"In a Roman galley the centurion tells the slaves:
- I have two news for you, one is good and one is bad. Which one do you want first?
- The good one! The good one first!
- Julius Caesar will come to our galley today. For this reason you will have a special breakfast, with coffee and toasts.
- Hurra! And what is the other new?
- He is coming to do water skiing."
The new European framework programme for supporting R&D and Innovation, Horizon 2020, has now taken off. For the first time, it integrates Research and Technology Development with Innovation, setting as one priority the real use and market uptake of technologies to be developed.
Somehow it is a change in direction and, as part of it, a new instrument has been created, specifically focussed in supporting innovation driven by SMEs as the back-bone of the Economy. It has been called Instrument for SMEs.
The Instrument for SMEs is imported from the USA, where since the 80s something very similar is used: SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research).
For us it is really a great new. It is the first time we have an instrument of this nature in Europe, completely focussed in the launching of new products or business models, and more adjusted to the reality of SMEs. More agile and flexible, with lower administrative burden, with no compulsory partners and for the impulse of businesses of international scope.
But, as in jokes, there is also a "bad new", that in this case are several:
- The thematic focus. In spite of the fact that the instrument is given rather flexibility, thematic focus for these projects is not completely open to SMEs to decide. In the end, the budget for the Instrument for SMEs comes mostly from the specific focus areas of Horizon 2020 (concrete Key Enabling Technologies and Social Challenges), and therefore it is only possible to submit ideas that fit into one of them.
- "Forgetting" micro-SMEs, as are most of technology-based start-ups, since the most important criteria for assessing the capacity of the applicant SMEs for developing the market opportunity and international growth potential they propose will be their present size.
- It is still slow. It is expected that selected projects for Phase 1 will be able to start 2 months from the cut-off closer to the sending of the appication by the SME, and 6 months for the launching of Phase 2 projects. Considering cut-offs will happen each 3-6 months, this can mean to have to wait for 9 months or even a year, and this can be too long for an entrepeneurial initiative of high potential. Furthermore, there can be gaps between the first and the second phase.
- The great difference with SBIR. In the USA the main objective of Phase 3 is leveraging public procurement of innovation, almost guaranteeing the uptake of market penetration with a first big client acting as tractor of demand: The American Public Administration. In Europe it will be hard to achieve this promotion of markets.
In spite of all this, it is a great opportunity for European SMEs to get support for their launching of new products and creation of new markets. Let's take it and start dreaming!!
Eva García Muntión, 09/02/2014