Commission to invest EUR 2.2 billion in research projects for SMEs

September 26, 2002

Brussels, 25 September 2002

The European Commission will present its research initiatives devoted to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) at the 4 th SME Technology Days Conference which will take place in Leeds (UK) on 25- September 2002. The forthcoming 6 th EU Research Framework Programme (FP6) is targeting SME-related research and innovation by allocating €2.2 billion, the largest budget ever earmarked for this type of initiative. €1.7 billion will go to SMEs developing innovative products and processes in areas such as biotechnology, information technology, nanotechnologies and materials, aeronautics, energy and transport, food and food processing safety. The rest of the budget will focus on actions for SMEs across all sectors. The Leeds conference will take stock of progress so far, identify best practice in the use of EU research funding for SMEs, and help shape ideas on how to turn research into market success.

According to EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin this is a good opportunity for entrepreneurs to become familiar with FP6 initiatives for SMEs: "Small and medium enterprises are Europe's growth engine: they account for 66% of private sector employment, as opposed to 46% in the USA and 33% in Japan. They need easier access to knowledge, finance and commercial partnerships. But they also need cutting edge technologies: know-how makes the difference in the marketplace. The European Research Area (ERA) that we are building, a true single market for science, knowledge and innovation, will provide new opportunities for the start up and growth of SMEs. FP6 will help speed things up."

European SMEs are a major source of job creation: more than 50% of new jobs derive from a group of fast growing companies representing 4% of the total number of European SMEs. In addition, almost half of the two million industrial SMEs have recently introduced innovation to their markets.

A sound and thriving SME sector will therefore contribute to meeting the March 2000 Lisbon European Council call for Europe to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010. It is also instrumental in meeting the March 2002 Barcelona Council objective for the Union to raise its research investment to 3% of EU average Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The private sector should be encouraged to play the most important role, inter alia by better access to credit and funding.

That is why FP6 will concentrate on SMEs as a priority. In particular FP6 will foster:

  • trans-national and cross-border SME joint ventures and innovation and technology transfer.

  • innovation turning bright ideas into profitable business

  • SME participation to FP6 new funding instruments, namely large-scale Networks of Excellence and Integrated Projects. SMEs will be encouraged to jump on board with special training actions, customised evaluation criteria, SME-targeted calls for proposals, etc.

  • Even better use of the Co-operative research (CRAFT) scheme, which focuses on SMEs in all sectors, including traditional ones, willing to innovate but with limited in-house research capacities. CRAFT allows at least three independent SMEs from different Member (or Associated) States, facing common problems, to outsource their research to a specialised organisation with a subvention covering 50% of their project costs (up to €2 million).

  • A new scheme for "Collective research" will be open for industrial associations or industry groupings with the aim to expand their scientific knowledge base and their overall competitiveness standard.
CRAFT and Collective research will account for a €430 million total budget .

The Leeds conference will assess all the avenues of the new FP6 strategy to boost European SMEs research and competitiveness. It will feature concrete examples of real-life success stories by European SMEs in different fields, ranging from health and safety, to sustainable development, the environment, and industrial production.

Participants will receive useful advice on how to access funding and networking opportunities. Representatives of various SME networks will show how international SME partnerships have facilitated innovative research and the launch of new technologies.

Success stories to be presented at Leeds will include a new step in vaccine production technology, growing the virus in a cell culture. This technology could ultimately unlock the door to the development of vaccines for use in humans, in diseases ranging from cancer to HIV.

One example of CRAFT good practice concerns the experience of a French SME which has joined forces with grain merchants from Italy, Spain and France, to develop new, user-friendly technology that quickly detects insects in cereal stores. Worldwide marketing rights for the new equipment are currently being negotiated, and the consortium expects sales of up to €5 million a year.

Another consortium of SMEs and research institutes from Belgium, Germany and Switzerland has developed new cold laser operating techniques that could greatly improve brain tumour treatment with non-invasive surgery

For further information please visit:

FP SME activities:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/sme/leaflets/en/02.html

http://sme.cordis.lu/home/index.cfm

The 4 th SME Technology Days:

http://www.days4smes.org

DN: IP/02/1370 Date: 25/09/2002

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