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SMEs and Innovation

Did you know...

... that innovation and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have become a major focus of the new framework programme? In fact, more than 100 EUR million are available for integrating SMEs in European research projects in the "Global Change and Ecosystems" thematic sub-priority during the Framework period 2002-2006. In addition, SME specific measures and specific mobility grants are available for SMEs.

The political drive

The Lisbon European Council of March 2000 set the ambitions objective for Europe to become the "most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world". By adopting the EU strategy for Sustainable Development, the Gothenburg Council added an environmental dimension to this objective in 2001. The Commission Communication "Towards a European Research Area" highlights the role of research intensive SMEs for growth and employment.

In fact, SMEs are ideal partners for exploring and exploiting research results, and the new Framework Programme has set the following objectives:

  • The integration of research and innovation activities in the projects are facilitated through the establishment of new instruments.
  • 15% of the framework budget is reserved for SME participation in projects within the thematic priorities.

SME definition

As SME we understand every organisation which has less than 250 employees, a turnover of no more than 40 M€ or a yearly balance sheet total of no more than 27 M€, and which is not be owned by a large enterprise for more than 25%.

SME participation

The 6th Framework Programme opens a number of opportunities for SMEs to actively participate in research and innovation activities supported by the European Commission.

Project consortia - particular focus on SMEs

The composition of the project consortia in the thematic priorities will be crucial to ensure the optimal realisation of the planned dissemination and exploitation strategies. Project managers are encouraged to allocate an average 15 % of the budget for SME participation. The role of SMEs in research can be manifold; as technology providers and research performers, service providers or technology users. They may also be involved in exploitation, demonstration, dissemination or training activities. In particular, the Integrated projects provides excellent opportunities for SME participation.

Specific Support Actions

Specific measures to stimulate and support innovation issues and the SME participation could be ensured by Specific Support Actions (SSAs). Suggested actions may include the promotion of SME participation in FP6 projects and activities stimulation exploitation and dissemination of knowledge. SSAs are also invited to support the strategic actions identified in the future Environmental Technology Action Plan(1).

Research for policy support

Activities that will underpin the formulation and implementation of Community policies; in particular the common agricultural policy (CAP), the common fisheries policies (CFP), environment, energy, transport, health, development aid, consumer protection etc. These activities provides also excellent opportunities for SME participation.

Specific SME activities - Co-operative and Collective Research projects

Specific schemes for SMEs in the form of Co-operative ("CRAFT") and Collective Research projects are also available. Within these schemes, SMEs or groupings dominated by SMEs may entrust research work to solve their particular problems to research performers (research institutes, universities etc.). Ownership of the results will rest with the SMEs or the SME groupings. These actions, which are not limited by the thematic priorities, will primarily address the large community of SMEs with a capacity to innovate but with limited research capability. Specific support actions targeted at SMEs will be funded under the "Economic and Technology Intelligence" scheme.

Marie Curie Actions - Training and fellowships

Under the programme "Structuring of the European Research Area", the specific scheme "Marie Curie Host Fellowships for the Transfer of Knowledge" are directed at enterprises in need of developing new areas of competence. Knowledge transfer fellowships will allow SMEs to host experienced researchers for the transfer of knowledge, research competencies and technology.

Measures to encourage participation of SMEs in the priority thematic areas

As the participation of SMEs in the FP6 is of capital importance, several measures have been designed to encourage and facilitate SME involvement in the new instruments developed to implement the seven Priority Thematic Areas:

  • Targeting of calls: Calls dedicated for SMEs, when considered appropriate, will be an important measure for SME involvement in the new instruments. This has already been launched in the first call of Priority 3.

  • Participation of SME groupings: SMEs may participate in the new instruments through SME Groupings or Associations, in which the latter become participants on behalf of their SME members. This will bring an added value to the project through their broad knowledge of their sector.

  • Evaluation criteria: In particular, in IP and Specific Targeted Research Project proposals, the proposer should clearly indicate how they intend to involve SMEs. One of the subcriteria for evaluating IP and Specific Targeted Research Project proposals with respect to "the quality of the consortium" is the extent to which the opportunity of involving SMEs in the project has been adequately addressed. In addition, "the potential impact" of IP proposals will be evaluated as to the extent to which they are suitably ambitious in terms of their strategic impact on reinforcing competitiveness, including that of SMEs, or of solving societal problems.

    Also, one of the criteria for evaluating NoE proposals with respect to "the potential impact" is the extent to which there is an effective plan for spreading excellence, exploiting results and disseminating knowledge, including to SMEs and to those outside the network.

  • Pre-allocated budget for take-up measures: In many cases the specific nature of the results of projects suitable for take-up measures by SMEs may only become clear during the course of the project, and this would prevent identification of partners at the proposal stage. In these cases, the consortium would be permitted to provide for these activities when calculating the project budget and the relevant part of the Community contribution agreed during contract negotiations would be set aside for SME partners to be identified after contract signature.

  • Extension of running projects: The Rules for Participation allow the Commission to increase the Community financial contribution to an indirect action already under way in order to expand their scope to cover new activities, which may involve new partners. This possibility could be an excellent way to introduce SMEs into running IP and NoE of the Sixth Framework Programme, particularly to help ensure exploitation and up-take of results.

Innovation aspects - dissemination and exploitation of results: Available soon

Co-operative research (CRAFT) in the FP5 subprogramme Environment: Available soon (CRAFT catalogue)

SME success stories: this page presents some examples of the achievements of completed CRAFT projects. Although these are only a few of the many projects supported, they illustrate the range of benefits that SMEs with little or no in-house RTD capacity can obtain from the CRAFT scheme.

Contacts, links and further information

Partner search
If you are a researcher looking for a SME (or vice versa) for a future FP6 project, you may get help from these EU sponsored initiatives:

  • National Contact Points: The NCPs in the Member states and Associated States provide information and assistance to potential participants including partner search.

  • CORDIS "Partners" Database. See also FP6 Partners. This site is linked to the FP6 Expressions of Interest data base, which is very useful for identifying contacts in your topic of research.

  • Innovation Relay Centres (IRCs): This is a pan-European technology transfer network, with several thematic groups, including Environment, contributing to the dissemination and exploitation of RTD-results.

Further information and reading about calls, proposal submission, etc.

General information and overview: SUSTDEV
Global Change and Ecosystem infodesk: e-mail: Contact Form

Commission contact for Innovation aspects and SME participation in priority 6.3:
Per Backe-Hansen
European Commission
DG Research
E-mail: Per Backe-Hansen.

Scientific Support to Policies (SSP)

Specific SME activities
Infodesk: Contact Form

Marie Curie Actions

(1) Under development, soon available a website for stakeholder consultation.

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