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.

Measuring the impact that FP5 and FP6 have had on SMEs throughout Europe is no small feat. Turning those measurements into effective guidance and policies to improve the next FP is an even more daunting task, a task that Dr Bernd Reichert and the SME unit are consistently working on.

With the assessment due for publication soon, Dr Reichert talks to us about the team’s latest and most interesting 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 it’s 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 SME’s 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.'


Health funding targets SMEs

Ms Ludovica Serafini

The economic crisis, the rising cost of clinical trials and a worrying increase in the number of bankruptcies means companies in the European health sector are in serious need of funds. The European Commission’s Health programme provides grants for those looking to undertake health-related research. One of its main aims is to provide 15% of its funding contribution to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – an ambitious target. Ludovica Serafini, the Scientific Officer responsible for SMEs in the Health programme, explains the plan.

'The Health programme focuses its efforts in two main areas: enhancing SME participation in health-related research and ensuring SMEs make a success of their projects' outcome,' explains Ms Serafini.

Enhancing participation

To reach the policy objective of giving 15% of Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) contribution to SMEs, the programme tries to mobilise these smaller research-intensive companies and get them involved in projects. There are a number of strategies in place to help do this, set out below.

  1. Promoting opportunities
    Most SMEs are unaware of the opportunities EU-funded research presents for them. It can improve their product portfolio and the services they are able to offer, create beneficial partnerships and provide Europe-wide exposure. 'We promote this message using success stories in our publications or at events. By illustrating the benefits based on fact, we hope to achieve a greater response,' says Ms Serafini.

  2. Wider topics
    The Health programme presents its calls for proposals as a series of topics. 'The topics have to be sufficiently broad to fit an SME’s business objectives; otherwise it will not take part. In the current call, we are using 30 topics specially suited to SMEs. This effort will be enhanced in the future.'

  3. Smooth application process
    Most SMEs have limited resources. Without time to spare, it is crucial that the Commission Services make the application process as simple as possible. 'We have networks and support structures to help SMEs understand our rules and how exactly to apply. The last thing we want is an SME to have wasted their time due to a minor technicality in their application.'

  4. Improved Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)
    Another encouragement to SMEs is the much-improved rules surrounding IPR. 'The new rules are very well suited to commercial companies,' explains Ms Serafini. 'It’s now left to participants to decide how to manage intellectual property through their consortium agreement. The Commission has put in place a limited number of basic rules surrounding IPR, which are designed to promote both the implementation of the project and the exploitation of its results. This is an enormous improvement [over] previous programmes.'

Support Success

To further ensure SMEs take part and to make a success of their project, the Health programme has put in place a comprehensive range of activities. 'This is where a lot of time and effort is spent', explains Ms Serafini. 'We try to help wherever we can during the preparation of proposals and lifetime of the project.'

The support comes in various forms and uses a number of different methods, as shown below.

  • Case studies are used to help SMEs understand successful proposal preparation.
  • Training is provided over the phone, in person and via e-mail, to help guide SMEs and facilitate participation in proposals.
  • A proposal matching system is used to give SMEs access to specialist technologies that complement their own abilities. Collaborating in this way combines competencies with a winning outcome.
  • Workshops are used to provide information and knowledge to coach SMEs in all aspects of the research process, including identifying future sources of finance.
  • Different networks have been created by the Commission to offer their specialised support, from National Contact Points (NCPs) who help prepare proposals, to the Europe Enterprise Network who help SMEs enter the market and support their business activities.

All of these tools are specifically designed to help SMEs receive the funds they require and to achieve success.

As previously stated, the Health Theme’s target is to provide 15% of its funding contribution to SMEs. That equates to EUR 900 million. In the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) it reached 9% and is currently on 11% in FP7 (2007–2013).

'We are doing all we can to help SMEs receive the support they need to produce effective and successful results based on research. But we need more to come forward and will continue to promote our work throughout the EU to achieve our goals,' concludes Ms Serafini.

