consortia of several partners (up to 20-plus in some cases). Each consortium is managed by a coordinator which has been selected either for its SME expertise or because it is already a leading and efficient coordinating organisation in the region.

Enterprise Europe Network membership also brings many benefits for host support organisations. Says CRCI Bourgogne’s Volle: “First and foremost we can rely on a network of colleagues (not just the organisations themselves) to deliver better quality services to benefit our (mainly SME) customers. It’s the region’s gateway to Europe, with better access to European policies, funding, regulations and markets. Members also occupy a key position in their local area because of this ability to bridge enterprises with the rest of Europe and the Commission. CRCI Bourgogne also benefits itself by being able to benchmark and develop opportunities by carrying out common projects with other Enterprise Europe Network members.”

Success Story:

Marie Curie funds Academy Award-winning partnership


Thanks to Marie Curie Industry and Academia Partnerships and Pathways (IAPP) funding, a London-based SME whose software products enhance visual effects for Hollywood blockbusters, and scientists in the Republic of Ireland, are building upon each other’s research and application knowledge to create exciting new products.

When your cinematic superhero flies past a backdrop, chances are that The Foundry’s software was used to trim away the wires that held him up. Sigmedia’s post-production tools and motion estimation technology have also been used for the Matrix, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Spider Man and Harry Potter.

The two organisations have cooperated successfully for several years and won considerable acclaim for their work, including a highly coveted Scientific and Engineering Award – a technical Oscar – from the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts, and Sciences.

Now, as part of the AXIOM project, Marie Curie Industry and Academia Partnerships and Pathways (IAPP) funding is helping research fellows from Trinity College Dublin’s Sigmedia (Signal Processing and Media Applications) Group to gain valuable commercial experience in the film post-production industry. Staff from London-based SME The Foundry, have been able to extend their collaborative research into image processing processes and applications.

A leading developer of visual effects and image processing technologies, The Foundry has been able to study TCD’s latest research into 3-D image processing, and TCD Sigmedia research fellows have enhanced their understanding of film media and software.

'In the film post-production industry there is a constant hunt for time-saving applications that can remove the repetitive work from the post-production processes yet retain the artistic input from the user,' says Abi Bowman, The Foundry’s Project Manager.

The Foundry has also benefited by gaining a deeper knowledge of image sequence processing and training in state-of-the-art image and video processing algorithms which make their software’s complex editing processes usable. In turn, TCD’s researchers have been able to learn more about post-production workflow. The Foundry’s Furnace software tracks the motion of objects from one frame to the next during post-production. This saves time, freeing artists from monotonous manual work and helping them to maintain better continuity.

Adds Bowman: 'Currently, there are big changes going on in the film industry, especially surrounding HD (High Definition) and 3-D. The collaboration with TCD Sigmedia scientists has helped us produce cutting-edge products and compete more effectively in worldwide markets.'

The idea for AXIOM (Automated Extraction of Image Metadata) grew out of four years’ collaboration between the two organisations, and the desire to pursue a common goal in specific areas of digital image processing. On ongoing collaboration, AXIOM combines Sigmedia Group’s research skills with The Foundry’s practical knowledge. 'Academics need good connections with industry to keep their work relevant and TCD’s Sigmedia Group gained insight into the post-production industry first hand through its connections with The Foundry,' says Bowman. 'We’ve been able to learn more about image and video processing technologies through working closely with TCD’s experts.'

IAPP funding has financed the researchers’ training, living allowance, travel, mobility and a few additional overhead costs. 'It would have been difficult to achieve our objectives without the funding because it enabled research 'space' in an industrial setting and gave us the time to experience each other’s approach,' says Bowman.

What are Industry and Academia Partnerships and Pathways?

IAPP Programme awards to date

Policy Update:

NCP network becomes even more SME-friendly

The European Commission’s new TransCoSME project should improve the way high quality research services are coordinated for SMEs. It will focus on NCPs identifying and sharing good practices, developing common tools, and supporting benchmarking, joint workshops and training.

National Contact Points (NCPs) have always played a central role in helping SMEs take part in European R&D Framework Programmes, acting as a liaison between the European Commission and SMEs at a national and regional level, therefore facilitating access to EU-funded RTD programmes.

However, it is also well known that there are significant differences in the way various NCP systems operate throughout Europe and in the levels of expertise offered by the NCPs themselves. More co-ordination within the network is needed to foster synergies and exchange experience and best practices with SMEs.

