Brussels, 11 Oct 2006
The Framework Programme's schemes for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are filling an important gap in the European research landscape: without them SMEs would not carry out their projects in the first place, according to a recently published report. The report, 'Impact assessment for improving SME specific research schemes and measures to promote SME participation in the Framework Programme', is based on the findings of an online survey; case studies and interviews with SMEs that participated in one of three SME-specific schemes: cooperative research (CRAFT under FP5, COOP under FP6), collective research (COLL) and Economic and Technological Intelligence (ETI) under FP5 and FP6.
Looking first to CRAFT/COOP, the majority of SMEs interviewed said that they benefited greatly from participating in the schemes. They pointed to the transnational dimension of these schemes, which they said gave added value to their projects. In fact, many participants felt that without such schemes they would have abandoned their project since no national programmes exist which cater for cross-border partnerships. SMEs and research organisations participating in COLL projects also attested to increased networking opportunities across borders.
Positive feedback was also received regarding the ETI scheme. Under FP6, ETI helps SMEs use the new funding instruments, Integrated Projects and Networks of Excellence. According to the survey's respondents - mostly national contact points - no mechanism exists at a national level that can fulfil SMEs' needs quite like the ETI can. They also cited an increased frequency of collaboration with foreign SMEs as a major benefit of the scheme. In addition, participants found ETI-services on funding opportunities, partner search services and assistance particularly helpful in preparing joint proposals for submission.
Participants in the schemes were also asked to provide feedback as to the technical, scientific and economic achievements of the projects. A total of 44% of respondents said that their projects ended in developing a new and improved product. Participants also reported increased turnover, profit and other socio-economic impacts.
However, the report notes that technical and economic achievements do not always go hand-in-hand. It points to a case where a product was developed but was too ahead of its time to be commercialised. In another case, a project had developed a technology which was obsolete by the end of the project because competing technologies had since emerged onto the market. Also, several projects lead to innovation, but were unsuccessful due to a lack of regulation in the market.
The report makes the point that this lack of business intelligence skills is an issue which has been identified by earlier evaluations of SME programmes, conducted both at European and national levels. It concludes by calling for additional measures to be introduced to help SMEs better anticipate markets and competing technologies or services.Further information: