Sunday, 10 June 2012



Delegates attending the InterTradeIreland 'Collaborate to Innovate' Conference at the Titanic Belfast Building have been told of the importance of research and innovation in achieving Europe’s 2020 objectives for economic growth and job creation.  Addressing the conference, the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, underlined the central role innovation had in the EU's strategy for growth and jobs.  The Commissioner also highlighted the opportunities available for SMEs and research organisations to access their share of more than €8 Billion in EU funding under the last call of the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and to participate in the Horizon 2020 strategy which would define Europe's Innovation strategy for the next decade.

This is the second year that the conference, which was organised by InterTradeIreland and the European Commission Office in Northern Ireland, has been held in Belfast.  The conference has been designed to illustrate the need for applications to demonstrate the highest possible standards of excellence and the importance of collaboration in order to succeed in securing funding.

Commissioner Geoghegan- Quinn gave encouragement to small business-owners as she outlined the position of the Commission on supporting and encouraging the involvement of small to medium-sized enterprises.  She illustrated this by outlining specific calls which require SME engagement for the proposal to be eligible and a number which stipulate a percentage of the available funding that will be assigned to them.  She warned however, that the focus continues to be on excellence as the standard of the project and the combined expertise of the collaborators must reflect this in order to be successful.

Horizon 2020 entails several simplification measures that reduce the administrative burden of participation. There are around 23 million SMEs in Europe. They constitute just over 98 % of European enterprises and over two thirds of private sector employment. SMEs are thus crucial for the creation of growth. As well as highlighting the challenges of the application process, the Commissioner also gave details of measures which are currently being introduced to assist SMEs to participate in collaborative research. In this regard, access to risk finance and a new debt and equity facility are proposed to ensure sufficient funding for research intensive SMEs and other types of innovative enterprises and projects. Simplifications of the application processes are proposed such as a single set of rules, simpler funding rules and a revised control strategy with a new balance between trust and control.

Delegates also heard from representatives of companies which have benefitted from FP7, demonstrating the opportunities for SMEs to engage and looked  closely at the schemes that are solely dedicated to support SMEs, namely ‘Research for the Benefit of SMEs’ and ‘Research for the Benefit of SME Associations’. 

Various workshops were held to reflect the requirements of the diverse groupings attending the event including an examination of the critical issue of intellectual property.  There was also a discussion on the Industry-Academia Partnerships and Pathways scheme (IAPP) under the Marie Curie calls, a recognised opportunity for North/South collaboration given the requirement for a minimum of 2 partners from 2 different member states.

Lucinda Creighton TD, Minister of State for European Affairs who attended the event, is encouraging local companies to seize the opportunities available to them.

“The competitive advantage created through research, development and innovation will be a key driver in our economic recovery.  Companies that undertake Research and Development, for example, have shown a level of growth in trade and exports during the downturn that demonstrates the value of productive, high-calibre research and innovation activity.

While there is a broad public awareness of funding from the EU for agriculture or, until recently, for roads and infrastructure, there is less consciousness of the extent to which Ireland already benefits from EU research and development funding.   So far, Ireland has secured close to €400 million under the Seventh Framework Programme. This funding is helping to put Ireland at the forefront of international scientific endeavour.  I cannot stress enough how important this is for the development of our economy and our future prosperity. ”
InterTradeIreland Chairman, Martin Cronin, was keen to stress the support available to SMEs and research organisations who may be seeking funding. 

“While there is substantial funding still available to companies, the process of accessing this funding can be an intimidating experience.  It is often difficult for small businesses and research organisations to allocate the necessary resources to access funding opportunities and ultimately produce successful applications. That is where InterTradeIreland along with its partner agencies can assist,” said Martin.
“InterTradeIreland is active in facilitating SME partnerships and North / South collaborations through a range of supports such as cross-border travel vouchers; an EU notice board where companies can find partners from both jurisdictions for their FP7 projects; ‘Focus on FP7’ events which aim to provide a better understanding of specific FP7 calls, and a dedicated web resource providing guidance, advice and links to other useful websites.

“At a time when many companies are struggling to access finance, it is more important than ever to seek out alternative funding sources.  More than €8 billion remains to be allocated under the last call of FP7 before Horizon 2020 commences in 2014, and this is an excellent opportunity for innovative local companies to take advantage of EU funding opportunities. The supports that InterTradeIreland has put in place are designed to assist with that process,” he added.

Further support to assist with the funding application process is also available from government agencies, and interested parties should contact Enterprise Ireland, Invest NI or InterTradeIreland for further details. For further information on the conference and EU funding, please visit