Brussels, 29 Mar 2004
What specific support actions are needed to encourage small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to participate in the EU's research Framework Programmes? That was the question posed by Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin to business people, policy makers and experts in Brussels on 26 March.
The Commissioner opened the debate while presenting the DETECT-IT project, which aims to help SMEs to overcome the challenge of setting up and financing EU research activities. Some 2.2 billion euro has been set aside for SME participation under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), representing around 15 per cent of the total budget.
'SMEs will have an important role to play throughout the research programmes, but the question is: what specific support actions are needed for SMEs? The question is open for debate and I am convinced that it will be hotly debated in the months to come,' said the Commissioner.
Giving his own perspective on the issue, Mr Busquin said that a distinction has to be drawn between high tech SMEs, and the very large population of what he termed 'lower tech' small businesses.
'Our programmes should strongly encourage the participation of high tech SMEs, which carry large potential for leading edge research and innovation in very specific areas,' he said, adding that cooperation between these companies and larger corporations and universities is the key to transforming research results into successful products and services.
For lower tech small enterprises, meanwhile, Mr Busquin said that schemes such as collective research directed towards SME associations or groupings seem very adequate. However, he added that: 'Encouraging the trans-national cooperation of lower tech SMEs [...] will be most productive if done in partnership with national and regional authorities.'
The Commissioner conceded that: 'Our programmes aim at transnational R&D [research and development] collaboration, which is not the primary interest of SMEs. In general, 95 per cent of SMEs have no or no significant research capacity of their own or in collaboration.'
But rather than being a reason not to place a high priority on SME participation in the Framework Programmes, Mr Busquin said that this is why initiatives such as DETECT-IT are so important. 'We need very practical and concrete measures to help SMEs overcome the difficulties in setting up and participating in European research actions,' he said.
Within the DETECT-IT project, the Commission's Business Innovation Centre incubators (BICs) will cluster more than 1,000 SMEs into three target industry sectors: information society technologies (IST) food quality and safety, and environment and energy.
Experts on the Framework Programmes from each sector, including technology brokers, Commission personnel and National Contact Points (NCPs), will then direct those SMEs towards appropriate European research funding programmes. The project also includes a pool of early stage financial support organisations in recognition of the difficulties SMEs face in financing research activities.
'[I]t is vital Europe's SMEs have ready access to funding, knowledge and corporate partnerships. DETECT-IT will help improve business innovators' access to all these and channel SMEs towards the appropriate EU research funding programmes. [...] Through targeted assistance, the Commission is helping to turn SMEs' ideas into commercial realities,' Mr Busquin concluded.
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