As part of the European programme Horizon 2020, which has allocated € 70 billion for research and innovation, Sapienza Innovazione, a promoter of high tech companies born in 2006, and Management Innovation, a society founded in 2008 that works in innovation consulting, have recently set up a SME (Small and Medium Sizes Enterprises) help desk in support of SMEs that want to innovate. This help desk is called Sportello PMI, and it accepts the European definition of SME: it must be independent, engaged into economic activities, it must have less than 250 employees and have an annual turnover less than 50 million Euro or a balance sheet total under 43 million Euro.
Unlike previous programming, the European Commission has sought to promote Small and Medium Enterprises reserving these for as much as 20% of the total budget. Actually, there are two main sources of funding for SMEs. The first consists in a specific budget for all projects involved in Horizon 2020. SMEs can participate in collaborative projects with Corporations, Research Centers or Italian and European universities and Europe gives them the 13% of the budget. A second opportunity is given by the so-called SMEs Instrument, which allocates 7% of the entire budget of H2020 only to SMEs. It consists of 2.8 billion euros for SMEs in the 2014-20 programming, and enterprises can also submit proposals on their own and not necessarily in cooperation with other European SMEs.
However, even if European Commission encouraged SMEs innovators, a good idea is not enough. Projects, not ideas, make the difference. This is the reason why SMEs help desk was born: to led companies that want to innovate towards the realization of their project.
The help desk has several objectives: first of all, it wants to help small enterprises to identify innovations that will improve their competitive position; secondly, developing strategies for the medium/long term perspective in order to increase companies' business. Furthermore, through this tool, enterprises can integrate their skills with other companies through the Association of Enterprise Networks, which allows them to learn about financial resources to fund themselves.
Companies could submit their proposals about several topics: from Aerospace ICT technologies to Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials for biomarkers and diagnostic devices; from the eco-food production to low carbon energy systems, up to innovative systems in transportation.
After the application, the partners of the project will provide the best available resources to implement the proposals to the European Commission, and they accompany SMEs during all stages of submission of the grant application. All for free. Because “Innovation is not just technology”, argues Emilio Sassone Corsi, from Management Innovation. “Innovation is culture”.
There are three phases of the SMEs Instrument, and they follow this path: idea – business coaching – market.
Phase 1: Concept and feasibility assessment. During this phase, which represents 10% of the budget, companies build their first business plan where their idea takes place for the first time. It can last up to six months and aims to study the strengths and weaknesses of the idea, in order to build the second version of the business plan.
Phase 2: Research & Development, demonstration and market replication. This period, which lasts between 12 and 24 months and uses 88% of the whole budget, is devoted to test and scale up the prototype, in order to make the project ready for the commercialization.
Phase 3: Commercialization. During this last phase, which represents the 2% of the funding, companies are supported to promote their project and to facilitate access to private finance.
The open call of the Phase 1 and 2 started on March 1st but the work will proceed until the end of 2015. The topics of the calls expiring in 2014 are the following:
- · ICT-37-2014-1: Open Disruptive Innovation Scheme (implemented through the SME instrument)
- · NMP-25-2014-1: Accelerating the uptake of nanotechnologies, advanced materials or advanced manufacturing and processing technologies by SMEs
- · BG-12-2014-1: Supporting SMEs efforts for the development - deployment and market replication of innovative solutions for blue growth
- · SIE-01-2014-1: Stimulating the innovation potential of SMEs for a low carbon energy system
- · IT-1-2014-1: Small business innovation research for Transport
- · SC5-20-2014-1: Boosting the potential of small businesses for eco-innovation and a sustainable supply of raw materials
- · DRS-17-2014-1: Critical infrastructure protection topic 7: SME instrument topic: “Protection of Urban soft targets and urban critical infrastructures”
- · BIOTEC-5a-2014-1: SME boosting biotechnology-based industrial processes driving competitiveness and sustainability