European programmes may become a great opportunity for companies that have no access to credit yet. Nevertheless, taking part in them is no easy task. High demand, fierce competition and limited resources are the major hindrances when it comes to obtaining such funding.
Given the circumstances, access to funding depends on the drafting of high-quality proposals from the technical and economical points of view, the creation of international consortia that cooperatively develop innovative, sustainable projects and the proper choice of the call to submit the project to be funded. For companies that want to give the European adventure a try, deep knowledge of each and every aspect related to EU programmes becomes a must.
Economy seems to improve in Spain, and companies need and want to invest again. Nevertheless, access to bank credit is still limited for them, the mechanisms fostered by the Government -increase in the emission of promissory notes and bonds in the fixed income market, flexibilization of the financial regime for venture capital organizations, ICO loans, etc.) are insufficient and administrations continue to delay their payments. In the face of this situation, European funding (grants, loans and guarantees), managed through a large variety of Programmes, becomes an alternative for many companies.
In order to make access to such funds easier, the European Union has developed two parallel, complementary management tracks: grant application calls directly managed by European organizations and grant application calls managed by national and/or regional authorities. Irrespective of the management track chosen, companies will need to keep in mind that all actions developed using community budgets -beside pursuing the specific goals of the particular programme in which they are included- are expected to contribute to reaching the goals defined in the European Strategy 2020 during the current programme time frame (2014-2020).
Any actions undertaken by companies using community funds are required to comply with the European Strategy 2020
The main goals of the Strategy have been reworded into national goals indicative of state priorities. For instance, the goals set by Spain show how important it is for our country to improve energy efficiency and provide access to higher education, as they are more ambitious than the goals set by the European Union itself.
Main goals in the European Strategy 2020 for EU and Spain:
Beside the aforementioned goals, all programmes developed in the European Union framework are expected to move along the following lines: increasing participation of women and men in the labour market; reducing structural unemployment and fostering high-quality employment; promoting equal opportunities, social inclusion and the fight against discrimination; fostering sustainable development, the use of new technologies and innovation. Introducing social policies in their organizations is a challenge for companies intending to seek funding in the Union framework. Nevertheless, many companies have already reaped the benefits of introducing such policies in their organizations, and they have seen how their management is making access to European and national funding easier.
The inclusion of social policies in the organization is a challenge to be faced by grant-seeking organizations in the EU
European programmes directly managed by the European Community
The Commission manages specific programmes to which Spanish companies may submit their sustainable, innovative projects; nevertheless, cooperation with European partner organizations is required. Two outstanding programmes in the 2014-2020 term are Horizon 2020 (it provides support for R+D+i, with a budget of 70.200 million Euros) and the COSME Programme, with a budget of 1.300 million Euros.
Access to funding will depend on the assessment made by the Commission on the company’s technical and economical proposals, which is done by following a set of criteria that are detailed in the corresponding programmes or calls. Fierce competition in every call puts the pressure on companies to design projects that are not only innovative, sustainable and high-quality, but also to develop products and services in which the consortium is really good at and competitive from a global economy point of view. This is known as “smart specialization”.
Besides, companies that want to have a real chance of having access to funds need to particularly underscore the creation of consortia; this has to do with finding partner organizations and create a multidisciplinary team to jointly develop the desired project. The Commission appreciates the participation of companies of different legal nature, public-private partnerships and the creation of a coordination and management strategy designed in terms of social innovation. To search for such partners, databases of entities that would like to partner are provided by the Commission, and several groups in social networks (LinkedIn) were created for this purpose.
European programmes managed by national and/or regional authorities
Apart from the programmes managed by the Commission, companies also have another, less complex funding pathway available. These are structural funds, directly managed by national or regional authorities in Member States, which have a budget of 26.000 million Euros for the 2014-2020 time frame. These are the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF), and they are managed through Multi-regional and Regional Operational Programmes approved by the Commission after their nomination by Governments. All the Operational Programmes for the 2014-2020 period are expected to be approved during the present year.
Through the management of the ERDF Operational Programmes, Spain will facilitate funding for Spanish companies, because actions undertaken in this framework will focus on the promotion of innovation and research, digital literacy and the low-carbon economy. In order to achieve these goals, actions have been targeted at the creation of sustainable employment and the creation of infrastructure related to research, innovation, telecommunications, environmental issues, energy and transport.
The R+D+i Programme stands out among all the Multi-regional Operational programmes in the current period. This is a key tool to move the country closer to the goals stated in Strategy 2020, and therefore promote both an increase in R+D+i activity and the increase in the amount of companies taking part in it. The budget for this programme amounts to 3336 million Euros, and 2.248,4 millions of this total are provided by EU through ERDF Funds.
Smart City Business Institute: at your service
The relevance of European funding for Spanish companies requires a well-structured, clear website that offers a global overview of the existing possibilities for European funding, and offers them the right clues to have access to it. Being aware of this need, Smart City Business Institute has launched (through its platform) a service to offer companies a global overview of the major European funding sources, summary file cards of the main European programmes they may have access to and relevant information on their calls.
Companies only need to check the documents in order to find out whether they are of interest to them and if they have enough technical and financial capacity to submit their proposals to the call. Besides, the Platform is intended to become an efficient instrument in the search for partner organizations, one of the major problems faced by Spanish companies when trying to access public funds.
by Myriam Pérez Andrada
Social Policies Consultant
Myriam Pérez Andrada is an expert in public policies, funding and innovation. She obtained a degree in Law and has also obtained several master’s degrees. She has worked in the area of public policies and European funding, both for public organisms and for private companies. As a consultant, she worked for entities in several areas and in subjects related to structural funds, both in the European Social Fund and in the European Regional Development Fund. As an entrepreneur, she was a founding partner (2013) of Vai Consulting, a company that works in the public policy field with an innovative, integral, sustainable and high-quality approach.