SME participation leads to innovation
The KBBE (Knowledge based bio-economy) is one of the broadest themes in the cooperation programme, covering diverse areas ranging from agriculture and fisheries to food and biotechnology. Like all other themes, the overall aim is for 15% of available funding to go to small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In order to do this, the KBBE Directorate devises and executes policy initiatives that encourage SME participation: that the result is that 61% of all KBBE projects in the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) involved SMEs. To find out more, we talk to two people with relevant experience – the theme’s director and the SME liaison officer.
Before specific policy initiatives are created, it is necessary to understand why it is important for SMEs to take part in EU-funded research. Maive Rute, KBBE director, outlines the two overriding objectives for encouraging SME participation.
'Firstly, knowledge transfer. The creative knowledge produced from SME research will, in some way, be transferred to the wider industry and vice versa. Doing so reinforces Europe’s position within the industry globally. Secondly, innovation-led research. When SMEs are involved, research is often steered towards innovation. This produces a competitive edge within the industry and contributes to the EU’s economic growth.'
Motivating SMEs to take part in research is not easy. But the KBBE Directorate has devised a number of policy initiatives it hopes will encourage more SMEs to participate.
One of the key points the Directorate always considers is competitiveness. 'Driving SMEs to bring valuable contributions on a wider scale and to remain competitive within their market is crucial,' explains Szilvia Nemeth, SME liaison officer at the KBBE Directorate. 'Building on competitive advantages gained by participation in the Framework Programme raises the SME’s position within the European market and thereby enhances the position of the European industry worldwide.'
Whether established multinational corporation or start-up SME, most businesses tend to encourage academic participation when conducting research. It is a triangle of partners bringing together knowledge and skills to produce a combined result. 'The framework programme is not just a pot of money,' explains Ms Rute. 'If we can facilitate partnerships, then our endeavour is not just a one-off. Companies and academic institutes can seek out further funding and continue to build relationships for the overall development of industry and agriculture in Europe.'
SMEs involved in research are presented with a number of European networks they can join. These networks open up further opportunities for SMEs to grow within their industry.
A key support measure used by the KBBE Directorate is the Enterprise Europe Network, whose mission is to help SMEs make the most of business opportunities in the EU. It has over 500 centres throughout the Member States, which provide guidance specifically designed to help SMEs in innovation management and to get involved in FP7 research.
Topics within FP7 work programmes are geared to encourage SME participation and, in the near future, topics will have a proportion of budget devoted entirely to SMEs. 'Earmarking budgets and other similar devices aims to create an SME-friendly environment,' explains Ms Nemeth. 'We want smaller companies to feel comfortable operating in an international business landscape.'
Indirect contact is an effective tool in encouraging participation. The Directorate provides information on past success stories from the KBBE programme to show the practical benefits that research can bring. This also helps eliminate any concerns that SMEs may have over the paperwork and application process involved in FP7.
National Contact Points were also established in an effort to generate dialogue and feedback on SMEs across all EU Member States, rather than just focusing on 'Brussels' (the unofficial capital of Europe).
The KBBE Directorate’s efforts to bolster SME participation have not gone unnoticed. A total of 61% of all projects within the theme involved SMEs and approximately 12% of all participants were SMEs.
'These figures are very encouraging,' concludes Ms Rute. 'They show a willingness and enthusiasm among the SME community to take part in research. Innovation is at the heart of social development and SMEs are key to that process. By encouraging SMEs to take their innovation into research, there is no stopping our development.'
Director of KBBE Directorate
Tel. +32 22959159
SME liaison in KBBE Directorate
Tel. +32 22997985