FRANCE: A long term strategic plan by the European Commission (EC) to rebuild the European economy by investing in the development of new technologies is now reached the stage where it will start to have an impact as it reaches the commercialisation phase.
The EU is proposing to make several billion Euros available for companies to enable this to happen as a key part of the new EC Horizon 2020 programme, which starts in 2014 and replaces FP7 and CIP. Crucially, a part of this support is aimed at entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs because these are seen as providing the engine for the economic recovery as, being nimble and fast, they can bring these new innovative technologies to market quickly.
Since 2003, more than €400 million has been co-invested by the European Commission into more than 130 European research projects to develop innovative, Smart Systems technologies to reinforce European scientific excellence and competitiveness.
This specific area of Smart Systems can deliver significant competitive advantages across a wide range of application fields such as Life Sciences, IT & Telecoms, Agrofood, Environment and Energy. More than 50 projects have now reached the stage of promising contacts with investors and customers, and are on their way to commercialisation. This is all co-ordinated in the Smart System area by the COWIN initiative, which is dedicated to encourage the transfer of IP, and the formation and growth of young companies.
Laszlo Csernak, COWIN's project officer, explained: "In order to compete in the global marketplace, European companies need to be able to offer solutions that are significantly better. They cannot compete on price with the emerging economies that have low labour costs so the best way to have a competitive edge is to build in intelligence to create smarter products.
"Usually, this takes the form of advanced miniature electronics often with state of the art sensors to provide awareness of what is going on so that immediate responses can be instigated - Smart Systems. As this is a pan-European program, we are able to bring together research groups and companies from all over Europe to contribute parts of a solution forming an interlocking jigsaw that would never happen any other way.
"New synergies and working relationships have been fostered between countries and companies that are flourishing with the exchange of ideas that stimulates further innovation. It is a very real example of the European Union working together and achieving incredible, tangible results with what is probably its most important initiative that will really make a difference in terms of economic growth and jobs throughout the EU."
Geraldine Andrieux-Gustin, the COWIN co-ordinator, added: "In mid 2012, we started match-making advanced technologies that we have selected to companies who approached us looking for solutions to their technology challenges. We are now in active discussion with over 300 European companies with more contacting us every day.
"Part of our service is to mentor entrepreneurs and small companies with a whole range of advice from help with business plans to devising a strong position in the competitive landscape. COWIN is having great success with many of the innovative technologies developed during EU projects being taken up by companies and being used to generate sales. COWIN is also mentoring over 20 start-up companies to support their growth strategies and business development."
Pierre Marro, Policy Officer at the EC, explained: "The EC recognises that these small to medium sized companies are the champions of tomorrow and we want to help them grow and be successful. Currently, EC programmes and projects required several companies from a minimum of three different countries to co-operate. The new EC Horizon 2020 is being finalised at the moment.
"This is being designed to add a completely new package with simplified procedures and without these constraints of co-operations to specifically provide new technologies holders with help in starting and running companies right through to finance help. Lack of finance has been a stumbling block in the past due to the economic crisis, so a key new service in Horizon 2020 will be dedicated to providing access to finance with new instruments dedicated to SMEs and access to risk financing that will really help companies grow quickly and create new jobs and economic wealth."
Meantime, COWIN is co-ordinating a VC finance programme for 2013. Over 20 of Europe's leading Venture Capitalist firms are supporting COWIN to help entrepreneurship in Europe and will be taking part in the COWIN Investment Place this summer which will bring together VC firms and companies that are seeking finance this year. COWIN is also planning a series of webinars that will also facilitate finding VC funding and also bring in business angels and family offices.
"The VCs are really keen to be involved," explained Geraldine Andrieux-Gustin, "because the risk element is greatly reduced because all the technologies have proved themselves to be commercially ready. It is now a question of making successful businesses based on them. The VCs and the COWIN team can provide the expertise and finance to help companies make that happen so that these innovative technologies can be quickly commercialised and start generating jobs and money in the EU."