by Marie-Christine Imbert
ERCIM participates in the Round Table for Information and Communication Technology Small and Medium Enterprises (ICT-SME), which was set up with the help of the European Commission. The Round will recommend measures oriented to make the 5th Framework Programme better adapted to the needs of SMEs.
During year 1994 a "Software Industry Working Group" was put up by DGIII to advice on policy the Commission could follow towards this sector. The institutions invited to participate were:
A report was produced and the group decided not to separate and continue meeting on a regular basis as an "Information and Communication Technology Small and Medium Enterprises Round Table". In this context INRIA proposed that ERCIM should be represented instead of just itself, on the ground that other ERCIM institutes also had close links to their spin-offs. Both ERCIM and the group agreed on this participation.
Nowadays work is going on in extending the previous report to ICT SME concerns. The general climate for these SMEs in several European countries is being assessed together with the influence of ICT programmes on the sector. A first version is expected to be ready by February `96, giving recommendations on the necessary measures to be taken by the EU and on how 5th Framework Programme could become more "friendly" to ICT SMEs.
All spin-offs of ERICM members are invited to send in their opinions and recommendations on the subject to the author (see address below).
Contents of the ICT SME Round Table Report
The Report will sweep through a long list of measures that are needed to improve the business environment of ICT SME companies. Yet not all of them are in the competence of the Commission. It will be recommended therefore, that the Commission focus on several topics considered as priorities. To this day the list of priorities is the following:
ESPRIT has been succesful in providing a nurturing environment for ICT businesses in Europe. The ESPRIT environment should, therefore, be preserved and strengthened providing a stronger linkage between ESPRIT results and the way to valorise them.
A fast-track procedure for the financing of relatively small projects presented by SMEs should become part of the specific programmes. Current mechanisms to apply for funding are slow and can impede a rapid transfer to market.
Each field of ESPRIT should forsee clusters of related technologies which could be primarily developed by SMEs. This would not only encourage the cooperation between SMEs, but would forster the appearance of sectors where European industry would be particularly strong.
Among the most important needs of European software SMEs is that of becoming credible on the European market without having to gain their repectability in the US. One way of attaining this goal would be through a reinforced ESSI programme.
A common weakness of SMEs is that business skills are lacking or insufficiently developed to take their ideas speedily to market. To remedy this, European RTD programmes should recognize expenses related to business skills and training as elegible costs.
Delays in payment can have very adverse consequences for SMEs and are generally regarded as a big disincentive for SMEs (especially start-ups) to participate in any EU sponsored programme.
A European-wide network connecting SMEs to information providers and to potential partners could be conductive to collaborative business and offer opportunities of information exchange and on-the-worsite training.
Commission sponsored fora, fairs or conferences constitute important mechanisms to support and encourage SME networking. Such occasions for SME managers to gather and exchange information should be maintained and developed.
Special measures to disseminate public procurement opportunities through electronic networks should be studied.
To encourage bids by SMEs, public procurement tendering procedures should provide for fair if not preferential access for SMEs. This could be achieved either by slicing contracts into packages manageable by SMEs or enticing big companies to subcontract part of the task at hand to smaller companies.
Remaining structural impediments to cross-border software business should be identified across the "single" market and measures to remove such impediments should be proposed. Examples could be facilitating the translation of software, the definition of euro-qualifications or the development of standard contracts valid across the EU.