Technology Vouchers support innovation among Walloon SMEs

The “Agence de Stimulation Technologique” (AST) of Wallonia provides vouchers for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as a means of business support for innovation, research and technological development. The vouchers allow SMEs to buy services related to technological innovation from accredited research centres, so as to encourage them to make the most of new technological developments.

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Logo of the Technology Vouchers project.© Logo of the Technology Vouchers project.©

" Five and a half years after its launch, Technology Vouchers has achieved its aim of attracting more Walloon SMEs to technological innovation by enabling them to call on trusted partners who can help them to take the first steps. This shows the validity of an assistance mechanism which is both fast, and based on trust. "

Etienne Reuter, AST

Since the launch of Technology Vouchers in December 2008, AST has received 1 412 eligible applications for vouchers from 650 SMEs, most of which are very small with little research and development (R&D) experience. The total value of vouchers granted is EUR 10 290 000, with 90 % of users satisfied with the services obtained, and more than 85 % happy to recommend the vouchers to other SMEs.

The project has strengthened partnerships between SMEs and research centres. It has also encouraged research centres to increase their understanding of, and orient their work towards, the needs of SMEs and to promote SME innovation. Of the 34 eligible centres, 32 have provided services covered by the vouchers. That has enabled SMEs to launch new products, processes or services, solve technical problems, and develop innovation strategies and partnerships.

Technology Vouchers have given rise to a range of new activities, not only in typically innovative sectors, but also in more traditional fields, such as the agri-food and construction industries. Initial results show that the Technology Vouchers system has given two thirds of participating SMEs the chance to initiate or renew publicly-funded R&D partnerships.

A simple, fast application process

One SME can have up to 40 Technology Vouchers, worth EUR 500 each, in a calendar year, towards which it pays 25 %. It chooses any of the 34 centres, specifies the services required and agrees terms. If the application is eligible, AST grants the Vouchers within three working days of submission.

The application process is designed to be simple and fast, and research centres have been trained to complete much of it on behalf of SMEs. Some 90 % of SME applicants are satisfied or very satisfied with the procedure and processing times. At international level, Technology Vouchers have been recognised as a good practice by several EU countries and regions and international organisations.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Technology Vouchers for SMEs in Wallonia” is EUR 12 000 000, of which the EU’s European Regional Development Fund is contributing EUR 4 800 000, from the Operational Programmes “Wallonia (Hainaut)” and “Wallonia (not including Hainaut)”, for the 2007 to 2013 programming period.

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