11 Jul 2012   |   News

Horizon 2020: A larger role for SMEs

A new programme for SMEs aims to increase participation and success rates

Horizon 2020 has been designed to increase the role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Beyond the acknowledged need for SMEs to contribute to economic competitiveness and growth, the Parliament has called for further simplification and additional measures to give SMEs a more significant role under Horizon 2020. As part of Science|Business’ analysis of ITRE’s reports on Horizon 2020, this article summarises the Parliament’s position on the Commission’s expectation for SMEs in Horizon 2020.

Members of the Industry, Research and Energy committee (ITRE) have made a number of key suggestions:

  • Only SMEs may apply for calls listed under the new SME programme
  • Calls under this instrument should be open calls that emphasise a bottom-up approach towards the topic
  • The ‘time-to-contract’ under this instrument should not exceed six months
  • Provide SMEs with the ability to apply directly to phase 2
  • A single and dedicated budget linked to this instrument
  • A voucher given to SMEs applying directly to the second phase that would enable them to work individually or with a research partner of their choice from a member state

Both the Commission and the Parliament are satisfied with the new programme for SMEs.  It is designed to promote a greater role for SMEs in research and innovation by providing broader and simpler access to funds.  To pay for this, around 15 per cent of the budget of the "Societal challenges", and a portion of the "Industrial Leadership" have been proposed by the Commission, with the Parliament arguing for 15 per cent to be the absolute minimum and the setting of single budget.

The new instrument is built mostly on the US Small Business Innovation Research Programme (SBIR) which uses Federal funds to fill gaps in funding and encourages small domestic business to engage in research and development which has potential for commercialisation and is critical to US economic priorities.

Opportunities will be offered to SMEs of all stripes, including those that are high-tech, research driven, social and service oriented. Like SBIR, the dedicate SME instrument will cater to SMEs over the three main phases of the innovation cycle, while making it simple for them to have a seamless transition from one phase to the next after a review of progress.

Next steps

Shortly after the summer recess, the ITRE committee will meet again to discuss new amendments and are expected to bring the final reports up for a committee vote in the autumn. New proposals are expected to surface and some of the existing ones might be altered or could disappear altogether. Parliament will have to reach an agreement with its co-legislator, the Council of Ministers, in time for Horizon 2020 to go live on the 1st of January, 2014. It is expected that negotiations will last well into the summer of 2013. As the new SME programme constitutes one of the larger and most eagerly anticipated novelties in Horizon 2020, this will be an interesting debate to keep an eye on.

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