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European Network to Support the Sustainable Surface Transport SMEs

Final Report Summary - STAR-NET TRANSPORT (European network to support the sustainable surface transport SMEs)

Executive summary:

European Small and medium enterprise (SME)s are facing huge difficulties to be competitive in a global economy in particular on such a dynamic sector as surface transport where energy and environmental problems are forcing huge changes in the near future. During the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) the European Commission (EC) recognised that there were a number of financial and legal barriers to SME participation in FP7. As a consequence, many of these have been removed, including an increase in funding to 75 %, removal of both the bank guarantee requirement and of 'joint and several' financial liability, as well as a financial audit threshold that most SMEs would fall under. However, there are also non-financial barriers and this can be due to the perception of large companies and research organisations which coordinate or lead in the preparation of the majority of proposals.

Although it is widely believed that European SMEs have significant technological capabilities and can even lead in introducing innovations within the transport sectors, there is a perception that SMEs are incorporated into proposals to satisfy evaluation criteria, rather than for what they can contribute positively to the project. Consequently, although the 15 % targets are met within this sub-priority, much of this participation is by way of providing services to the project, e.g. providing project management, dissemination activities and Information and communication technology (ICT) expertise, rather than as valuable research collaborators or end-users capable of exploitation.

The strategic objective of the STAR-NET TRANSPORT project is to increase the participation of surface transport-related SMEs in the SST programme of EC. The project intended to take the first step towards the design and development of a consolidated structure to support European SMEs participation in SST activities, building on the knowledge, tools and services developed by the consortium on some of the most relevant FP6-SUSTDEV support actions over the recent years. The project addressed the objective 'SST.2007.6.1 Stimulating participation of SMEs. Concrete actions were taken to stimulate, encourage and facilitate the participation of SMEs and their clusters in the research activities of the programme, particularly in projects addressing activity 7.2.5 of sustainable surface transport - 'Strengthening competitiveness'.

The approach taken by the STAR-NET TRANSPORT to stimulate SME participation was to build a supporting network to provide value-added services to the surface transport SMEs. The network includes 16 experienced partners from fourteen European countries that have participated actively on previous FP6 projects and includes from transport associations, consulting firms and European Union (EU) national contact points to universities and industrial clusters. These different backgrounds and experiences in previous projects together (along with the lessons learned and tools developed) were merged into a consolidated framework of services to support the process from partner search to proposal writing and submission.

The support action will rely on:

- organisation of 14 national events in partners countries to involve SMEs from the transport field;
- organisation of 3 European level events with special focus on the EC-SST work programme;
- company visits to assess their technological potential and build profiles for dissemination;
- identification of project ideas and support to proposal writing.

Project context and objectives:

The STAR-NET TRANSPORT project addressed the following strategic objectives:

- To build an action plan for 'joint task force' based in the final or preliminary results of 5 FP6-SSAs dedicated to encourage the participation of SMEs into collaborative research projects. This action plan avoids duplication of work improving the quality of each supporting project; facilitate the integration of services as well as the impact of each individual project.
- To set up a network covering at least 16 European countries, selected within the countries with the highest potential within the SST sector and including partners from OMS, NMS and candidate countries, sharing a common identity, code of ethics, objectives and work methods and deploy a common working plan in each regional node country, under the supervision of the central unit, aiming at addressing a total of transport SMEs needs.
- Identify the barriers to SME (high tech and low tech) participation in SST collaborative projects and produce a set of recommendations to promote participation.
- To implement a full range of services and tools (available online using an innovative e-learning platform) for the animation, training, information sharing and deployment of the network services, available from a central unit built upon the experience and knowledge develop under current on-going FP6-SUSTDEV SSA projects.
- Identification of Science and technology (S&T) cooperation partnerships by using an online personal computer based tool to perform 'Technological audits', personalised to the characteristics of the SST sector, removing the key competences of European transport organisations and collecting profiles in terms of research capabilities and provide a characterisation of SMEs from low-tech to high-tech profile.
- Build transport European SMEs profiles and promote them to European transport key players in order to involve them in their transport supply chains.
- Facilitate the participation of European transport SMEs in FP7 and Competitiveness and innovation framework programme (CIP)s, using a simplified methodology to 'Write proposals' based on an online PC tool, named GiST that will be adapted to FP7 - Cooperation - Theme transport (SST) but also to:

