Enterprise Europe Network successfully completes first year in operation
Since being founded by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry over a year ago, the Enterprise Europe Network has become a point of reference in cross-border and EU-related matters for companies in more than 40 countries.
A main focal point of the Network lies in providing information on funding opportunities open to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Possibilities include EU funding through the Structural Funds, general SME funding from governments or banks, the Commission's project for 'Supporting the internationalisation of SMEs', the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) and others. Enterprise Europe Network's activities, though, go further. Network experts are able to help SMEs apply for funding and offer advice on EU legislation and policies. In addition, Enterprise Europe seeks to involve SMEs and other businesses in the policy making process.
Among Enterprise Europe Network's other roles are to bring together business and research, facilitate the search for partners in other countries and promote the transfer of technology from the drawing board to the market. The Network's Technology Transfer Service, for instance, helps establish contact between a partner offering a technology and potential users. Support then continues even during the transfer process.
An important feature in all of these activities is Enterprise Europe Network's local presence. To ensure wide coverage, the Network is composed of 600 local partner organisations, including chambers of commerce and industry, research and development organisations, universities, regional development agencies, national SME associations, regional governments and even national state banks. Together, they deploy a workforce of around 3,000 business support experts. The Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (EACI) is responsible for managing the Network.
Chris Farmakis of Greater London Enterprise in the United Kingdom represents one of the national nodes of the Network. Looking back on Enterprise Europe's first year in operation, he thinks it was a success. 'Apart from our contractual obligations, which we met within the first six months for the next three years, we have managed to get a lot of companies to actually participate. Even more so, we have managed to get a very effective awareness in a business-friendly manner on FP7 and its strategic benefits of participation.
'Through Enterprise Europe Network, we got companies partnering and generating real money as revenues,' continues Mr Farmakis. 'I think the novelty that FP7 offers and Enterprise Europe Network materialises is that European companies partner with each other commercially and technologically... so they work together in innovation.'
Alain Brasseur of the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry Auvergne, France, another Network partner, feels the same. 'We definitely had a better response than we initially expected, although the construction of this new network was not an easy task and did take some time. It (Enterprise Europe Network) does contribute to making Europe less distant and more relevant to the average SME.'
SME success stories, thanks to Enterprise Europe Network's brokerage services, corroborate the partners' views. In one case, Mr Farmakis was able to help bring together a German-led consortium, which needed specific expertise, with the Imperial College of London, an SME and a large, UK-based corporation. 'After that we realised there was a requirement for Middle Eastern partners, so I got them two organisations from Jordan and Lebanon.'
Mr Brasseur remembers supporting a company from the bioinformatics sector in their search for potential project partners, thanks to a client-oriented tool called 'FP check', developed within the Network's framework. 'We found out that this company had a solid background and good reasons to further investigate a potential cooperation project. In November, we organised a brokerage event with our colleagues in Rhône Alpes (...). This company participated in this brokerage event and found two Spanish partners for a cooperation project.'
From the partners' point of view, being 'in situ' is not only an asset, but an absolute necessity. This means that if they want to further innovate and help enterprises understand and use FP7 to its full potential, a local presence is what the companies most commonly require. In addition, the experience and skills within the local teams of the Network are one of the greatest contributors to Enterprise Europe's success. 'Internally we have an experienced and well-skilled team,' Mr Farmakis states. 'I have participated in projects since 1995. I have been an evaluator and I have R&D (research and development) experience as well as business and commercial experience, so I can cover a company's requirements for definitions and practical support.'
At this point, the Network covers 44 countries, including 27 EU Member States, three EU candidate countries (Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey), members of the European Economic Area and other third countries. There is also significant interest in collaboration from other third countries.
Enterprise Europe Network builds on work previously done by Innovation Relay Centres (IRCs) and Euro Info Centres (EICs), but takes it one step further, according to Allain Brasseur. 'We promote innovation,' he says. 'Our most important advantage has been to innovate ourselves, too, in order to deliver better services. So, the Enterprise Europe Network is not just the addition of former IRCs and EICs.' This is particularly noticeable in the Network's broader range of services and its 'one-stop shop' strategy for EU funding, where companies and organisation seeking advice can receive assistance from the Enterprise Europe partner closest to them.
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Data Source Provider: Enterprise Europe Network
Document Reference: Based on information from Enterprise Europe Network
Subject Index: Business aspects; Coordination, Cooperation; Economic Aspects; Education, Training; Innovation, Technology Transfer; Policies; Regional Development; Social Aspects