Interview with Ms. Martine Diss
Ms. Martine Diss
Martine Diss is Head of Unit – Animation, Enterprise Europe Network, Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (EACI), an agency composed of international team of specialists on energy, the environment, business support, multi-modal transport, communication and finance. the Enterprise Europe Network aims at helping European Small and Medium Enterprises to grow and face their innovation needs. The Network was launched in February 2008 by the European Commission with the aim to encourage competitiveness in European businesses throughout the main driver for innovation: the transfer of technology and knowledge from researchers to entrepreneurs and from business to business.
Enterprise Europe Network, Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (EACI)
INSME: Could you explain what the Enterprise Europe Network is and its main goals?
Ms. Diss: The Enterprise Europe Network offers support and advice to European small businesses, helping them to make the most of business opportunities beyond national and even EU borders.
It was launched in February 2008 by the European Commission and is a key part of the EU’s Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme, which aims to encourage competitiveness in European businesses. The Network is made up of 550 partner organisations in 44 countries and is built on the success of two previous networks, the Euro Info Centres and Innovation Relay Centres, which many INSME members may have known well.
On a practical level, the Network is run by the European Commission’s Enterprise Directorate-General and the operational activities are managed by the Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation. The Network’s main goal is to help businesses to grow and innovate – to turn ideas into marketable products and profits. It encourages SMEs to do business across borders through partnerships and technology transfer agreements. It also has a special focus on helping SMEs to make the most of EU funding, and research funding in particular.
INSME: Would you tell us in a few words how it helps SMEs?
Ms. Diss:Ms. Diss: The Network offers a package of services to SMEs. It provides information on EU legislation and funding, helps companies find market opportunities and business partners, especially in other countries, and offers advice on how to develop or source an innovative idea or technology.
Our experts also help SMEs to profile their businesses and see what they need to expand or how they could benefit more from their existing technology. The idea is that wherever an SME is in Europe, the Network is on hand with practical support and advice in their own language. It provides easy access to all the different EU support services and helpdesks – it’s a ‘no wrong door’ approach.
INSME: What are the most important tools that the Network uses to help entrepreneurs?
Ms. Diss: The Network uses mainly two powerful databases to help companies: one for business cooperation and one for technology transfer. Company profiles and offers are inserted into the database and are then available to the whole Network. Partners use the databases to search for the right match for their clients and then help them to reach partnership or technology transfer agreements.
The technology transfer database is the world’s largest, containing already more than 6,000 profiles. It’s updated on a weekly basis and the offers are communicated to SMEs through newsletters, media advertising and websites. We had a recent success story where a Portuguese SME licensed an innovative system for remotely monitoring patients with sleep apnea, a common sleeping disorder, to a Czech medical practice.
But these are just two of the tools that the Network uses – it monitors funding opportunities and organises brokerage events to bring companies together. We also have 18 sector groups that specialise in different industry sectors. These experts team up to provide companies with customised support and sector-specific events.
INSME: You said that one of the Network's main goals is to help companies to innovate. How does it do this in practice?
Ms. Diss: The main driver for innovation is the transfer of technology and knowledge from researchers to entrepreneurs and from business to business. We know that Europe lags behind the US and Japan in investing in research and development and even in training and new equipment.
The Network has a range of innovation support services, ranging from the technology transfer database that I mentioned already, technology audits, advice on intellectual property rights and specialised training. This year, the EACI will also implement a work programme on innovation support.We work closely with the European Commission’s innovation programmes, such as Europe Innova, and many partners are organising events as part of the European Year of Creativity and Innovation.
INSME: The Network is based in 550 host organisations in the EU and beyond. What is their role and how do they contribute to the Network?
Ms. Diss: The partner organisations are the lifeblood of the Network! They are really specialists in what they do, and include chambers of commerce, enterprise agencies, regional development organisations, research institutes, universities, technology centres and innovation centres. It’s their interaction with each other that makes the Network so powerful – what we call the network effect.
It’s important to us that each Partner provides quality services and that the level is the same across the Network. We monitor this closely to ensure that the Partners can rely on each other for help and information.
INSME: There are around 3,000 people working in the Network. Can you describe who they are?
Ms. Diss: Well, they are all different yet similar! We are lucky to have highly skilled and committed professionals from all walks of life – from engineers to lawyers to economists to scientists. But they are the same in that they all have the same goal – to help European businesses.
They are quite special as they have the local knowledge that lets them understand exactly what SMEs in their towns or regions need, yet the connection to the Network means they have broad horizons and are also dealing with people from all over the world on a daily basis.
INSME: The Network is active beyond the EU's borders. What countries are involved and how does this benefit the Network's clients?
Ms. Diss: There are huge opportunities in EU candidate and neighbourhood countries, emerging markets and large trading partners like China. Just eight percent of European SMEs report turnover from exports, and the Network has a strong focus on helping small businesses tap into larger markets.
So, as well as the EU Member States and Candidate countries, we have partners in Switzerland, several Middle-Eastern countries, Armenia, Russia, Chile, China and the US. So it’s ideally placed to help SMEs to find suppliers, distributors, ways to licence or source technology and trustworthy business partners.
A good example is EuroChile, our partner in Chile. It’s helped around 340 European SMEs do business there. Exports from the EU to Chile have doubled between 2002 and 2008, thanks in part to their work.
INSME: Following the Network's first year, what have been the results so far and what are your expectations for this year?
Ms. Diss: The Network provides information and services to more than two-and-a-half million European small businesses. We are currently evaluating the results of the first year, but we know that the Network held around 1,000 events for SMEs, including brokerage events for business and technology partnerships and training sessions. Of course, it was a busy year for everyone involved – setting up such a large Network required a lot of work on all sides.
From 2008 to 2010, it is expected to carry out 50,000 technology and business reviews in SMEs, helping them license or source the right partners or technology, and to help companies to sign 1,000 technology and business cooperation agreements.
Going into our second year, we are happy that most of the groundwork is now complete and the Network is ready to consolidate and build on the services it offers.
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