Specific challenge: Innovation voucher programmes are well established support instruments for SMEs in many countries and regions in Europe. In a general way innovation voucher schemes can be characterised as small, lump-sum grants (typically below EUR 10.000) that support SMEs to contract universities, R&D service providers or private consultants to either conduct small innovation projects or to explore the feasibility of larger ones. In most innovation voucher schemes the innovation agency that has issued the voucher pays the invoice of a service provider after the SME has received the requested service. Innovation vouchers are used to establish an initial contact between knowledge institutions and SMEs and have proven to be a successful instrument to support the spin-in of technology and knowledge into SMEs' business practice. Most innovation voucher schemes are however limited to beneficiaries and service providers from a limited geographic area, which limits the possibility for transnational activities. Furthermore, the diversity of designs of voucher schemes sets barriers to cooperation between schemes.
In the 'Riga-Declaration' managers of innovation voucher programmes in the Member States have given recommendations for exploiting the full potential of innovation voucher programmes. Amongst other, the potential role of the European level, is described as follows:
""5. Innovation vouchers schemes should be implemented at local, regional and national level, thus fully taking into account the subsidiarity principle. The European level is encouraged to develop with national and regional entities a voluntary collaboration and brokerage framework for innovation voucher programmes that aims at making excellent knowledge, skills and innovation support services from both public and private service providers across Europe more effectively accessible for SMEs.""
The proposed action aims at establishing such a voluntary cooperation framework with the objective to achieve among participating schemes an automatic recognition of foreign European service providers at equal conditions to the national ones.
Scope:The proposed activities will assist the development of a European label for innovation voucher programmes that treat foreign European service providers equally to national ones. The systems to manage and award the label might provide services to participating managing entities of innovation voucher programmes which enhance the quality of delivery or manage the higher risks resulting from international opening of the schemes. Financial incentives, for example co-funding a limited number of initial transnational cooperation projects with knowledge institutions, might be provided within the limits set for the provisions of financial support to third parties in line with the conditions set out in part K of the General Annexes.
The Commission considers that a proposal requesting a contribution from the EU of around EUR 1 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of a proposal requesting another amount.
The action shall establish a European label for innovation voucher programmes that provides an open cooperation framework for the programmes established at local, regional and national level.
Participating programmes shall, as a minimum requirement, commit to treat foreign European service providers equal to those domestic ones and aim at a minimum of 5% of innovation vouchers used for cooperation outside the home country.
Increase the range and quality of services available to SMEs,
Enhance the opportunities of excellent researchers and other specialists to transfer their knowledge transnationally and accelerate the spin-in of technologies and knowledge.
Type of action: Coordination and support action
 See for example http://www.innovation.lv/ino2/publications/Riga_declaration.pdf