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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.