  • Contact:
    Ms Ludovica Serafini
    Scientific Officer, SME specialist
    European Commission Health Programme
    Tel. +32 22956759

Points of View:

Health boost for high-tech SMEs

Dr Ines Haberl

The successful 'SMEs go Health' initiative is designed to help high-technology small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) obtain European Union (EU) funding for health projects. The project coordinator, Dr Ines Haberl, tells us more.

'SMEs go Health' was launched in 2007 to support the participation of SMEs, universities and research centres in projects funded by the Health Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) – the EU's chief instrument for funding research. The European Commission-funded initiative has improved SME participation in health-related research projects within FP7 by helping them find project partners via an online database, providing easy access to around 1 000 profiles of Europe-wide experts and researchers in the scientific community.

'SMEs go Health' also offers training for SMEs on proposal writing, as well as the participation, financial and legal rules in FP7. 'More specifically, we encourage high-tech SMEs to take over responsibilities as project coordinators or have key roles in research activities as participants, and support them in the submission of high-quality proposals to the Health Theme,' says Dr Haberl.

New proposal

'SMEs go Health', with a budget of EUR 1.4 million and a three-year duration, will wind up at the end of January 2010. But, building on the success of this project, the Commission Services have published a new topic for the fourth Health Call to promote and facilitate the participation of EU-funded research projects of high-technology SMEs operating in the health sector. The topic requires that support be provided not only during proposal preparation but throughout the whole project cycle. 'The new topic is planned to support a project having a much broader focus than "SMEs go Health" when it comes to training,' says Dr Haberl. 'It won't just be aimed at new applicants, but also project partners who are in the negotiation stage or have projects up and running.'

Understandably, the SME go Health consortium, comprising 29 members from 27 European countries, is currently preparing a new proposal, hoping that, if selected for funding, they will be able to continue to support SMEs in Health Research in the future.

The EU advantage

The EU's FP7 is designed to fund high-leverage, top science projects (?). 'It is, therefore, important to inform SMEs of the opportunities that come with EU projects, such as being able to work with some of Europe's best scientists, gaining access to new networks and markets, and, of course, substantial funding,' says Dr Haberl. 'We were pleasantly surprised to find the number of SME profiles in our database (830) exceeded our expectations by 20%. But we are quite well known now in this community, probably due to the fact that so many members of our consortium are National Contact Points (NCPs) whose daily work involves talking to SMEs.'

  • Contact:
    Dr Ines Haberl
    FFG - Austrian Research Promotion Agency
    Division for European and International Programmes
    Unit for Life Sciences and Technologies
    Tel. +43 577554103

Success Story:

SME’s research lands EUR 50 million investment for revolutionary cancer treatment

Dr Titti Martinsson-Niskanen

The treatment of cancer is one of the most important areas of research in the medical world. A small research-based pharmaceutical company from Sweden has, together with its partner in Belgium, developed an innovative form of treatment that stops the growth of cancerous tumours through angiogenesis, the process by which new blood vessels are produced in the body. Three years on, the company has announced its results and secured a EUR 50 million investment from global pharmaceutical giant Roche.

In 2006 BioInvent received EUR 2 million in EU funding to coordinate research into an anti-angiogenic treatment for cancer. Dr Titti Martinsson-Niskanen from BioInvent oversaw the project, entitled Angiostop.

'By itself a tumour can only be 1mm3 in size,' begins Dr Niskanen. 'Beyond that, solid tumours are dependent on the formation of new blood vessels for the supply of oxygen and nutrients, referred to as Angiogenesis. A major aspect that supports this process is Placental Growth Factor (PIGF). So, to put it simply, if we can limit the level of PIGF in patients, we can stop the growth of cancerous tumours.'

Getting started

Dr Niskanen and the team at BioInvent began by studying an antibody that specifically targets PIGF, previously identified by the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) in Belgium. BioInvent studied the antibody alongside ThromboGenics, another SME interested in developing antibodies for clinical use.

