Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent the engine room of Europe’s growth. They account for 99% of businesses and provide 75 million jobs within the European Union. As such, they represent an important building block in strengthening the EU’s knowledge-based bio-economy. Under the EUREKA funding scheme, which joins the forces of several European countries, the Eurostars Programme – the first support and funding programme specifically dedicated to research- and innovation-performing SMEs – will be launched.
The EUREKA Initiative has long advocated for the support of SMEs. In creating the Eurostars Programme, EUREKA wanted to target and support ambitious and innovative SMEs operating on the international market. More specifically, Eurostars is dedicated to research-performing SMEs, enterprises that invest 10% or more of FTE or turnover in their research activities.
Eurostars will be centrally managed and receive financial backing from both national funding bodies and the European Union through the Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7). The programme has also adopted the EC’s guidelines for the definition of an SME. This definition includes an enterprise that is autonomous, has fewer than 250 employees, and has an annual turnover that does not exceed EUR 50 million.
As with standard EUREKA projects, the project consortium must be international, and comprise participants from at least two EUREKA member countries. Each participating EUREKA country will have a dedicated budget (this funding will only be directed if a proposal is accepted as a Eurostars project) and be administered by an international non-profit organisation. The programme’s first application closing date is 3 December 2007.
Currently, the 27 countries actively participating in the Eurostars programme through the EUREKA network are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
Eurostars will be inaugurated on 2 October by keynote presentations by EU Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potočnik, Slovenian Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology Jure Zupan, and Emmanuel Leprince, chairman of the European Federation of High Tech SMEs. An open forum will then be moderated by Pierre-Alain Urisar, founder of the European Grand Prix for Innovation.
The event, titled ‘A new ERA for SME research and innovation’, will engage leading policymakers, industry experts and stakeholders in a programme focused on the opportunities and challenges facing the entrepreneurial stars of the future. It will be hosted by the Slovenian chairmanship of EUREKA, a pan-European network created in 1985 for market-oriented industrial research and development.
By encouraging and assisting businesses to innovate, the EUREKA Initiative complements the European Union’s Framework Programme in working actively towards the common European objective of raising investment in R&D to 3% of GDP by 2010.