We regularly receive emails from entrepreneurs looking for European funding in general but cannot always respond positively. We explain you here some key principles to understand before contacting us.
Following the agreement at the European Council in December 2020, the European Union is in the process of finalising its “Multiannual Financial Framework” which frames the new European funding programmes for the period 2021- 2027. You will have to wait for more information on the details of these programs. The aim of this article is rather to give you a better understanding of the spirit of these funds to better orient you.
Funding for European projects
European funds means funding from the European Union (EU):
- Either directly from the European Commission or other EU bodies
- Or (and in this is the majority) co-managed with the EU Member States (and in Belgium mostly the regions), for instance the ERDF.
For the first types of funding, the vast majority is allocated to “European projects” with a “European added value”. These are generally transnational projects with the following characteristics:
- they are developed in collaboration with other partners of all types (public authorities, universities, associations, companies, etc.) in at least three European countries.
- they finance mainly intangible investments to develop innovations, share good practices or strengthen the capacities of stakeholders…Funding for infrastructure is really the exception to the rule.
- They should address European priorities, and therefore fulfil specific criteria set out in very competitive calls for projects.
- they must be innovative compared to existing European practices. An innovation can be the development of new products, services, industrial, organisational and social processes at the service of the economy, society and the citizen.
This is the case for the vast majority of Horizon 2020 and soon Horizon Europe funding for which NCP Brussels at hub.brussels will be named National Contact Point for the Brussels Region. Moreover, excellence is one of the evaluation criteria of Horizon Europe funding so this is a very demanding programme in terms of innovation and ambition compared to the state of the art. But our latest statistics for the Region of Brussels do show that this is feasible for an SME if you have asked yourself the right questions as explained below.
Limited financing for SMEs alone
Funds for SMEs alone are more the exception than the rule. But some opportunities do exist, to name a few (this list is not exhaustive):
- The Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme can enable you to learn to set up your business or to welcome and share your passion to young entrepreneurs.
- Small grants are sometimes redistributed by existing Horizon 2020 (soon Horizon Europe) projects organising calls for small projects in a mechanism called cascade funding. Check out this successful example of BC Material.
- Similarly, the thematic Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) of the European Institute of Technology (EIT, also funded by Horizon 2020) organise some bootcamps for starters (like the EIT Jumpstarter), accelerator programmes or may provide some grants for R&I actions. But they also sometimes expect return on investment which is to negotiate.
- The EIC Accelerator programme aims at supporting high-risk and high-potential SMEs with extremely disruptive innovations, particularly in deep tech, with ambitions for development on a larger and international scale. This programme has become very competitive and is increasingly providing equity, possibly combined with a grant.
- EU funds for SMEs are in fact mainly loans and equity notably taken by the European Investment Bank (EIB). Since the EIB only finances very large projects (generally of more than EUR 50 million), most of these loans and equity are redistributed through financial intermediaries in the Member States, such as banks or brussels. These will not fund SMEs in financial difficulties but once again innovative projects fulfilling EU priorities. A large part of the financing of the European Recovery Plan will go through this channel.
These funds will rarely cover all your budget and aims rather at leveraging broader public or private funding.
Ask yourself the right questions
Instead of asking how can Europe support you, ask yourself how you can help the EU ! Before turning to European funding, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- For which project are you looking for funding?
- Does it fit into the logics described above?
- What are your goals?
- To what extent are you better than the “state of the art” (at European level)?
- What will be the impact of your project and at which level?
- Why do you want EU funding rather than national funding? A yes is needed for at least one of these points which also hints at benefits you could get from EU projects beyond the funding :
- Are you addressing a European political priority and how do you plan to achieve it?
- Would you like to test an idea in a pilot project before developing it at a larger scale?
- Are you searching for inspiration in good practices identified in other European countries
- Do you have a unique expertise or “good practice” to promote so that it can be replicated elsewhere in Europe?
- Would you like to give your project a European dimension?
- Before collaborating with partners, do you have any assets in terms of intellectual property that should be considered to protect before sharing them ? Or are you ready to develop innovations to several partners? For these issues, the EU IPR Helpdesk offers many useful hand-on information.
You can also find concrete examples of SMEs funded in our success stories.
Contact the right people
Once you have answered these questions, we can of course help you bringing your project into reality..
- If your project concerns research and innovation, the advisors of hub.brussels can answer your questions either through NCP Brussels (focusing on Horizon Europe) and/or Enterprise Europe Brussels.
- For other European funding, BECI can provide you with a first orientation as part of Enterprise Europe Brussels.
Even if your project is not necessarily eligible for funding, you could also contact Enterprise Europe Brussels to benefit from other services for European companies seeking to innovate and internationalise. These services are free because we are funded by the European Commission to provide them.