The EUR 2.37 million, three-year TransCoSME (Transnational Co-operation of the SME network) project supports a network of 36 National Contact Points for SME-specific measures. It has set itself several objectives in three main ‘areas’:

TransCoSME will deliver specialised training, tools and mechanisms to help NCPs supply SMEs with practical ideas and advice more efficiently than before. An electronic portal and bi-annual information days on SME-specific measures will improve communication and suggest new ways of collaborating.

Such measures should lead to service quality being improved throughout the SME NCP network. In turn, this is expected to lead to an improvement in the quality of proposals submitted under the FP7 SME-specific measures.


Worthwhile briefings for the SME community.

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We’ve put together details of a wide range of research conferences and seminars, all of which are geared towards valuable networking, information gathering and getting support for your projects.

BrainNet Europe 2nd International Conference
on Human Brain Tissue Research
10-12 December 2008, Munich (Germany).

This EU-funded 'Network of Excellence' project is focusing the event on the practice of modern brain banking and molecular research using human brain tissue.

Workshop: Environmental Research for SMEs – Technology Challenges and Market Opportunities in Sustainable Energy Production and Consumption
11 February 2009, Brussels (Belgium)

Many SMEs are operating within the renewable energies industry and planning to expand into emerging markets. Running during EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) this half-day workshop focuses on opportunities available for SMEs and SME associations. The aim of the event is to address future trends and needs in key technologies and research in the area of sustainable energy production and consumption. It will focus on the dissemination of knowledge, technology uptake in traditional SME sectors, as well as business opportunities.

NTTS 2009
18-20 February 2009, Brussels (Belgium)

The New Techniques and Technologies for Statistics (NTTS) seminar is an international scientific conference on the impact of new technologies on statistical collection, production and dissemination systems. NTTS is being combined with ETK (Exchange of Technology and Know-how) which aims to provide a forum where producers of official statistics and developers of statistical methods and tools can meet, network and identify problems to be solved. They can also inform each other of the different needs for research as well as already available research results coming from FP7 projects.

Research Connection 2009
7-8 May 2009, Prague (Czech Republic)

Are you a scientist, full of new ideas? Or an entrepreneur, looking for solutions or an investment opportunity? Or perhaps a researcher, willing to take the international challenge? Realise your dreams and get support for your projects. Join the biggest European research event of the year. The participation fee will be €50 for the two days. One-day passes will be available for €30.

  • Contact:

  • Directorate-General for Research
    Communication Unit
    1049 Brussels
    +32 2 295 99 71

  • Useful links:

Facts & Figures:

More SMEs sign up for FP7.

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The Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) is designed to support a wide range of participants. Our second research report provides a breakdown of SME participants.

The second progress report on SME participation in FP7, with its primary focus on the Cooperation Programme, supports the initial findings of the first progress report that increasing numbers of SMEs are participating in the various themes of FP7 compared to FP6. In addition, SMEs in FP7 receive increased financial support for their participation versus those in FP6.

The Cooperation programme is that part of FP7 containing the themes, which are strategic areas for ongoing European research and development initiatives. In fact high research performing SMEs are particularly welcomed and to this end a target of 15 per cent of the overall Cooperation budget (worth EUR 32.29 billion) is being made available to SME participants.

As many of the themes have lengthy title descriptions, the more normal course of action is to refer to the various themes by their acronyms which are outlined in Figure 1 below.

Theme acronym Theme description
KBBE Food, agriculture, fisheries and biotechnology
ICT Information and communication technologies
NMP Nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials and production technologies
ENV Environment (including climate change)
TPT Transport (including aeronautics)
SSH Socio-economic sciences and the humanities
SPA Space
SEC Security
GA General activities annex iv

Figure 1: Acronym and description of the Cooperation programme themes

A breakdown of SMEs in evaluated proposals in the first calendar year of FP7 (2007) considered for contract negotiation (ie. main-listed proposals) indicates that SME participants by size category are to be found in the various themes of the Cooperation Programme as outlined in Figure 2 below. The SME definition categorises SMEs as: Micro <10 employees; Small <50 employees, and Medium <250 employees.

Figure 2: SMEs in Main-listed proposals

An examination of the first 732 signed contracts in the Cooperation programme indicates that SMEs received 13.2 per cent of the requested EU contribution. By taking the overall EU requested contribution by SMEs in main-listed proposals and breaking this figure down into its component parts, the themes in which SMEs are making the greatest breakthrough in terms of EU requested contribution are easy to determine from Figure 3 below.

Figure 3: EU requested contribution by SMEs