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Research connections

How the individual schemes support SMEs

SMEs can now move through the entire funding lifecycle, using a number of programmes to maximise their research and innovation capacity.

Structural Funds, with a total of EUR 55 billion, including EUR 27 billion directly targeted at SMEs, for the period from 2007 to 2013, are the largest providers of EU funds for businesses. This includes entrepreneurship, start-ups, access to knowledge and information and communications technology (ICT), support services, incubators, science parks, networks and clusters, as well as access to finance and the development of human resources.

Structural and Cohesion Funds help many SMEs get their project off the ground. The aim of the EUís Cohesion Policy is to reduce economic and social disparities between the regions to allow for greater opportunities in the more developed regions for new Member State SMEs.

The Structural Funds are defined at regional level, so SMEs need to check with the managing authority responsible for the operational programme in question to see if their particular research or innovation activity is covered. To find out which national authority is relevant for your SME, click here.

The transnational Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) are managed by the Commission, so the criteria and subjects funded do not vary from one region to the other.

FP7 provides financial support for transnational research for and by SMEs wishing to innovate and improve their competitiveness, by enhancing their investment in research activities to acquire new knowledge for growth in Europe's knowledge-based economy. The programme has swept away some of the processes that previously put off SMEs from taking part in EU research.

A new guarantee fund is making most financial viability checks obsolete, and a Unique Registration Facility means SMEs only have to submit legal documents once. This will reduce the need for audit certificates and financial capacity checks.

The new Research Executive Agency becoming operational on 16 June (see our Actions section) should also speed up the proposal evaluation and the validation of project partners.

For more information on SMEs in FP7 please see the SME Techweb.

The Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme or CIP, spanning the period from 2007 to 2013 with EUR 3.6 billion for the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme, the ICT Policy Support Programme and Intelligent Energy Europe, aims to encourage the competitiveness of European enterprises.

With SMEs as its main target, the programme will:

  • support innovation activities (including eco-innovation);
  • provide better access to finance and deliver business support services in the regions;
  • encourage a better take-up and use of ICT and help to develop the information society;
  • promote the increased use of renewable energies and energy efficiency.

Through the financial instruments, the CIP makes access to finance available for the start-up and growth of SMEs and encourages investment in innovation activities.

The European Investment Fund or EIF manages the programme on behalf of the Commission with the aim of reaching as many growing SMEs as possible.

Small businesses can contact selected national financial institutions to get access to investments or guaranteed lending. For venture capital, the EIF invests in funds focused on the early and expansion stage of specialised sectors, particularly eco-innovation. In these cases, the EIF is usually a cornerstone investor.

For guarantees, the EIF establishes risk-sharing arrangements with intermediaries that provide finance directly to SMEs, such as banks, or with intermediaries that issue guarantees for the benefit of lending institutions.

A list of the CIP financial intermediaries by country can be found online here.

The Enterprise Europe Network, spanning the period from 2007 to 2013 with EUR 320 million, offers a broad range of services tailored for SMEs in the EU and beyond, and the IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) Helpdesk provides free-of-charge information and resources to help EU-funded projects manage intellectual property rights and related issues.

How the individual schemes support SMEs

How they can work together

SMEs talk about their scheme experiences