'We identified early on that our companies could complement each other,' explains Dr Niskanen. 'ThromboGenics is strong in cancer research and BioInvent is strong in development and manufacturing.'

The two SMEs joined forces and, combined with Flanders University and several clinical groups, created a detailed programme that outlined how they would develop the antibody for clinical use.

The programme

The programme began with preclinical research in animal models, in this case mice, to deduce whether or not the antibody actually produced anti-tumour activity. To move into the next step – clinical trials in humans – toxicology studies were undertaken to ensure the antibody is safe for human use.

Manufacture was the next step. The team had to produce enough antibody for clinical studies. 'So we scaled up appropriately and tested our systems for manufacturing at BioInvent,' says Dr Niskanen.

Finally, different types of tumour had to be studied to identify which are more dependent on PIGF for growth. 'We contacted three clinical groups who had access to patient material and got to work. This was a crucial step in showing where the antibody is likely to be most effective,' explains Dr Niskanen.

The success

After three years of research, the collaboration produced some considerable results: there was a significant effect from the antibody in tumour models in mice, the toxicology study revealed it to be safe for human use, and BioInvent was able to produce enough antibody to enter into clinical studies.

The data compiled was so interesting and significant that the team was able to sell the results to Roche – the global pharmaceutical giant – for EUR 50 million, with the possibility of increasing this amount to EUR 450 million should the project reach certain development milestones.

'To go from being a small biotech company to selling our results to such a large industry player is fantastic,' explains a delighted Dr Niskanen. 'It’s just a great testament to our work and has propelled us into the limelight across the medical world.'

Why it worked

Different forms of expertise, good communication and strong planning were the reasons for Angiostop’s success, Dr Niskanen believes. 'Our detailed programme ensured everyone knew what to do and when to do it. Each partner then used [their] expertise to contribute to the overall target of the project. And we regularly communicated through e-mail and in meetings to share knowledge, ensure everyone was kept up to date and to address any issues that arose.'

BioInvent’s size, with less than 100 staff, is tiny in comparison to most successful pharmaceutical companies. But Dr Niskanen feels this was an advantage: 'As a small company we were able to be flexible. When an issue arose, little time passed before a solution was presented; we could reallocate people and resources easily, unlike in larger companies.'

Having now secured a lucrative contract, Dr Niskanen is about to publish Angiostop’s results for the first time at a clinical scientific conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

'It’s been quite a journey. I only wonder where it will take us next.'

What does BioInvent specialise in?
BioInvent is a research-based pharmaceutical company developing innovative antibody drugs to target diseases with unmet clinical need.

What is Angiogenesis?
Angiogenesis is the physiological process involving the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing vessels. It is a normal and vital part of growth, development and healing. It is also a fundamental step in the transition of tumours from a dormant state to a malignant one.

What is Placental Growth Factor?
Placental Growth Factor is an angiogenic factor in the body that supports the growth of blood vessels. It does not affect normal physiological angiogenesis but only pathological angiogenesis, such as that required for tumour growth.

  • Contact:
    Dr Titti Martinsson-Niskanen
    Angiostop Project Manager
    BioInvent International AB
    Tel. +46 462863830

Policy Update:

SME funding target in sight

Mr Fernando Trabada-Crende

When the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) first started some three years ago, a challenging yet realistic target was set: that at least 15% of the funding available under FP7’s key programme – the Cooperation Programme – be allocated to small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This objective has not yet quite been achieved, with the current EU contribution to SMEs standing at 13.4%, but it is within reach as figures from the latest report on SME participation in FP7 ( 906Kb) reveal.

EU funding for research and innovation activities provides SMEs with the resources and opportunities to remain competitive in a global economy. SMEs currently account for 15.7% of all participants in the Cooperation Programme, which provides funding for collaborative research projects involving research institutes, universities and industry, including SMEs. The programme is allocated the largest amount of EU funding of all the framework programmes – EUR 32 billion – and the target is that some EUR 4.9 billion of this be allocated to SMEs. 'Less than a 2% increase in SME participation would help us reach the 15% funding target,' says Fernando Trabada-Crende, a member of the team responsible for monitoring SME participation in the Cooperation Programme.

