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Services for SMEs in collAborative tRansporT research projects

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The road to greater SME involvement

There is a need to find effective ways of involving small and medium-sized enterprises in surface transport projects. An EU-funded initiative worked to fulfil this need ahead of the upcoming European Commission 'Horizon 2020' research programme, which will call for 'smart, green and integrated transport'.

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The 'Services for SMEs in collaborative transport research projects' (SMART) project brought together a diverse range of stakeholders in the area of surface transport. These included private technology-transfer companies, public innovation agencies, regional small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) clusters, and large enterprises linked to regional clusters. Services supporting SME participation in research and technological development (RTD) under the European Transport Work Programme should include regional clusters from different countries, and facilitate networking and the creation of partnerships between SMEs and larger organisations. SMART sought to provide a basis for providing such services through a number of activities, and was largely successful in achieving its objectives. A website was launched as the main platform offering project services and a means of maintaining contact among network participants. It also provides information that can be used to exploit project results and keep the community going beyond the scope of the project. This is offered in the form of databases of organisations and funding opportunities, as well as through related tools. Various lessons learnt during the SMART project can be applied for increased and more effective SME participation in European surface transport research. Online events proved to be very useful in involving organisations in project activities, given that attending international events is prohibitive for many SMEs' budgets. Although SMEs in surface transport show a high degree of innovativeness in terms of research project ideas, the challenge lies in matching these with specific calls. As such, a shift to bottom-up funding schemes would enable greater participation within the specific transport area. This would also help SMEs access networks of large enterprises and generate interest in the latter group of the added value of SME involvement in RTD projects. SMART activities also highlighted the effectiveness of online collaborative tools and networks for sharing ideas and projects, and fostering open innovation. Furthermore, such tools can be used to support SMEs in putting forward their ideas and joining large projects. Results of the SMART project and their strategic exploitation have the potential to boost research activities that will translate to significant benefits for the continent's citizens as surface transport continues to expand and impact daily life.

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