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Policy:

Impact assessment highlights need to shift focus to SMEs

Policy Update

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represented the largest group of participants in the Fifth and Sixth Framework Programmes (FP5 and FP6), and 80% had a positive influence on research collaborations, according to the latest impact assessment . However, the assessment also reveals that there is a need to shift focus from increasing the number of SMEs that participate in research programmes to increasing the impact participation has on SMEs.

As the largest research financier in the world, the European Commission continually looks for ways to improve its funding activity so as to further enhance innovation and competitiveness in SMEs across Europe. Impact assessments are an important tool for analysing and improving SME participation and the impact this has on Framework Programmes (FP). The rationale of the latest assessment focused on both the impact that SME participation had on a project's outcome and the impact a project's outcome had on an SME. The report was compiled from 14 months of assessment, based on 120 project case studies from FP5 and FP6.

'Until now the focus has been on increasing the sheer volume of SME participants - but now we must turn our attention to enhancing the actual impact research can have on an SME,' says Dr Bernd Reichert, head of the SME Unit. 'That is what is of interest to SMEs, the opportunity to exploit and do business based on their research. We therefore need to shift our focus to ensure we support SMEs in the right areas and develop new strategies that help them to grow.'

Here is a look at some of the key findings from the assessment:

Positive impacts

Small enterprises were found to bring overall added value to research collaborations. Approximately 80% of research projects saw SME contributions as being 'crucial' or 'important'. In addition, more than 70% of SMEs report a positive impact on their operations, processes, methods, tools or techniques as a result of their research project. In addition, 75% of SMEs have introduced new technologies into their operation and, of this figure, 25% attributed it to their research project.

Participation

SMEs represented the largest number of unique organisations in FP5 and FP6. More than
12 000 SMEs took part in FP5 (16.4% of all participants) and 11 200 in FP6 (16.9% of all participants). However, research and technology development (RTD) performers actually made up a larger number of participations. This is because research organisations focus on technical objectives and the FP currently serves more technical rather than business objectives, which is the primary focus for SMEs. As a result, the vast majority (75%) of SMEs only take part in 1 research project.

In addition, just 11.8% of FP6 and 12.6% of FP5 projects were coordinated by SMEs. This is put down to the amount of time and effort (both human and financial) that it takes to coordinate a project. It should be noted that it is another area the European Commission aims to improve.

Funding