The success rate for an application for funding from the programme is greater when SMEs are involved. 'We’ve discovered that a proposal with two or more SMEs in the consortium applying has a greater chance of being selected than if only one or no SMEs are in it,' says Mr Trabada-Crende. 'The EU proposal evaluators appreciate SME participation.' But while that should be enough incentive for SMEs to join the programme, there still appears to be some hesitation. Mr Trabada-Crende suggests the following reasons for this:

  • projects are too large and not in line with the SMEs’ strategies or capabilities;
  • topics of calls for participation in the programme are of less direct interest to SMEs than other types of organisation;
  • SMEs want to obtain concrete results that have a more immediate economic impact;
  • participation requires a substantial financial commitment from an SME;
  • SMEs need more support when writing proposals.

The Cooperation Programme comprises 10 different themes, ranging from Health and Transport to Energy and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Of all the categories, Nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials and production technologies (NMP) and ICT have attracted the highest SME participation rates. However, the EU has contributed a smaller share so far to themes such as Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Health, and Biotech. 'These are areas where it seems the topics of the calls for proposals seem to be of interest to SMEs, yet their share of the EU contribution – which is related to their share of the project budget – is lower than expected,' says Mr Trabada-Crende.

  • Contact:
    Fernando Trabada-Crende
    Head of the Operational Sector
    Unit - SME
    DG Research
    European Commission
    Tel. +32 22966558


Building knowledge and networks for SMEs


“Networking can be one of the most invaluable forms of activity for an SME. It can build knowledge, understanding and develop partnerships. Here is a look at some of the key conferences, workshops and fairs aimed at SMEs in early 2010.”

January 2010

CORNET Project Partnering Event

Event type:
Event date:14 January 2010
Location: Gyor, Hungary

The National Office for Research and Technology in Hungary has organised a CORNET proposal building and partnering event to target collective research projects. Participants – associations, federations, research organisations, small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), clusters and trade organisations – will have the opportunity to present and discuss project ideas with potential partners. Participation is free of charge but those interested must register before 31 December 2009. Organisations are invited from the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Austria and Slovenia – other countries are also welcome.

CORNET/Era SME Partnering Event

Event type: Matchmaking
Event date: 20 January 2010
Location: Maastricht, Netherlands

SMEs, associations, professional federations, clusters, trade organisations and research performing organisations are invited to take part in this partnering event for those interested in submitting a project proposal for the 9th CORNET or 7th EraSME call. The event offers an ideal networking opportunity and the chance to gather more information on both schemes.

InnoBuild Tech at BUDMA 2010 Fair

Event type: Brokerage event
Event date: 20 January 2010
Location: Poznan, Poland

This event poses an ideal opportunity for European companies from the construction sector to expand their activities in Poland. The brokerage event at BUDMA International Construction Fair, which attracts 65 000 visitors from 29 countries, aims to help Polish companies build direct contacts with European partners.

Fifth ETSI Security Workshop

Event type: Workshop
Event date: 20-22 January 2010
Location: Sophia Antipolis, France

This annual workshop focuses on security innovation in Europe. It brings together International Standards Developing Organisations and security experts to discuss recent developments, share knowledge, identify gaps and coordinate future actions and work areas.

Chemika 2010

Event type: Fair, conference and brokerage event
Event date: 21-22 January 2010
Location: Szczecin, Poland

This event addresses the chemical industry. Consisting of a fair, a conference and a brokerage event, it aims to bring together companies from Poland and across Europe who can provide commercial and technological services for chemical companies.

