Yesterday, colleagues from the National Contact Point for ICT and Enterprise Europe Network provided an update to an assembled gathering of business, public sector and academia at City Tower. Although focused on the ICT area, the event also touched on the support that will be available to SMEs and the new SME instrument.
Update on ICT in Horizon 2020
Much of the content around ICT confirmed messages that we’ve already received from other sources, but one message from all presenters was clear – there are still some unknowns (in some cases read as ‘things that we can’t talk about publicly yet’) and the Commission still has work to do to finalise the ICT components of Horizon 2020 to everyone’s satisfaction. As such, we could see some reshaping (and possible removal) of opportunities.
As you may have picked up already, ICT opportunities won’t sit in their own box as has been the case with previous programmes. However, colleagues suggested that there may soon be tools to help you do this more easily, so watch this space!
In terms of insight into what the Commission wants, there were no ‘hot technologies’ or ‘silver bullets’ identified (perhaps not surprisingly), but there was a strong suggestion that it’s worth keeping an eye on what is being funded through the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) area of Horizon 2020 for an indication of future emphasis. It was interesting to hear one presenter refer explicitly to the area as being used as an ‘observatory’ by the Commission.
A number of (familiar) key messages for success were reiterated – partnerships are crucial, you need to demonstrate impact, you need to make your passion come across in your proposal and crucially, no matter how good your idea seems to you, you need to fit with what the Commission wants to fund.
What about SMEs in Horizon 2020?
As well as the ICT focus, presenters touched on some of the changes to support for SMEs in Horizon 2020. From a high-level description it seems as if the new SME instrument may have some parallels with existing national schemes such as Smart. The suggestion is that there will be support for different stages from idea to market and that this will involve a combination of hard cash and access to expertise and mentoring, with cash support tailing off as products near market.
What seems to be fairly likely is that the day of universities as an RTD Performer, addressing the majority of SME’s research needs for large portions of the grant they receive from the Commission are over. There may still be opportunities for providing access to facilities and complementary expertise as a subcontractor, but we’ll need to see the detail to be sure.
The reality of being an SME in European projects … and in the real world
Bringing the world of ICT and the SME perspective together, an interesting addition to the programme was a presentation from Vin Sumner of Clicks and Links Ltd. Clicks and Links have dipped their toe in the European funding ocean with some success – and some frustration – and Vin was very open in sharing his experiences with the room.
He was quick to acknowledge the advantage that getting involved in grant-funded projects can have over other sources of financing and the benefits that he’s drawn from participation and expanding his network. He also noted that this isn’t a quick win situation and urged fellow SMEs to bear in mind that it needs to be about more than just the money. If your involvement fits with your strategy and what you want to achieve it’s great, if not then it might not be the right opportunity.
Amongst the insights it was obvious that some of the ‘quirks’ that larger organisations take for granted and can easily absorb such as delays to start dates and retaining payments prove real hurdles for SMEs. Whilst the focus was obviously on Europe, it was a timely reminder of how challenging it can be for SMEs to interact with large organisations and with systems which have not been designed with them in mind. It also gave some food for thought on how a little bit of empathy could go a long way to helping develop strong links with SMEs.
We have been promised copies of the presentations from the event, which include access to what looks to be a very helpful website, so if you’d like to receive a copy please do get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org)