Mutual learning and common tools and resources for national/regional schemes supporting innovation projects of start-ups and SMEs

29th July 2020

Deadline:   22 September 2020 17:00:00 Brussels time

Specific Challenge:

Start-ups and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are the primary source of innovation in Europe and globally. However, the fragmentation of innovation ecosystems and the lack of connectedness among public national and regional agencies appear to be one of the main bottlenecks towards ensuring the support of the most promising start-up and scale-up companies in the EU.

The start-ups and the SMEs very often lack tools and resources (human and financial) that will enable them to promote the deployment and uptake of innovative solutions, and thus grow and compete at global level. Moreover, they are at a disadvantage to recruit external experts to help them in their innovation and business development, including at transnational level to exploit the potential of the Single Market and global trade opportunities. Both are essential for start-ups and SMEs to ensure product/market fit, successful launch and later scaling of their innovations.

A key stage of this process is to elaborate a feasibility study of their innovative products/services, which would clearly demonstrate the ways forward and concrete steps to follow. The feasibility study (proof-of-concept) explore the scientific or technical feasibility and commercial potential of a new idea in order to develop an innovation project. A number of national/regional innovation agencies have schemes that tackle this specific key stage and need or consider setting one. However, up to now national and regional innovation agencies operate rather in isolation across EU in relation to the implementation of their programmes.

The topic focuses on start-ups and highly innovative SMEs with international ambitions, determined to turn strong, innovative business ideas into winners on the market, from the stage of business idea conception and planning. In order to select and support effectively those most promising innovators with strong potential on European and world markets, national and/or regional agencies across Europe would strongly benefit from the actions under this topic for transnational mutual learning and common tools and resources.Scope:

This aims to enhance cooperation among innovation agencies of the European innovation ecosystem by establishing a mutual learning process at national and regional level, as well as by developing joint tools and resources to assist start-ups and SMEs to innovate.

The pilot action will create an enhancing, supporting and cooperative environment across EU that will allow national and regional agencies to:

  • cooperate, learn from each other and exchange knowledge by using join tools in order to provide high-level services and support high-quality start-ups and SMEs for their innovation projects;
  • create and operate national and/or regional support schemes regarding feasibility studies and external expertise, thus ensuring that the most promising high-potential innovation proposals of start-ups / SMEs are supported at their critical stage of development.

In particular, the cooperation that will notably involve the participation of national or regional innovation agencies or similar organisations should focus on:

  • Exchange of information and best practices, with focus on:
  • Best ways to better identify the specific needs of the start-ups and SMEs in order to allow the customization of the provided services
  • The design of programmes at national/regional levels with the view of filling possible gaps in relation to the services provided by the European Innovation Council (EIC), as well as the design of the project proposals and the weight of the criteria
  • Internationalisation of evaluation panels. The cooperation shall also enable accesses to respective pools of evaluators in order to set international evaluation panels and facilitate the establishment of minimum set of common evaluation criteria.
  • Coaching services and selection of coaches, including access to existing databases of coaches/experts (EU, national, regional) and possible creation of pools of experts. Optionally, design and development of other common tools and resources.
  • Identifying ways to continue the exchanges, provided services, tools and resources after the end of the action.
  • The established national and/or regional support schemes could include the following:
  • Common tools and resources to support, with the respective budgets of the national innovation agencies, highly innovative start-ups and SMEs with a clear commercial ambition and a potential for high growth and internationalisation for their close-to-market activities. The national resources deployed by national innovation agencies, if relevant, will need to comply with State Aid competition rules
  • Feasibility study as an outcome of the project (not necessarily the only one)
  • International pool of evaluators of the projects
  • Short market-oriented project proposal template/form
  • Introduction of other supportive services, including coaching services to the beneficiaries
  • Follow up of the beneficiaries and advice services concerning other possible instruments on national/regional/EU levels, as well as other ways of private funding for the continuation of a project, in case the feasibility studies demonstrate that it is worth proceeding to the next phase of development.

Expected Impact:

This will enhance the quality of support provided at national and regional levels to the most promising innovative start-ups and SMEs, by enabling:

  • exchange of information and best practice and closer dialogue between the innovation agencies involved
  • the national/regional agencies to establish or improve supporting schemes from their respective national/regional budgets that will cover the feasibility study stage of innovative products/services from start-ups and SMEs
  • transnational cooperation in evaluation processes to select the most promising innovation projects with high growth and international potential
  • cooperation between national/regional/EU levels in ensuring “world-class” coaching/mentoring services

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