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Just after a decisive discussion on the renewal of the innovation programme EURIPDES, Research Europe met the Cluster’s chairman Jean-Luc Maté, in Brussels.
The discussion went well, he says, and officials from most of the participating countries are expected to make positive reports to their governments. If all goes to plan, they will put a combined €700 million to €800m on the table to fund EURIPIDES between 2013 and 2020.
EURIPIDES is one of seven so-called clusters overseen by EUREKA, an intergovernmental organisation founded in 1985 to boost industrial R&D and innovation in Europe. EUREKA clusters unite public and private bodies to enable the development of products in a strategic area—in EURIPIDES’ case the integration of micro-devices and smart electronic systems.
Since 2006, EURIPIDES has involved organisations from 17 EUREKA countries, including Canada and South Korea, which recently joined as associated countries. More than 30 per cent of participants are small businesses, 40 per cent are large companies and another 28 per cent are research organisations.
A typical EURIPIDES project is worth €5m over three years, with partners from two or three EUREKA countries. “Some of the best include a complete value chain in the most readable way possible,” Maté says. This could be, for instance, a lab or other technology provider teaming up with a manufacturer who will integrate the technology in a product, and a user who will buy the end result. “What we want to do is industrialise results, making it possible to manufacture innovative components,” Maté explains. This requires boosting the development of machinery and making sure that the final products meet a market need. “Typically, a superior product will be lighter and smaller than existing ones. It will consume less energy and be able to communicate with other devices,” he says.
EURIPIDES projects are supposed to have a short-term, modest focus, but Maté says they can offer a great return on funding. “If you consider a government’s overall R&D budget, EUREKA represents a small part. But it is very efficient compared to other tools.” Maté recalls an example of a successful EURIPIDES project that brought tangible change at his own company, Continental, which manufactures automotive components. “We developed a sensor that can analyse the physical-chemical properties of fuel,” Maté says. “An infrared spectrometer could become so small and so cheap that it could leave the lab to be installed in a pump or a motorbike tank to control the quality of fuel,” he adds.
A vehicle equipped with such a “smart tank” could then adjust its injection system according to the fuel’s properties to avoid overconsumption, for instance. “It did change our company’s ambitions. We gained the knowhow that made us do things differently,” Maté says.
EUREKA clusters are distinct from other European funding programmes. Joint Technology Initiatives, for example, are also public-private partnerships in strategic areas, but Maté says the difference with clusters is clear. “JTIs are big machines; large, structuring projects to remove roadblocks. We come in once these technological barriers are removed.”
Also, clusters are not funded centrally by the European Commission but directly by EUREKA member countries. Each project participant receives money from its respective country, according to national rules.
Therefore, Maté says, EURIPIDES is simpler and faster than most Commission-funded programmes. While Framework 7 procedures are complex and sometimes impersonal, clusters adopt a more encouraging, community-
based approach, he explains. “It’s not about ranking a collection of projects, each proposal is considered individually. Is it feasible? Do we need a preliminary study first? We help project holders to lower their level of risk and have better chances to succeed.”
However, this doesn’t mean that EURIPIDES lacks ambition or that funding is easy to get, Maté adds. Applicants have to convince the cluster’s experts as well as their national funders. “For example, they have to show their government that a given innovation will increase their market share and enable them to create jobs.”
Although EURIPIDES remains distinct from the EU’s funding machinery, Maté says he is pleased that the Commission wants to pay more attention to close-to market innovation and product development under Horizon 2020. “[EU programmes] used to be shy about using the word ‘manufacturing’, and remained focused on pre-competitive activities. Now things are changing.”