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Points of View:

Nanocyl's Executive R&D Director puts research funding for SMEs under the spotlight

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European research programmes have helped Belgium's nanomaterials producer, Nanocyl, fend off competition from large international companies, including those from low-wage countries such as China, and build up wide-ranging business and research networks. The company's Executive Director of Research and Development, Dr Frederic Luizi, now puts forward his views on what SMEs really get out of the EU's research programmes and suggests some improvements.

Dr Frederic Luizi is an old hand at European projects, with a lot of experience under the Sixth and now the Seventh Framework Programme (FP6 and FP7 respectively). He is in no doubt about the strategic benefit for small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) of participating in European programmes.

'The project consortia that bring together partners ranging from manufacturers to end-users, help an SME gain a perspective across the entire value chain. This allows us to develop products at a much faster pace than we'd be able to on our own - if at all,' he explains.

Nanocyl develops new properties for materials that will eventually form part of products sold to end-users. To develop a highly targeted product, Nanocyl needs to understand what the customer requires. However, this would be very difficult if it had to rely on receiving its information via the standard commercial process. Because several companies can lie between Nanocyl and the final manufacturer, getting accurate end-user specifications that the company could use as the basis for its targeted research would be nigh on impossible.

'This is where EU projects are quite unique. You can get around the same table with everyone involved in the chain, discussing all the issues with large companies which otherwise wouldn't talk to you,' says Dr Luizi, who quotes a recent example of Nanocyl's automotive development, where the company sat down with representatives from Fiat Research Centre and its suppliers, including large chemical companies.

'When we met the reps from all these groups' research divisions and their associated universities, we gained a clear understanding of the real market need - where the added value will be. This is helping us focus our research in the right direction,' he notes.

The funding process - where it can be improved