"In a Roman galley the centurion tells the slaves:
- I have two news for you, one is good and one is bad. Which one do you want first?
- The good one! The good one first!
- Julius Caesar will come to our galley today. For this reason you will have a special breakfast, with coffee and toasts.
- Hurra! And what is the other new?
- He is coming to do water skiing."
The new European framework programme for supporting R&D and Innovation, Horizon 2020, has now taken off. For the first time, it integrates Research and Technology Development with Innovation, setting as one priority the real use and market uptake of technologies to be developed.
Somehow it is a change in direction and, as part of it, a new instrument has been created, specifically focussed in supporting innovation driven by SMEs as the back-bone of the Economy. It has been called Instrument for SMEs.
The Instrument for SMEs is imported from the USA, where since the 80s something very similar is used: SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research).
For us it is really a great new. It is the first time we have an instrument of this nature in Europe, completely focussed in the launching of new products or business models, and more adjusted to the reality of SMEs. More agile and flexible, with lower administrative burden, with no compulsory partners and for the impulse of businesses of international scope.
But, as in jokes, there is also a "bad new", that in this case are several:
- The thematic focus. In spite of the fact that the instrument is given rather flexibility, thematic focus for these projects is not completely open to SMEs to decide. In the end, the budget for the Instrument for SMEs comes mostly from the specific focus areas of Horizon 2020 (concrete Key Enabling Technologies and Social Challenges), and therefore it is only possible to submit ideas that fit into one of them.
- "Forgetting" micro-SMEs, as are most of technology-based start-ups, since the most important criteria for assessing the capacity of the applicant SMEs for developing the market opportunity and international growth potential they propose will be their present size.
- It is still slow. It is expected that selected projects for Phase 1 will be able to start 2 months from the cut-off closer to the sending of the appication by the SME, and 6 months for the launching of Phase 2 projects. Considering cut-offs will happen each 3-6 months, this can mean to have to wait for 9 months or even a year, and this can be too long for an entrepeneurial initiative of high potential. Furthermore, there can be gaps between the first and the second phase.
- The great difference with SBIR. In the USA the main objective of Phase 3 is leveraging public procurement of innovation, almost guaranteeing the uptake of market penetration with a first big client acting as tractor of demand: The American Public Administration. In Europe it will be hard to achieve this promotion of markets.
In spite of all this, it is a great opportunity for European SMEs to get support for their launching of new products and creation of new markets. Let's take it and start dreaming!!
Eva García Muntión, 09/02/2014
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. (Steve Jobs)
When I first told my acquaintance that I wanted to open my own consultancy firm in European projects management in my home country, I have been told: “Are you crazy? Italy, a land of paperwork and taxes.” They are right, it is true: in Italy the burden of bureaucracy and taxes stifles entrepreneurship, leaving it prisoner in a cage of rules.
My peers, who would like to open up new business desist from doing so: even today, a disproportionate number of rules and formalisms are the first obstacle for those who decide to challenge the market. It is for this reason that the phenomenon of "youth entrepreneurship" has partly failed. Heralded as a miracle cure against unemployment and the opportunity to jump "on our own " in the labor market, this phenomenon got the wrong message that doing business is an easily attainable objective. But it is not: the marginal tax rate on business income in Italy is 32%, compared with a European average of 23.5% and the average tax burden on profits is 22.9% against a 12% of the rest of the European community .
For young people doing business is a challenge. And in Italy even more. This is well known by the European institutions, in particular by the DG Enterprise and Industry which has created an ad hoc program for young entrepreneurs: Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs, which in the new Framework Programme Horizon 2020 (2014-2020) is called the Transfer of Business.
To use the definition of the European Commission, Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs is a cross-border exchange program which gives new or aspiring entrepreneurs the chance to learn from experienced entrepreneurs running small businesses in other Participating Countries. The exchange of experience takes place during a stay with the experienced entrepreneur, which helps the new entrepreneur acquire the skills needed to run a small firm.
Europe needs to boost and stimulate an entrepreneurial culture and environment in which small firms can be created, thrive and expand. European companies should be encouraged to make full use of the opportunities offered by the European market. Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs can make a difference by:
- Increasing the number of start- ups and boosting their resilience.
- Fostering cross-border transfers of knowledge and cooperation between small firms.
- Helping small firms to innovate and go international.
- Creating jobs.
These are the exact reasons why I decided to learn how to run a micro-enterprise. I have embarked on this journey, which took me to Spain - Madrid - knowing that I am risking the certainty for the uncertainty to follow my dream.
