| n each of the Fifth Research Framework Programme's four thematic programmes, 10% of the budget is earmarked for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). |
SMEs may of course participate directly in normal collaborative research projects, in partnership with other companies, universities and research centres. However, the SME Specific Measures offer the preferred route for an increasingly large number. Supported by a network of SME National Contact Points(1), which inform and assist potential participants, and with a simplified application procedure operated by a new 'single entry point' for applications to all the research programmes, the measures(2) consist of:
- the Exploratory Award scheme, under which SMEs receive up to 75% of the cost of preparing a full proposal for a collaborative or CRAFT project
- the Co-operative Research (CRAFT) scheme, which provides up to 50% of the total costs of research commissioned and managed by a group of SMEs with common needs, and performed by a third party
Small is successful
Throughout FP5, an open call for both Exploratory Award and CRAFT proposals allows SMEs to apply at their own convenience, but proposals are evaluated in batches following cut-off points in January, April and September.
In 1999, a total of 850 Exploratory Award and 150 CRAFT proposals involving over 2,500 SMEs were submitted - in each case, a 20% increase on the numbers submitted in the first 12 months of FP4. Perhaps because of this increased demand, selection rates were slightly lower, despite a significant reduction in the number of ineligible applications - 42% of Exploratory Award proposals were retained for possible funding, compared with a selection rate of 47% in FP4, while 38% of CRAFT proposals (submitted without a preceding Exploratory Award phase) were selected, compared with 42% of such proposals in FP4.
Small and very small companies formed an even higher proportion of the total than they did in FP4. Of the 2,509 SME proposers, 78% were companies with fewer than 50 employees, and 39% had less than ten employees.
Evidence of the success of the SME National Contact Points is found in the improved spread of SME proposers across EU Member States. The proportion of SME partners in Exploratory Award proposals not based in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy or Spain rose from 50% to 57%.
FP5's first two sets of proposals for Exploratory Awards and CRAFT projects show a more even distribution between research areas than in FP4.
Interest in LIFE
In FP4, 63% of all Exploratory Award proposals and 72% of all CRAFT proposals addressed challenges and opportunities now covered by the Growth programme in the field of industrial and materials technology.
In 1999, proposals were much more evenly spread. The Growth programme was still the most popular target, but with only 41% of Exploratory Award proposals and 61% of CRAFT proposals. The Quality of Life programme attracted 30% of Exploratory Award proposals and 20% of CRAFT, a dramatic increase on the 11% of SME participation 3of 11% directed to this area during FP4, and clear evidence of the SME Specific Measures' success in facilitating SME participation.
Over the course of FP5, the spread of CRAFT projects is likely to equalise further, as many of the current Exploratory Award projects feed through into the follow-up co-operative research phase.
(1) See 'Spreading the Word', edition 1/00.
(2) For a more detailed account of the SME Specific Measures, see 'Opportunities for SMEs', edition 3/99.