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In the frame of the EU Innovation Convention 2014, EUREKA together with TAFTIE the European Association of leading national innovation agencies, organised a fringe session entitled SMEs in the European Innovation Area: how can we help them grow?
An audience of more than 100 participants mainly from national funding bodies, SMEs and innovation multipliers attended the session.
In a fresh approach using experts' video messages and experience guest speakers the well known Danish talk show presenter, Martin Krasnik confronted SMEs, National Funding Body representatives, EU Institutions and on their capacity to guide SMEs through the process of project funding application, their administration of innovation programmes and their ability to turn SMEs into market successes. A current subtheme of the fringe session was the coordination of national sources of R&D funding, as more than 90% of public funding available in Europe for R&D is still being handled and distributed on a purely national level.
While the usefulness of project application ghost writers was put into question, it was clear to all panellists that the current landscape of innovation funding in Europe is too complex for an SME or even a civil servant in the innovation sector to grasp in its entirety, which has had the effect of producing an aversion for public funding programmes in middle-sized companies.
Difficulties inherent to the funding of transnational projects including partners from different countries were also discussed, particularly as regards the possibility to manage short time-to-contract for SMEs. While all parties involved were in favour of faster time-to-contract – the period of time between the reception of an application for funding and the signature of a contract with a funding authority – it was also clear for institutional participants that this would be possible only at the expense of the quality of the evaluation of applying projects.
Some experts noted that this might result in a bad investment of tax-payer’s money. Representatives from funding bodies at European level however acknowledged that time-to-contract for international R&D projects has been historically long but that lowering it will require political will in order to cut on financial checking and administrative red-tape.
Another topic of debate was the valley of death as referred to the moment between which a company launching an innovative product stops being funded and reaches the market. While in other parts of the world this is compensated by the profusion of venture capital, low use of such type of financing in Europe seems to call for a compensation from the public sector, according to the disputants.