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EU Funding Helps SMEs Plan For Uncertain Futures

An on-line toolset that can help give an insight into the future and what it may mean for business is set to help SMEs (Small and Medium sized enterprises).

Developed as part of the ESPLANADE project, with the help of a grant of around 1m from the European Union's Framework Programme, the tools provide the opportunity for SMEs to prepare for the uncertainties of the future by using a scenario or what if approach. This provides the context for users to develop new strategies, and consider how robust their existing plans are, against a range of possible events or changes within the business and its markets. By adopting a scenario planning approach you can gain an insight into the future and what it may mean for your business, says project manager Douglas Mackenzie of QinetiQ. A better understanding of possible futures can be a source of competitive advantage if you are more alert and able to respond to changes in your business environment quicker than your competitors. The scenario-planning tool gives you the opportunity you to develop a portfolio of possible future scenarios and explore the strategic uncertainties in your business area. These scenarios can be used for a number of purposes to help develop new or test existing strategies, develop contingency plans, support specific decisions, explore the impact of a particular issue such as industry regulation, and more generally facilitate discussions about the future of your business. The tool could also be used as part of team building seminars, to communicate a "vision" or build a consensus. The objective of the ESPLANADE project was to develop a set of internet-based tools to support SMEs with strategy development. The toolset is made up of three separate but complimentary parts:, ,· Scenario planning tool - to help SMEs develop scenarios to explore key issues in their business sectors or test new strategies for robustness; ,· Business planning tool - to develop coherent business plans; ,· Data search tool - using intelligent agents to automatically search the internet on a regular basis to deliver smaller volumes of the most relevant information according to a constantly refined search profile. FP6 attaches great importance to the participation of Small to Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs), says Jane Watkins, FP6UK National Contact Point for Specific SME Activities. It is widely recognised that they play a crucial role in competitiveness and job creation within the EU. Our experience shows that SMEs are a source of dynamism and change in new markets, particularly those at the leading edge of technology. The current Framework Programme (FP6) runs until 2006 and organisations wanting free, easy to access, information on the 19bn of funding available to support internationally collaborative R&D should log on to http://fp6uk.ost.gov.uk or call central telephone support on 0870 600 6080., ,The ESPLANADE project has initially focused on 6 industry sectors - biotechnology (applied to food production and medicine), pharmaceuticals (specifically orphan drugs), renewable energies and environmental development, water treatment, industrial automation and robotics and textiles. The tools are available through a simple registration process at http://www.esplanade-portal.net where users can also access a range of other information, including discussion forums, sector news and assistance and guidance from ESPLANADE Partners in 5 countries.The EU's Framework Programmes are the worlds largest, publicly funded, research and technological development programmes. The Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) covers the period 2002-2006 and is the European Unions main instrument for the funding of collaborative research and innovation. It is open to public and private entities of all sizes in the EU and a number of non-EU countries. It has an overall budget of 19 billion. Most of the budget for FP6 is devoted to work in seven priority thematic areas:,? Life sciences, Genetics and Biotechnology for Health;,? Information Society Technologies;,? Nanotechnologies and Nanosciences, Knowledgebased Multifunctional Materials and New Production Processes and Devices;,? Aeronautics and Space;,? Food Quality and Safety;,? Sustainable Development, Global Change and Ecosystems; and,? Citizens and Governance in a Knowledge-based Society. There is also a focus on the research activities of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) across all seven thematic areas. The services of FP6UK are funded by the Office of Science & Technology (OST) / Department of Trade & Industry (DTI). More information can be found on http://fp6uk.ost.gov.uk Specific SME Activities,The Sixth Framework Programme for Research (FP6) attaches great importance to the participation of SMEs. At least 15% of the budget (approximately 1,700 million euros) relating to the Priority Thematic Areas of the FP6 is to be dedicated to SMEs. There are also two dedicated schemes for SMEs Co-operative research and Collective research which has a total of 430m. The next call deadline for Co-operative research is on 21st October 2004 with a budget of 75m. For Collective the next deadline is 6th April (Stage 1) with a budget of 41m.

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