EUROPE'S creative and cultural industries (CCI) are global leaders and competitive exporters in a wide range of fields from design and publishing to music and film.
They are at the heart of Europe's culture and central to promoting Europe's identity around the world.
The CCI sector accounts for more than 6.7 million jobs across Europe.
According to Eurostat, the European Union's statistics office, the sector has been one of the key European economic drivers over the last four years.
In Ireland, the CCI sector employs 77,000 people and generates more than €4.7bn for the economy, according to consultancy group Indecon.
Notwithstanding the CCI sector's overall favourable growth prospects, as with other sectors, challenges remain to the fore, particularly around access to finance, building export capacity and adapting to the digital age.
This is the backdrop for the European Commission's development of a series of measures to help develop SMEs in the CCI sector in the 2014-2020 Multi-annual Financial Framework.
The good news for SMEs here is that CCI sector opportunities are tangible and within reach through existing EU support as well as the expansion of opportunities from 2014.
From 2014-2020, a wide range of specific and generic financial supports will support CCI sector SMEs.
Creative Europe aims to set up a dedicated financial facility providing guarantees to improve bank loan access for SMEs.
Erasmus for All will invest in education and training. The Cohesion Policy Funds will support investment in areas such as research, innovation, SME competitiveness and entrepreneurship, from a local and regional development perspective.
A range of EU programmes already operating in Ireland are designed to open up access to new markets and stimulate demand for cultural products and services and knowledge transfer.
For example, CISNET in Mayo – 'Creative Industries Support Network' – is geared at Atlantic SMEs in the Creative & Cultural Industries with partners from Ireland, United Kingdom, France, Portugal and Spain.
A Creative Sligo initiative, called the 4CNW regional collaborative project, focuses on business innovation support for creative industries and includes partners in the North-West, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
EU-commissioned research shows that cultural employment is growing faster than total employment and is of an "atypical" nature.
In other words, it is project-based, involving international partners and reliant on creative talent, a highly professional skill set and strong Intellectual Property assets.
In Helsinki, for example, 9pc of business turnover is from the creative sector, one of the fastest growing in the city.
Recent reports from the Irish CCI sector are bullish on its employment prospects.
The film industry forecast almost 5,500 new jobs over the next five years; the Crafts Council of Ireland conservatively estimated 1,800 new jobs while Games Industry Ireland identified the potential to more than double employment to 4,500 by 2015. That's 10,000 new jobs projected for only three spheres of the CCI sector.
Surprisingly, Ireland lags behind other regions in the EU, with a far lower than expected CCI representation compared with the top 25 regions with the largest populations in Europe. Those regions that have a high CCI concentration also enjoy Europe's highest prosperity levels.
So how can this potential be unlocked here in Ireland?
Irish SMEs should look to the success of a number of European countries such as Austria and Finland that have been extremely successful in securing investment from EU funds to develop their cultural and creative industries, particularly through the Cohesion Funds.
The lessons from other EU countries show that a joint approach across government departments in enterprise, arts and culture working in partnership with industry, is a prerequisite for success.
The next steps should involve increasing awareness of these financial supports among SMEs combined with specific, targeted measures to encourage higher EU support take-up to drive growth.
Grainne Millar is the head of strategy and development at the Temple Bar Cultural Trust