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'Innovate to transform' support for SME's sustainability transition (CSA)

Achieving European Green Deal objectives, and notably a climate neutral and resource efficient economy, requires the full mobilisation of SMEs. The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to companies redesigning their supply chains and facing a new industrial revolution, brought on by a new generation of advanced technologies[[ The Advanced Technologies for Industry project of the European Commission offers analytical overview of 16 advanced technologies: https://ati.ec.europa.eu/about/what-is-ati : Advanced Manufacturing Technology, Advanced Materials, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented and Virtual Reality, Big Data, Blockchain, Cloud Computing, Connectivity, Industrial Biotechnology, Internet of Things, Micro- and Nanoelectronics, Mobility, Nanotechnology, Photonics, Robotics and Security. European SMEs have shown a chronic lagging behind the US and China in the uptake of advanced technologies - See ATI reports from US and China about technology performance: China:https://ati.ec.europa.eu/reports/international-reports/report-china-technological-capacities-and-key-policy-measures; and US: https://ati.ec.europa.eu/reports/international-reports/report-united-states-america-technological-capacities-and-key-policy]], which are underpinning the potential for competitive sustainability of SMEs.

The action will build on and further connect existing EU specialised business support networks and centres – such as the Enterprise Europe Network, the European industry clusters registered under the European Cluster Collaboration Platform, Centres for Advanced Technologies for Industry. They will work in complementarity and close interaction with Open Innovation Test beds, European Digital Innovation Hubs, Start-up Europe etc., but also with academia, social partners and other social innovation actors.

This action will consist in:

A. Advisory services

Dedicated innovation and capacity building support will be provided to SMEs, to assess their ability to transform their business models and increase their resilience.

This will consist of an assessment of SMEs’ innovation and sustainability practices, elaboration of recommendations, notably in view of the uptake of advanced technologies and/or social innovations.

Based on these recommendations, SMEs could receive further advisory services according to their level of preparedness such as help and advice on proof of concept, investment readiness, intellectual property (in cooperation with EU funded IP support),[[https://intellectual-property-helpdesk.ec.europa.eu/index_en; https://intellectual-property-helpdesk.ec.europa.eu/horizon-ip-scan_en; https://euipo.europa.eu/ohimportal/en/online-services/ideas-powered-for-business]] technology transfer, adaptation to standards, adaptation to environmental rules, design management, skill development, partner search (including social partners). SMEs will receive targeted assistance for the uptake of advanced technologies.

Social innovation should be recommended when the solution is at the socio-technical interface and requires social change, new social practices, social ownership or market uptake.

This action will also include the set-up of a community, building on the SME Alliance projects, in which best practices should be exchanged and SMEs could benefit from dedicated peer-learning activities in order to learn from leaders (SMEs or larger corporates) of their own sector. Incentives for leaders to share their best practices with peers should be identified in the context of EU support to industrial ecosystems.

B. Financial support in the form of ‘Third party financing’

As a result of the advisory services and initial assessments, SMEs will receive financial support through calls for SMEs, to implement the elaborated recommendations.

This should support amongst other activities the financing of a feasibility study, prototyping, pilot testing, demonstrating, procurement of further specialised consultancy services and coaching services that cannot be provided directly by the project partners, adaptation of business processes, free access and support to use testing facilities, introduction of new IT solutions etc.

The Commission estimates that at least half of the budget should be allocated to financial support to SMEs in the form of third party financing.

In this topic the integration of the gender dimension (sex and gender analysis) in research and innovation content is not a mandatory requirement