Brussels, 05 May 2004
The European Commission presented what it is doing to increase small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) at a joint meeting between National Contact Points (NCPs) and Economic and Technological Intelligence (ETI) project coordinators on 4 May. Participants, meanwhile, called for more cooperation and networking between the different FP6 thematic priorities.
'There are many activities in which SMEs could increase their participation,' explained Barend Verachtert, Head for Sector for research and SMEs in DG Research. Indeed, 'the EU objective is to allocate at least 15 per cent of all seven thematic priority budgets to SMEs. As yet, we are just short of the goal we had set.'
Mr Verachtert explained that areas such as research, network management, information technology (IT) tool design, technological transfer, training and dissemination of content are all essential to the success of a project, and that SMEs should be encouraged to be participate in these activities.
To help this process, the Commission is committed to 'provide information for and create awareness within the research community; ensure that at the evaluation level, the criteria are related to SMEs; target calls in areas relevant to SMEs; extend contracts to enable projects to include new SMEs; provide a task force on SME participation in FP6 and provide assistance to SMEs through specific action support,' said Mr Verachtert.
Mr Verachtert expressed satisfaction at the fact that Integrated Projects have an increasing number of SME coordinators and an increasing number of SME participants. Furthermore, 50 per cent of coordinators in ETI are women, a very welcome development, he said. However, when it comes to Networks of Excellence, SME participation so far has been weak. SMEs should be encouraged to participate in dissemination and communication activities to spread excellence, said Mr Verachtert.
Both Enrique Montiel, project coordinator for the 'Shoe 5000' project and Michel Ganoote, project coordinator for 'SMEs for food' emphasised the need to create a platform for cooperation and networking between the different thematic priorities.
Mr Montiel used the example of the overlap between his project and the Fashion Net project. Although one project deals with clothes and the other with shoes, their interest in 'intelligent textiles' is something they have in common. 'Instead of running research efforts in parallel, we could cooperate, exchange our work programmes, and develop common methodologies. This would be advantageous to both projects,' said Mr Montiel.
Michel Ganoote agreed, suggesting developing common events, creating a platform for exchange information, discussing common issues and best practices. 'We need to develop a cross-thematic approach by identifying common activities, common specification for workshops, common content, contact lists, task plans and even use the same format for the follow up,' he said.
Mr Ganoote called on the Commission to provide data, statistics and information on companies having worked on FP5 and FP6 projects. 'If the Commission made this information easily available, this would greatly help SMEs. By losing less time looking for this information, they would be more efficient,' he explained.
Silvia Grandi from the Fashion Net project said that networking activities are welcome, and suggested establishing an intranet system on the CORDIS website for this purpose. Mr Ganoote agreed with Ms Grandi, but said 'networking is a good idea but we have to beware of not wasting time with 'un-useful' networking'.
Siobhan Mc Quaid from the European Business and Innovation Centre Network (EBN) was of the opinion that coordination meetings and networking activities should be useful to exchange best practises and information, but another layer of coordination should not be added. 'SMEs', she explained, 'do not have time to go to meetings. I am only interested in more meetings if it is a platform to meet and exchange information and initiatives. Two meeting a year would be the maximum.'
Ms McQuaid emphasised the need to create clusters in areas where there are none, not to duplicate ETI work that already exists.
All participants agreed that coordination meetings between relevant ETI stakeholders are important as they represent the core of the business. They also felt it might be interesting to have common meetings between thematic priorities but should not 'overdo it'.
The Commission agreed to look into the possibility of creating an intranet website for ETI.