i) FP7 - Ideas - Frontier research for SST;
ii) FP7 - People - Industry - Academia pathways and partnerships;
iii) FP7 - Capacities - Research for the benefit of SMEs and unlocking the research potential;
iv) CIP - Intelligent energy programme.

- To analyse the existing RTD SUSTDEV results in FP6 STREP, IPs, and CRAFTs projects and disseminate the research results to European transport SMEs.
- Prepare a European SST research agenda as support for definition of SMEs actions at European level. These agendas will be delivered to transport ETPs ERRAC and ERTRAC, but also to ACARE, MANUFUTURE and HFP.
- To launch the basis for the continuation of the network from 2010 onwards, based on a self-sustainable plan.

Project results:

Analysis of SME performance in the last FP6 and FP7 calls:
- 22 coordinators interviewed;
- 40 research results identified and disseminated (10 IPs, 30 STREPs and 10 CRAFTs projects).

Workshops on FP7 participations:
- 32 Local workshops organised;
- face-to-face meetings;
- participation in 4 international events.

SME involved activities:
- 420 company visits;
- 420 advise sessions;
- identification SMEs' competencies and ideas;
- more than 100 technological audits performed;
- more than 70 proposal ideas identified;
- more than 100 SMEs profiles built and disseminated;
- support to proposal submission;
- more than 30 proposals submitted to FP7 using STAR-NET assistance.

Potential impact:

For SMEs:
- enhance their participation in SST research activities;
- foster networking capacity;
- map their specific knowledge needs;
- develop standards, methodologies and smooth communication policies;
- connect companies with similar / complementary needs. Extend geographical coverage of technological alliances;
- implement and benefit of training programme.
- give expert advice for setting up interrelated communication systems and compatible database management structures (the web based tools and databases);
- provide key documentation;
- bring the SMEs perception on Research and development (R&D) activities to European level.

For the EU economy:
- increase employment rate among SMEs;
- strengthening competitiveness in transport sector;
- bring innovation to the Transport SMEs in Europe;
- raise the knowledge in ongoing research activities in European SMEs and research teams;
- enhance EU pre-competitive international cooperation through coordination of Member States' transport research programmes;
- bring together the actors of the knowledge triangle;
- improved information exchange and coordination will help to eliminate redundancy, increasing efficiency and confidence amongst the different European initiatives (ERA, FP7, Eureka, CIP)
- reinforce the role of SME in the R&D activities in European funding programmes;
- contribute to EU enlargement and strengthening of links by involving in the project a regional node from Turkey and from new member state countries;
- promote a more solid technological foundation in the SST area through European SMEs and research groups;
- contribute for the definition of strategies and roadmaps through the contact and the exchanges with the ETPs;
- contribute with recommendation based on the project experiences and on SMEs perception for the FP8 agenda.

Main dissemination and exploitation activities:

- Raise awareness on European transport activities by organising local and international level events.
- Dissemination of project results - participation in 4 European level conferences to present the project mid-term and final results. The project web-site has been set up for the online dissemination of project activities, public deliverables and news. Poster, leaflet, PowerPoint presentation has been realised to increase the visibility.
- Dissemination to key players in SST - the project results were presented to the SST ETPs, through specific link established by the consortium members with the mentioned ETP in order to guarantee a wider dissemination and visibility to the project results. Establishment of synergies with other networks or initiates that are acting on the same field were developed. The advisory council group supported all these tasks using high privilege position.
- Development of marketing plan and self-sustainable plan.
- Development of an SST research agenda based on the SMEs need identify during the project activities.

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