Interview with Mr. Luuk Borg
Mr. Luuk Borg
Mr. Luuk Borg is Director of the Brussel based EUREKA Secretariat, a central Europe-wide Network founded in 1985 with the aim to promote the international networking of industrial R&D and research, technological progress and innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises, large industry, universities and research institutes. EUREKA supports projects and iniziative where 45% of participants are SMEs. EUREKA's Eurostars Programme is the first European funding and support programme to be specifically dedicated to SMEs. Eurostars is powered by EUREKA and the European Commission, and it is this joint commitment that ensures that Eurostars is perfectly placed to provide R&D-performing SMEs with the most appropriate funding tool.
INSME Interview with EUREKA
INSME: What are the specific objectives of the Eurostars Programme compared to the other European programmes and initiatives supporting small and medium-sized enterprises’ research and development?
Mr. Borg: The Eurostars Programme is a European innovation programme whose purpose is to provide funding for market-oriented research and development with the specific active participation of research and development-performing small and medium-sized enterprises (R&D-performing SMEs).
European SMEs are a significant source of growth, employment, entrepreneurial skills, innovation and economic and social cohesion. It is therefore essential to unlock their potential through support of their R&D efforts. The Eurostars Programme will specifically enable R&D-performing SMEs to improve performance through its support of ‘in-house’ research. It will also enable companies to develop closer working relationships with the European research community. The objective of the Eurostars Programme is to bring increased value to the economy, higher growth and more job opportunities by supporting R&D-performing SMEs. SMEs are contributing to the development of products, processes and services that help to improve the daily life of citizens world-wide. Their involvement in international research projects enables participants to combine and share creativity and expertise, and often allows access to previously uncharted markets for the resulting innovation.
It is this focus on the market which is unique to Eurostars. There are a number of other funding programmes available to participants wishing to perform base-level research, however only the Eurostars Programme provides the means to create successful products, processes or services and then provide help with the often difficult entry-to-market.
INSME: Could you explain which type of SME is specifically targeted by the Eurostars Programme and what is so far the type of SME that has applied for funds, according to your records?
Mr. Borg: The target of the Eurostars Programme is R&D-performing SMEs; those whose commitment to research and development is proven through the investment of financial, managerial and technical resources. We are confident that this target group is being successfully reached. Since the launch of Eurostars, over 1,820 different R&D-performing SMEs have applied for funding.
INSME: The Eurostars Programme has biannual transnational deadlines for submission of research and development projects to be led by SMEs (three so far). According to the available results, which are the technologies and market areas prevailing in the submitted project proposals?
Mr. Borg: The bottom-up approach adopted by EUREKA and Eurostars provides a mechanism for funding any type of technology for civilian use, however the predominant technical fields to date have fallen into ‘Electronics, IT and Telecoms’, ‘Biological Sciences’ and ‘Industrial Technology’. These categories are themselves very broad, but give a flavour of the type of technology most often submitted. They include such disparate topics as robotics, nanoelectronics, software and satellite positioning, biochemistry, oncology and surgical implants and machining, materials and construction and transport respectively.
The market areas mirror the technology with applications most often targeting medical and health, ICT and industrial markets.
INSME: Concerning Eurostars project consortia, how are they composed in terms of type of participants (R&D-performing SMEs, other SMEs, large companies, universities, research bodies, etc)?
Mr. Borg: There are few limits on the composition of the consortia. They must be balanced, led by an R&D-performing SME from a Eurostars-participating country and contain at least one organisation from another Eurostars-participating country. The R&D SME element of the project must comprise at least 50% of the total project cost.
If an ‘average’ consortium were to exist it might be comprised of two SMEs, at least one of which is R&D-performing. Occasionally this partnership may be expanded to include a university or research institute.
INSME: Could you tell us what is the average success rate of the proposals submitted to the Eurostars Programme? To what extent this success rate differs from that of other relevant European R&D support programmes, like the Seventh Framework Programme? What conclusion can be drawn from comparing them?
Mr. Borg: The success rate within the Eurostars Programme is very high, although such is the level of competition that only the highest quality proposals are recommended for funding. In the latest call, 47 % of the eligible projects were recommended for funding. Typically between 50-75% of the recommended projects will be granted funding after the contract negotiations have been successfully concluded.
European Commission and the European Parliament have given their full support and backing to the Eurostars Programme. Eurostars is powered by EUREKA and the European Commission, and it is this joint commitment that ensures that Eurostars is perfectly placed to provide R&D-performing SMEs with the most appropriate funding tool.
INSME: Why should an SME wish to participate in a Eurostars project? Are there any particular advantages arising from this participation over other European R&D support programmes?
Mr. Borg: The specific tailoring of the programme towards R&D-performing SMEs is evident throughout the Eurostars Programme structure. It can be difficult for SMEs to dedicate the required time and capacity to completing long and drawn out application procedures – they often resort to consultancy companies to perform the work. Eurostars is a single-step application, designed to be completed easily and in a short amount of time.
The Eurostars process is a rapid process, so an organisation can be approved for funding in as little as four months from the date of application. It is the simplicity and speed of Eurostars that make it an ideal programme for European SMEs.
INSME: Eurostars is an intergovernmental programme supporting transnational R&D collaboration, where the role played by the countries involved is still significant both in terms of funding and in some phases of implementation. Do you envisage that a more in-depth financial integration could be reached in the near future among the participating countries, like the setting up of a “real common pot”? Could a further integration be foreseen at scientific level (call management and project implementation)?
Mr. Borg: The virtual common pot is the crucial advantage that Eurostars has over other European funding mechanisms. The virtual nature ensures that the programme can move forward with the quality of applications. Eurostars, through the EUREKA network, has the capacity to request more funding as required to ensure that the success rates stay high year after year.
INSME: Two years have elapsed since the Eurostars Programme began. Over this period have possible areas of improvement emerged concerning the overall implementation procedures and, if so, what are they?
Mr. Borg: Like all processes that are launched for the first time, there were a number of challenges to overcome. The unique nature of the Eurostars Programme also provided unique challenges.
Together, the Eurostars Advisory Group, member countries of the EUREKA network, the European Commission and the EUREKA Secretariat, which is responsible for the implementation of the Programme, have worked hard and will continue to work to improve the quality of Eurostars. It is this constant improvement, and willingness to evolve that has made the Eurostars the most successful programme of its type in Europe today.
INSME: Could you explain whether the Eurostars Programme is open to the participation of non-European countries? If so, why should they be interested in joining Eurostars and are there some restrictions to becoming a Eurostars-participating country?
Mr. Borg: The Eurostars Programme is open to organisations from all countries of the world, providing the eligibility criteria of the programme are met. As a European R&D-orientated SME programme, projects must be led by an R&D-performing SME from one of the 32 Eurostars countries. As long as the project includes the participation of at least one other organisation from one of the 31 other Eurostars countries, organisations from non-Eurostars-participating countries are welcome to participate.
Countries wishing to become Eurostars -participating countries must first join EUREKA, a network of 38 countries that reaches beyond European frontiers, which promotes international, market-oriented research and innovation by offering support to small and medium-sized enterprises, large industry, universities and research institutes.