SMEs to benefit from new Eurostars programme, MEPs told

Promising small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Europe are set to gain from the new Eurostars funding programme, which is dedicated to helping them quickly develop and market new
products and services, speakers at a mini-hearing on the Eurostars programme told MEPs on 24 January.

The Eurostars programme was set up by the EUREKA intergovernmental network to stimulate European entrepreneurship. Aimed specifically at a niche market of research and innovation performing
SMEs, Eurostars will support their bids to lead international collaborative research and development (R&D) efforts.

The EU’s Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7) will bring ?100 million to the table, whilst the EUREKA network of 22 EU Member States and five Associated Countries will jointly provide
another ?300 million. In turn, the private sector is expected to match these sums with an additional ?400 million.

Under Eurostars, participating countries will pool their national programmes and research funding, resulting in a better and more efficient use of funds to support SMEs hoping to exploit the
results of their research.

There is a target of 560 projects over a period of six years. Each project (comprising a consortium of up to three partners) should receive ?1.5 million on average and benefit from streamlined
procedures, explained Luuk Borg from the EUREKA Secretariat.

‘We have to make funding transparent and unbureaucratic,’ he said. ‘Bureaucracy is often caused by too many participants,’ Mr Borg continued, explaining that Eurostars projects will have ‘a
leading SME finding its own friends, doing the research and getting the product on to the market as soon as possible’.

‘SMEs have a key role and are the source of innovation for research activities, but there are still too few companies which have their own research and which are growing to big global actors,’
said Slovenian Minister for Higher Education Science and Technology, Mojca Kucler Dolinar.

‘We want to create all conditions possible to make investment in science and technology logical and needed,’ said EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik. He told MEPs that SMEs had
applied for about ?627 million in FP7 research funding in 2007.

‘We look at Eurostars and we find exactly what we need as SMEs,’ said Martijn de Lange of ACE Associated Computer, a research-driven SME.

‘The big pain for SMEs is getting from the idea to the product,’ he explained, adding that his company needs seven years to develop new products and another five for commercial payback.

The European Parliament is expected to approve the Eurostars programme at first reading in the co-decision procedure. The first projects to receive funding under the new programme could start
as soon as June 2008.

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