Support for SMEs participating in Research and Technological Development (RTD) activities related to Galileo, GMEs and space telecom-based services
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a key role in delivering more growth and jobs in the European Union. We must help them by creating the right conditions to thrive and by promoting a culture so that more people start up their own companies. From November 2003 to October 2005, the Navobs specific support action aimed at enhancing the participation of SMEs to the RTD programmes of Thematic Area 4 related to the GMES and Space Telecom satellites. Three key ambitions were set in November 2003: - to pick the best of SME inventiveness to detect innovative applications which could significantly reinforce the business prospects of GMES or telecom-based services; - to assist SMEs in building R&D projects for EC support, with the aim to accelerate the development of such innovative applications through access to FP6 funding; - to become an added value interface between these SMEs and the major space players to reinforce the coherence of their R&D projects when making us of the present or future satellite infrastructure capabilities. The Navobs consortium, led by the Wallonia Space Incubator, was made of 19 organisations, belonging for most of them lo Esinet, the European Network of Space Incubators. They joined to implement four concurrent processes in order to meet the above ambitions: - an assessment of SMEs RDT needs for the development, at a European scale, of new and innovative services using satellite generated data or transmission capabilities; - the detection of RDT projects being prepared by large industrial organisations in line with the EC Priority 4 calls for tenders, and requesting SME contributions; - a selection procedure for the most promising projects, involving interactions between the incubators, the expert partners and an advisory group. This selection procedure paid attention both with the Integrated projects under preparation and the SMEs capabilities with a view to find the most appropriate financing mechanisms to exploit the knowledge gained about innovative services with EC support; - a support process to proposal building using SMEs ideas where single RDT proposals were presented to Integrated Project consortia and full collaborative research proposals were presented to the EC. The NAVOBS results are in line with the Navobs contractual objective, leading to an observable amplification of SME participation to RTD proposals. 1. A community of more than 150 SMEs, active in the development of service activities downstream the satellite telecommunication, earth observation and navigation facilities, has been given birth within the Navobs project (please see the Navobs database on http://www.navobs.com). The 150 SMEs registered within the Navobs database provide a broad and comprehensive mix of skills which largely complement the ones which were needed to create the GMES and Satcoms infrastructures. As a matter of fact, a large majority of them have business activities in non space related businesses. They thus bring innovative application ideas from outside the space sector, as pictured in the innovation matrix below. These innovative services can be: - market-oriented: SMEs then start from a service that they have already developed for their customers based on current non space technologies, and propose improvements that make use of satellite capabilities; - technology-based: SMEs then start from innovative technologies that they have developed for ground use, and propose to expand the capabilities of already developed space based services using such innovative technologies. 2. 54 SMEs were integrated into RDT projects consortia (either STREPs or IP) with the support of Navobs (with some SMEs joining both IP and STREP proposals): - 16 in 7 lPs, which were selected from 80 elementary RTD ideas brought by SMEs; - 44 in 11 STREPs that were supported almost from scratch during the building phase. As evidenced by the above figures, Navobs believes that SMEs have strong difficulties in promoting their own ideas of services during the bidding process for the Sixth Framework Programme. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, it has been most difficult for SMEs working on their own to identify potential IP leaders, let alone engage them in meaningful discussions concerning the scope of their proposed IP programme and where the SME may fit in or identify a standalone project to develop innovative services. Secondly, most potential IP leaders generally have their own SME supply chain which it is difficult for lone SMEs to break into. Even though Navobs has been effective in gaining access to potential IP leaders and in leveraging SME participation in IPs (as is evidenced by the above figures), it has not been so successful with regard to helping SMEs to identify project gaps or opportunities for bidding complementary actions. IP leaders prefer SMEs to enter take-up actions rather than for promoting innovative development work. In other words, when called to participate to Integrated Projects, SMEs are usually asked to absorb innovations developed by the consortium reactively, through take-up actions. They don't have really the opportunity to develop proactively their own idea of service. Last, but not least, Navobs demonstrated that STREP projects are seen today as the most adequate FP6 instrument for supporting leading SMEs willing to explore new ideas of services on a specific target market. But, it was very difficult during the consortium building/proposal preparation period for a lone SME or group of SMEs - even supported by Navobs - to obtain a sufficiently comprehensive view of the scope of activity being proposed to be sure of identifying a project that, in the eyes of the Commission will fit beneticially within the final overall programme. Navobs has introduced a severe 'idea seIection' process to encourage only 11 promising STREPs. But there are still promising ideas that have not even reached the proposal stage, since they were not judged mature enough to meet the Commission selection rules. As a result, dozens of promising ideas brought by SMES have been left aside. 3. The Navobs support action has developed and used networking tools which makes the web based Navobs platform the market glace of SMEs acting as GMES or Satcom service providers and/or end-users. - The Brussels workshops held in April 2005 led to several partnership agreements between the Navobs SMEs and existing GMES or Satcoms service providers. - The coupling of SMEs with IP leaders which cover Satcom and GMES services has catalysed the creation of a few SME groupings willing to implement bundled products that no single SMEs would have promoted alone. - The web-based platform has initiated several cross fertilisation actions between SMEs discussing their existing GMES-based businesses: some of them have already been connected to propose packaged RTD projects to reach international markets. 4. Regional incubators have revealed to be key in acting as 'innovation catalysers': they provided ad hoc awareness workshop, at regional and international levels to show the opportunities to be expected from space in the development of future innovative services.