Brussels, 24 Feb 2005
The European Commission is funding an initiative aimed at minimising the obstacles for young biotechnology firms that wish to participate in the EU's research framework programmes.
The scheme is called NATIBS - new approaches and tools for incubated biotech SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises). The project is one of a range of Economic and Technical Intelligence actions (ETIs) funded under the specific support for SMEs section of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). ETIs are designed to promote innovation within SMEs, disseminate information on scientific developments, and promote best practice.
Often for early stage biotechnology companies, the challenge of establishing themselves in one of the fastest growing areas of high tech commerce is all consuming, and participating in the EU's framework programmes is not a major priority. Yet the benefits in terms of access to new knowledge and the resulting innovations of participating in FP6 could be a vital factor in ensuring a young company's survival.
A significant deterrent to participation in FP6, especially in the case of those SMEs with no prior experience of collaborative EU research, is the complexity of the proposal process and other administrative hurdles. So, having concluded that young biotech companies would be unlikely to join or initiate FP6 projects without significant assistance, the Commission decided to offer just that.
The NATIBS consortium brings together nine partners from six countries - France, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Israel and Sweden. They consist of seven experienced biotechnology incubators, and two further partners providing the coordination unit.
In its core role of promoting firms' participation in FP6, the NATIBS consortium will draw attention to opportunities and activity areas within EU research programmes through its website and newsletter, as well as supporting the applications process through proposal writing and partner searching. In addition, however, the partners will conduct technology and strategy audits within biotech SMEs to gauge the market conditions and help orient these companies towards research and innovation opportunities.
The intelligence gained through these audits will be used to produce a best practice report for the Commission, in cooperation with another ETI initiative, TALENT SCOUT, which is focused on more mature biotech companies.
One reason why the NATIBS partners are confident they can achieve their aim of bringing young biotech companies closer to FP6 is that most of these companies already have a strong culture of research, given their commercial origins.
If they do succeed in their objective, the benefits will not only be to the SMEs themselves. Europe's biotechnology sector as a whole will benefit from the closer integration of innovative small companies into FP6, say the partners, as it will allow the new ideas and expertise from these firms to feed into the European research effort much earlier than they otherwise would have.
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