The final evaluation of the Eurostars Joint Programme for the period 2008-2013 is now available on the European Commission’s website. The evaluation was performed by an independent expert group, chaired by Ms. Makarow, vice-president of the Academy of Finland. The objective of the report was to evaluate the results of the programme during its seven-year course under FP7, and notably Eurostars’ impact on its main target group: R&D-performing SMEs.
R&D-performing SMES benefitted in the funding and support offered to them in many ways:
· For such companies, the employment growth rate was nearly twice as high as that of similar non-funded companies. This resulted in the creation of approximately 8000 jobs;
· the Eurostars programme also caused participating SMEs to have significantly increased innovative outputs, as measured by patent filings - 42% higher according to the report;
· 70% of the firms rated the importance of Eurostars with regard to improved management skills as medium or high;
· Eurostars supported new partnerships between SMEs in Europe, which 90% of SMEs expect to be continued after the project and even more will be continued even if funding is not gained;
· about 50% of the awardees stated that the Eurostars grant had high or medium importance for getting better access to external financial resources;
· and last but not least: almost 80% of awardees indicated that the Eurostars grant had a high or medium importance with respect to increased recognition or reputation of their firm.
A total of 783 funded projects stemmed from an astounding 11,733 applicants in the programme’s 10 calls - an unexpected and blasting success for one of the first experiments in joint programming between the EU and national governments. “We expected to receive around 150 applications a year and fund around 40 projects. But we ended up with 600-700 applications and 150 projects annually!” Explains former EUREKA Chairwoman Kristin Danielsen.
The joint programme's virtual common pot has proven to work well and has provided an incentive for national governments to increase their budgets for Eurostars. Key to the operation of the programme, the speed and objectivity of its central evaluation process is praised by all governing and administrative bodies involved in Eurostars.
Positive for project participants, the EUREKA Secretariat, National Funding Bodies and Natrional Project Coordinators have demonstrated their willingness and ability to shorten the time-to-contract, the procedure leading to a contract on a grant between companies and public funding bodies. The average time-to-contract has gone down significantly from 458 days in cut-off 1 to 213 days in cut-off 10.
For Robert-Jan Smits, Director General Research and Innovation at the European Commission, “Eurostars is a success story of cooperation between the European Commission and EUREKA.” In fact, the success of the programme was such that the European Commission together with 34 EUREKA countries participating in the Eurostars programme committed to €1.14 billion for the funding and operations of the Eurostars-2 SME programme under Horizon 2020. A budget about three times higher than the original financial plan outlined for Eurostars under the Framework Programme Seven.
Some of the main objectives of Eurostars-2, building up on the evaluation’s recommendations, will be to continue the harmonisation and synchronisation of national rules and to further shorten ‘time-to-contract.
The two first calls of Eurostars-2 have already taken place in 2014 and the currently running call will end on 5 March 2015, allowing European R&D SMEs to continue reaping the benefits of one of the best innovation support tools currently available to them.