But what I have found in RTDI is much more than I expected. During these 6 months I have learnt a lot: I have deepen the technical ability to write proposals; I have learnt something about the management of the company and the various business opportunities; how to do networking and customer management; I got further knowledge about how to treat employees and collaborators and I carried out activities aimed at creating new ideas to market and commercial information regarding the services provided by the firm, etc.
But my knowledge went far beyond the mere learning of technical work. What I understood is that great ideas and a great team, are the key for success. During this experience I have learned that, as Henry Ford was used to say: ‘Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success’.
The main activity of my future job will be to “think about solutions”. To think about new ideas and new solutions is difficult - it is probably the hardest work - but it is the greatest added value of RTDI.
I feel lucky for that and I will always be thankful, because the passion found is a privilege that few teams have.
These months have been a positive experience for me, but in six months good and bad news could come at the same time. They all have taught me that being successful is to manage to stay calm and have fun even when things are not going well, and that you can never lose your self-confidence and teamwork.
My future experience is not going to be easy, I already know it, but as the proverb says well begun is half done and for this successful beginning I have, first of all, to thank RTDI.
Elena Zardo, 31/01/2014
The most common comment when somebody approaches for the first time the European Framework Programme for Research, Development and Innovation (now Horizon 2020) is about the countless amount of acronyms, many very similar to each other, and the great confussion they generate. There are even jokes about this in the Internet!
The case of the multiple initiatives existing around the Programme is a clear example of this. Additionally to the confussion around their nature and functioning, they are categorised by not intuitive acronyms, and each of them uses an individual acronym more or less representative of their particular focus.
Firstly, the functions of these initiatives are, either that the European Commission can externalise in them part of the management of the Programme (in particular, some of the calls; in other words, of the budget associated to them), either to have consultative bodies agglutinating interests to consider in the definition of R&D topics that will be financed in each moment. The influence of each initiative and its members in this decission making process is different in each case.
It is estimated that they will manage a great part of the total budget available for Horizon 2020 (around a 60%), in the form of calls in which promoters will have a clear advantage. Furthermore, some initiatives accept new members only by inivitation, and anyway, participating in them requires an important investment effort (effort promoters have been doing since the beginning of the 7th Framework Programme in year 2007).
Secondly, there are initiatives of different nature, mainly:
- Public-Public; in which the EC collaborates with national public authorities in the creation, budget allocation and management of specific instruments;
- Public-Private; in which the EC collaborates with the private sector in the definition of sectorial R&D trends, and the management of thematic calls.
The following table summarises the main characteristics of each type of initiative.
En la segunda categoría están las PPP. Representan esfuerzos de cooperación entre entidades con distinto origen (privado-público) pertenecientes a un mismo sector o un mismo área de aplicación tecnológica. Como regla general, la mitad de los fondos son aportados por la industria y la otra mitad por la UE desde H2020.
Las PPP tienen sus propias convocatorias, incluidas y coordinadas con los Programas de Trabajo bianuales de Horizonte 2020. Existen ya varias PPPs, que se espera sean ampliadas y complementadas con otras nuevas. Generalmente, su origen se sitúa en las Plataformas Tecnológicas (ETPs).
También en el grupo de las iniciativas público-privadas, están las JTIs, que se forman por la participación de la UE o alguna de sus agencias y la industria. El resultado es un nuevo Organismo comunitario con personalidad jurídica propia.
Se nutren tanto de fondos privados (procedentes de la industria) como de fondos públicos (Estados Miembro y aportaciones de la CE) y son gestoras de sus propias convocatorias, las cuales no siempre se encuentran incluidas en los Programas de Trabajo bianuales de H2020 y a veces poseen normas de funcionamiento propias. La participación en ellas es por invitación, en algunos casos más fáciles de conseguir que en otros (en algunos casos, imposible).
Las Plataformas Tecnológicas (ETPs) son agrupaciones de entidades de un sector concreto lideradas por la industria, que se unen para definir una Agenda Estratégica de Investigación e Innovación (Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda) con la que dar respuesta a los problemas sectoriales, mejorando la competitividad e impulsando la investigación e innovación. Influyen de forma importante en la definición de enfoques temáticos concretos de cada convocatoria de Horizonte 2020, al igual que las EIPs.
Las EIPs son grupos de trabajo que aglutinan a todos los tipos de agentes en áreas de interés común (investigadores, industria, CE, …) para ayudar en la coordinación y definición de las prioridades europeas de I+D+i en relación a sus Grandes Retos sociales, y en la selección de líneas, actividades y proyectos.
Eva García Muntión, 25/01/2014