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European small businesses need to exploit current trends to their advantage

11.06.2013, 07:00 GMT

Writes Seán Burke, Ireland's National Contact Point for the Research for the Benefit of SMEs, Framework Programme Seven (FP7), Enterprise Ireland.

Seán Burke 2Innovators and SME business practitioners will unite this morning at a high-level conference “SMEs and Europe: With Innovation Out of the Crisis (EURO-SME 2013)", in Dublin. The event, which is organised by Enterprise Ireland in association with the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU, will spotlight Horizon 2020, the EU’s upcoming Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, which it is hoped will be agreed during the Irish Presidency. The event will also take a closer look at what it takes to be a thriving entrepreneur in the 21st century, at how small companies can compete effectively in an increasingly globalized world, and at how they can benefit to the full from existing and future private and public support mechanisms.

To be held on the brink between the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (FP7) and its successor Horizon 2020, the EURO-SME 2013 conference is seizing the momentum for SMEs and innovation. In the current economic conditions the main challenge for the EU – and many other developed countries for that matter – is to provide the conditions for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Sustainable, long-term growth and job creation will be delivered best through SMEs that gain and sustain their competitive advantage through innovation. This event promises to bring together hundreds of entrepreneurs, policy makers, SME support organisations from the private and the public sector, and other intermediary bodies that will feed their energy and ideas into how to improve the EU eco-system for innovative enterprises. It will also introduce SME specific measures in Horizon 2020 to this community.

This event is particularly timely considering the focus of the Irish Presidency on enabling Europe’s 23 million SMEs to obtain and use the necessary tools to drive growth and job creation across the Union. Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD and Minister of State for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock TD recently chaired the informal meeting of the Competitiveness Council (EU Enterprise and Research Ministers) in Dublin which included a special focus on SMEs under the theme ‘SMEs as a driver of European Growth.' The discussions on access to finance, entrepreneurship and internationalisation are ones we will build upon with EUROSME 2013. The Irish Presidency has successfully secured agreement on several outstanding SME-focused pieces of Single Market (SMA1) legislation including the Accounting Directive and Transparency Directive which will both cut red tape and reduce the administrative burden with a combined potential saving of up to €1.7bn per year.  Other agreements such as on the Union Customs Code will enable EU SMEs to trade more efficiently and effectively with each other. The Presidency is also hopeful of reaching agreement on other files to benefit SMEs including the Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and SMEs (COSME), Horizon 2020 and the European Research Area (ERA).

At this moment in time in particular, the willingness of policymakers throughout Europe to help SMEs and to facilitate their needs is particularly striking, The conference wants to give SMEs and their representatives a unique and interactive platform to express their needs and raise support for them through focusing on three broad themes concerning the future of SMEs:

  1. SMEs and innovation in the 21st century
  2. SMEs in a networked world  
  3. Supporting SMEs in their ambition to grow

By its inclusive and interactive character, the conference will go beyond so-called conventional wisdom and empty statements. The event's ambition is to show SMEs how their strengths and weaknesses can be exploited or addressed through open innovation in order for businesses to remain successful, seize new opportunities, build partnerships and engage in innovation.

SMEs are the core of business activity in Europe and they need to exploit current trends to their advantage. Innovation in all its aspects and forms is the key to sustainability. So, promoting SME growth through innovation and entrepreneurship should be done at every opportunity. The EU for one has anticipated that climate change, resource efficiency and ageing will become drivers of future markets, and its support policies are programmed to help SMEs make the most of these emerging and global market opportunities.

The conference will also explore the business side of how to integrate innovation into today’s SME, which is challenged from all sides by competition, ailing markets and customers, dwindling or lacking resources and constantly changing technologies. Topics that will be touched upon include public networking solutions which SMEs can engage in, the way they not only compete but also cooperate with multinational corporations, or the way they might react in the future in an open innovation context with customers and technological solution providers, among other stakeholders.

Competitiveness, the driving theme of the conference and also its third main topic, includes financial support structures, globalisation factors related to SMEs, business ecosystems and mobility and skills of labour which affect SMEs. All these will have an impact on creating a competitive advantage for SMEs in a very difficult business environment. The closing session of the conference will function as a launching platform for the SME specific measures under Horizon 2020.

I am confident that the two-day event can also contribute to the education of policymakers. The event will give a sense of where modern-day business is heading to, what would or should be future actions towards (continued) success and how SMEs can gain and sustain competitive advantage. As such, the objective of the conference is not only to deliver this kind of information or highlight best practice examples from across the EU, but also to propose concrete steps on how SMEs will benefit by the use of innovation.

There has been much attention on access to finance and profitability at two previous EURO-SME conferences. Many of the recommendations coming out of these two events have contributed to reshape the EU’s policy landscape when it comes to innovation in SMEs. The proposed 2014 launch of Horizon 2020 will integrate SME business and innovation needs in a common framework, which proposes to look at innovation through a project-lifecycle lens.

Speeches, discussions, case-study examples and interactions at the conference will feed into the Dublin Declaration, a set of recommendations to the EU Competitiveness Council. The Declaration will provide plenty of ideas in terms of policy, and how to customize it even more to the needs of European SMEs, including on how funding can be channelled so as to be more effective at satisfying SME needs.

I believe this conference will celebrate the status of SMEs with policymakers around Europe, which now more than ever recognize them as main drivers of wealth and job creation. It is a very opportune time to discuss aspects of SMEs innovation, jobs and growth. Public authorities have always been ready to set in place the conditions for businesses to thrive and grow. Horizon 2020 is one of the main vehicles for moving beyond that and helping deliver innovation to the market.

The EUROSME Conference begins today in Dublin Castle, Dublin. More information is available on the organiser's website

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Seán Burke, FP7 National Contact Point, Enterprise Ireland




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