Tuesday 23 May 2017

Irish SMEs secure highest rate of EU funds

VITAL: Maire Geoghegan- Quinn emphasised the importance of SMEs in getting the Euro economy back on track
VITAL: Maire Geoghegan- Quinn emphasised the importance of SMEs in getting the Euro economy back on track

Paul O'Donoghue

IRISH businesses had the best success rate when applying for EU funded grants, new figures have revealed.

Ten Irish business were among 155 companies chosen from 21 countries that will be the first to benefit from the EU's new €3 billion SME Instrument programme.

Each business that was selected will get €50,000 to finance feasability studies for their projects.

The selected firms can also get up to three days of business coaching and may also be considered for further financial support from the European Commission worth up to €2.5 million.

Ireland had the highest percentage of successful applicants, with 20 pc of those who applied landing grants. The country with the next highest rate was by Austria, 14.81 pc, the United Kingdom, 11.21 pc, while Israel had just over 10 pc of applications approved.

Spain had the most projects selected with 39, followed by the United Kingdom with 26, Italy with 20, and 11 from Germany.

AltraTech Ltd., based in Shannon, Co Clare is one of the SMEs set to benefit under the new programme for their development of a 30-minute on-site DNA test kit for food-authenticity testing. Speaking about their project, AltraTech CEO Tim Cummins said "food samples currently have to be sent to a lab for DNA species testing, and it takes 4-6 days to get results.

"Our on-site DNA test eliminates this delay, and helps food processors and retailers to test food authenticity quickly in their plants or shops and eliminate costly recalls."

Regarding the €50,000 grant, he said "We are delighted to receive this. We had a decision from the EU in just 7 weeks from submission [which was] quite impressive for this new SME Instrument.

"It will help us increase employment. 90% of new jobs across Europe will come from SME's, we are pleased to see this strong SME focus in the new EU SME Instrument section of Horizon 2020."

Eblana Photonics, a Dublin company which develops advanced communication technology, was another company which secured the funding.

Their director of product design Brian Kelly said that the finance was important to help advance the development of the company's future products.

"It allows us to get resources to move some of our revolutionary products forward," he said.

"We are currently working on a optical switch to transmit data at very high rates. It will add huge positives to the broadband and communications markets.

"We're a small company with 13 employees so we are obviously delighted," he added.

The other Irish companies who were awarded grants were R and R Mechanical in Tullamore, NVP Energy in Mullingar, Pilot, Skyteck and Bluebridge Technologies based in Dublin, EC in Inverin, Brandon in Ballybunion and Sedicii Innovations Ltd in Waterford.

Successful applicants will be formally notified in August by the Executive Agency for SMEs, which manages the programme.

The announcement comes after more good news for SMEs during the week, as a survey by PWC revealed that more than half of Irish SMEs believe that their businesses are in a better position now than they were before the financial crash.

The study also found that 85 pc of businesses expect increased growth while 82 pc are optimistic about their prospects for the coming year and 73 pc predict increased profits.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn from the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said that SMEs are vital to getting the European economy back on track and creating more employment.

"This new instrument is aimed at projects that are truly innovative, with a strong business opportunity and a solid concept to bring them to the market," she said.

"The response to the new SME Instrument is encouraging. There is clearly a demand out there for this kind of support.

"I hope many of the business plans being financed will mature to become real products and services, generating growth and jobs for our economies."

The SME Instrument was launched under the EU's new €80 billion research funding programme Horizon 2020, which aims to help small firms get innovative projects from the lab to the market. SMEs from EU Member States or countries associated to Horizon 2020 can apply.

There were over 2,500 proposals for the first round of selection from the countries participating in Horizon 2020, with 317 of the proposals meeting the required standard. Of those, 155, or just under half, were selected for funding.

Approximately 645 projects in total are set to be funded by the end of the year, with this number set to rise to 670 in 2015.

The next deadlines for evaluation are 24 September and 17 December 2014 for Phase 1, which is for business innovation feasibility studies, and 9 October and 17 December 2014 for Phase 2, which is for demonstration projects. Eligible topics are set out in the Horizon 2020 Work Programme on 'Innovation in SMEs'.

With a budget of nearly €80 billion to spend over seven years, Horizon 2020 is the biggest ever EU research and innovation programme and is projecting record funding for SMEs.

At least 20 pc, or nearly €9 billion from Horizon 2020's 'leadership in industrial technologies' and 'societal challenge' pillars, is expected to benefit SMEs directly in the form of grants, including through the SME Instrument.

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