In the latest round, phase one, of the Horizon 2020 programme’s ‘SME Instrument’ which ended in June, Italian enterprises are way out front in terms of numbers of enterprises selected to benefit from a grant to assess feasibility of their ideas.
SME Instrument will see small and medium-sized businesses across Europe benefit from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation. The aim of the programme is to fill gaps in funding for early-stage, high-risk research and innovation being conducted by SMEs. The programme will target all types of innovative SMEs that show a strong intent to develop, expand and internationalise. This will cover all fields of science, technology and innovation as well, in what the EU describes as a bottom-up approach. The programme will aim to address societal challenges and enable industrial technology so as to leave room for various promising ideas, particularly cross-sector and inter-disciplinary projects, to receive funding. Support will be given to other types of innovative projects including those that non-technological, social and service-orientated as well.
In the first of three phases, SME projects are assessed to determine their technological and commercial potential. This will include dealing with the feasibility of the concept, risk assessment, IP regime, partner search, design study, pilot application intention and the second part of the business plan. You can read more about the programme here.
So far there have been five ‘rounds’ during phase one, in which SMEs have been selected to receive grants. According to Research Italy, the European Commission received 2,029 proposals in the latest selection round, of which 342 received an evaluation score above the application threshold, and 142 SMEs were selected. These spanned across 23 European countries, with Italy leading the way in terms of number of SMEs selected (35). There have now been 168 Italian SMEs in total selected for phase one of the programme, second behind Spain with 192, and followed by the UK with 121. A total of 958 SMEs have been selected since phase one began, spanning 32 European nations. Each SME will receive a €50,000 grant to assess the scientific and industrial feasibility of their innovative ideas and will also benefit from an opportunity to receive “business coaching.”
In phase two of the programme, the grant will be provided to undertake research and development, with emphasis on demonstration and market replication. This will include prototyping, testing, miniaturisation/design of products, and developing part three of a business plan.
The third phase of the programme will be the commercialisation phase. SMEs will be supported indirectly through simplified access to debt, equity financial instruments, and other measures such as IPR protection.
Horizon 2020 began in 2014 and will run until 2020, with a budget of around €80 billion. It combines research and innovation financing currently provided through the Framework Programmes for Research and Technical Development, the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme, and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. It is interesting to note that the three top recipients across the year, Spain, Italy and the UK, are more than doubly ahead of the next countries in the ranking, like Germany, France and the Netherlands, and these are ten-fold ahead of smaller countries like Croatia, Bulgaria and Luxembourg. Why should this be? Are there just less SMEs, or just less innovation? Surely it is these countries that would benefit from more ‘business coaching.”