Brussels, 08 Aug 2005
Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) feature prominently in a paper on the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) proposals by Swedish innovation agency VINNOVA. The agency identifies three different types of SME, and identifies how different parts of the programme could support each category.
While conceding that the FP7 proposal does appear to offer increased opportunities for SME participation, the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems emphasises that 'active SME participation presupposes that in the implementation of [FP7], due consideration is given to different categories of SMEs'. VINNOVA would like to see this consideration include: simple, transparent administration; short project periods; close-to-market issues; and flexible instruments that allow uncomplicated access to consortia, but also the termination of collaborations that are no longer interesting for companies.
VINNOVA believes that there are three broad categories of SME, all of which should have equal access to the Framework Programme. The three categories are: high-tech SMEs, those that are close to research, and those needing access to research-based skills and knowledge.
High-tech SMEs are comparatively small in number and usually operate in emerging scientific areas such as biotechnology, information technology and electronics. VINNOVA reports that negotiations are currently taking place between representatives of the European Commission and EUREKA on future possibilities for collaboration - a process that is very much supported by VINNOVA.
Close-to-research companies, as the term suggests, operate close to research, but due to a lack of resources, cannot form their own links with compatriot or other European researchers in order to work with their results. VINNOVA is satisfied that these companies are addressed under the 'Capacities' section of FP7, but emphasises the importance of enabling high-tech companies to disseminate the results of their framework programme research on their own. 'Experience shows that mechanisms introduced afterwards and from outside in order to disseminate project results have less, not to say little, chance of success,' according to the position paper.
A third category of SME is 'those needing access to research-based skills and knowledge in order to reach a level where they can grow and develop new business'. These companies need financing, as well as local networks that will enable them to obtain relevant knowledge. These SMEs can be supported through the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), according to VINNOVA.
Referring back to the ongoing negotiations between the Commission and other organisations, including EUREKA, the paper calls for a new approach. The focus of the talks has shifted to financial commitments rather than the aim of collaboration, its content, suitable forms of collaboration, proposal submission procedure and the division of roles, according to VINNOVA. 'A reverse order, where financial commitments are deferred until FP7 has been approved, would be preferable,' states the paper.
The Swedish agency welcomes the extension of the framework programme's duration from four to seven years, but draws attention to a number of implications that this may have. 'Today's insight into what needs and conditions will characterise the end of the programme period is indeed very limited,' says VINNOVA. For that reason, the agency underlines that FP7 must have a format that will allow reprioritisations. In accordance with industrial needs, it must also be possible to initiate explorative, fundamental and high-risk efforts in separate parts of FP7 to those managed by the European Research Council (ERC).
In view of the longer duration of the programme, VINNOVA also calls for an evaluation, followed by changes to the programme in line with the evaluation's findings.
Overall VINNOVA regards the FP7 proposals in a positive light, in particular their attention to SMEs, continuity from FP6, and the strong emphasis on growth and competitiveness. To access this and other contributions to the FP7 debate, please visit: http:///www.cordis.lu/fp7/debate.htm