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Interview:

Assessment reveals positive impact on SMEs

Dr Bernd Reichert

The Impact Assessment on small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) specific measures, which evaluates the economic and practical impact of the Fifth and Sixth Framework Programmes (FP5 and FP6 respectively), is almost complete. But before it is published, we talk to Dr Bernd Reichert, head of the SME unit, to get a sneak preview of the latest findings.


40% of SMEs increased their economic standing

This positive increase is a key finding of the impact assessment. 'It shows that 40% experienced a positive economic impact,' explains Dr Reichert. 'But it also shows that 60% said the project stopped too early. It has been suggested that a phase on demonstration, exploitation and market accessibility was necessary to improve this figure.'

Specific measures attract other SMEs

SME specific measures are designed to encourage and facilitate the participation of SMEs in research. They attract SMEs that are not addressed in other FPs. 'This is most positive,' explains Dr Reichert. 'We attract SMEs that have a much lower research & development (R&D) capability than SMEs under thematic programmes.' This need for outside support is good and is encouraged by the unit.

Oversubscribed = strong demand

SME specific measures are greatly oversubscribed, which demonstrates the need for such measures. 'In FP7 we will support around 5 000 SMEs through our programme,' reports Dr Reichert. 'If everything works well, we will reach 17 000 to 20 000 SMEs in total in FP7. These are impressive figures that show there is more need than funding available.'

One-third of participants are medium- to high-tech SMEs

Medium- to high-tech SMEs participate in the programme for various reasons: shorter duration of projects, smaller consortia, research is closer to the market, and the SME owns the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) by default. Dr Reichert adds: 'As its a bottom-up scheme, the focus is on the technical needs of the SMEs and not on the priorities of the theme'.

Two-thirds of participants took part in regional programmes

'We need to broaden the European market on RTD (research technology and development) performers for SMEs and encourage organisations who work regionally to start thinking about a European strategy we want to help them gain access,' explains Dr Reichert.

Increase SME involvement

'Research is often carried out on the SMEs behalf. The SME is not really involved and, when results are found, many SMEs lose interest. We want to create a more intensive involvement and influence processes where SMEs are much closer involved in the research.'

More emphasis on business objectives

The business interests of SMEs are often not always optimised, even if the research project reaches its technical objectives. 'There should be more emphasis on the market, on exploitation and on commercialisation,' Dr Reichert said.

Support where it is needed most

Other than accessing finance, the most urgent need for SMEs is to get better support with navigating and complying with the complex administrative issues that discourage applications. 'SMEs need to be better informed,' explains Dr Reichert. 'We would like to create an e-learning system to coach SMEs through the application, research and exploitation phases.'

Image problem

SMEs still lack awareness of the possibilities available to them. 'There is an image problem; they do not think our measures are for them, they think [they are] more for those carrying out the research, the RTD performers,' says Dr Reichert.

Distorted market

The study found that it is not a free market. It is a distorted market on the side of the RTD performers. 'We must avoid individual market dominance. We must procure competition in order to gain equality,' warns Dr Reichert.

Dr Reichert concludes: 'Despite all the difficulties faced oversubscription, image problems, and a distorted market 40% of SMEs had a positive impact. So imagine if we had an even more ideal system, just think of the impact we could have then.'