Technology Matchmaking Event

Event type: Matchmaking
Event date: 28-29 January 2010
Location: Istanbul, Turkey

Held during the winter meeting of the Licensing Executives Society – an association of 32 societies with an interest in technology transfer – this matchmaking event will provide a technological and commercial platform to present global solutions for companies. Companies with high technological and innovation capabilities, plus those looking for solutions provided by such companies, are expected to attend.

February 2010

Learntec Meetingpoint 2010

Event type: Fair, convention
Event date: 2-4 February 2010
Location: Karlsruhe, Germany

Learntec is the leading international trade fair and convention for vocational education, learning and IT. More than 200 suppliers showcase their solutions for professional training, e-learning and knowledge management. The event also presents trends and developments in the e-learning market.

Fruit Logistica 2010

Event type: Fair, exhibition.
Event date: 3-5 February 2010
Location: Berlin, Germany

Specialist trade fair where fresh fruit and vegetable businesses can present their products across the entire value added chain, from growing to the point of sale. It gives exhibitors a great opportunity to present their wares to a professional international audience – and to do business.

Ceramica Innova

Event type: Brokerage event.
Event date: 10-12 February 2010
Location: Valencia, Spain

Ceramica Innova is an international platform for companies and organisations from the ceramic sector to meet and share innovative technology proposals. It is also an opportunity for businesses to seek solutions to technological challenges.

KIS Partnering Forum 2010

Event type: Matchmaking
Event date: 11-12 February 2010
Location: Rome, Italy

This networking event brings together innovation practitioners, policymakers, companies and investors to explore the nature of the knowledge-intensive services (KIS) sector, discuss how innovation in the services sector can be fostered, supported and encouraged, and examine the latest trends and developments in KIS; it will showcase some highly successful businesses in the domain.

Mobile World Congress

Event type: Brokerage event.
Event date: 15-18 February 2010
Location: Barcelona, Spain

Mobile World Congress is a free brokerage event that aims to help European companies find mobile technology partners. In 2009, more than 47 000 mobile professionals from 182 countries attended, 9 000 of whom represented mobile network operators from around the world. Such is the scale of this event that around 2 400 members of the press also attended.

March 2010

Fourth World Congress of Gynaecological Endocrinology

Event type: Congress
Event date: 4-7 March 2010
Location: Florence, Italy

Organised into Plenary Lectures and Plenary Seminars, this event will see the presentation and discussion of the latest research into gynaecological endocrinology.

Week of Innovative Regions in Europe

Event type: Conferences
Event date: 15-17 March 2010
Location: Granada, Spain

This week long event takes the form of three different conferences that the Spanish government aims to use to focus the attention of political leaders and social stakeholders on the competitiveness of European regions. The conferences will look at the use of the resources devoted to research & development in Europe.

Facts & Figures:

Latest SME call produces 669 proposals from 31 countries

Facts & Figures

The third call for proposals on Research for SMEs (Call FP7-SME-2010-1) closed on 3 December 2009. The call garnered 669 proposals from 31 different countries. A total of 23% of all proposal coordinators came from Spain, 16% from the UK, 12% from Italy and 10% from Germany.

The full list of applying coordinators is shown below:

The full list of applying coordinators

Research for the benefit of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) aims to strengthen the innovation capacity of European SMEs by assisting them in outsourcing research. It wishes to help SMEs contribute to the development of new technology-based products and markets by increasing research efforts, extending networks, and acquiring further knowledge and learning to better exploit research results.

Evaluation of the 669 proposals will run from January to February 2010, and the results will be announced in Issue 8 of SME Update.

Report on SME Participation in FP7

Report on SME Participation in FP7 Cover The aim of this report is to monitor the participation of SMEs in the Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7).

The Commission is required to pay special attention to the funding for SMEs under the Cooperation Programme, following the target in the Decision establishing FP7.

This Report includes an analysis of SME participation rates across the themes of the Cooperation Programme and of the EC contribution to SMEs in FP7 Grant Agreements (GAs) signed before 1 October 2009.
Read more ( 906Kb)