Funds of Ecu600m (£400m) are available under the European Union-funded Craft scheme to help small firms compete against bigger ones by encouraging them to invest in technologies relating to projects they have identified.
Described as a ‘thin top slice’ across all EU-funded research and development, the scheme, with its broad engineering focus, is part of the Ecu13.2bn 4th framework programme and has been extended to include agriculture, marine, biotechnology, nuclear and other technologies.
Small firms account for 90% of Europe’s industrial base, yet Craft appeals to just 5%. Derek Taylor of Beta Technology of Lancashire (the Department of Trade and Industry-funded consultancy that is the scheme’s national focal point) says most small firms see hiring staff as the best way to solve technology deficiencies, despite the fact that this strategy may be shortsighted or impossible given skill shortages.
Craft projects last 24 months after an exploratory phase of 12 months, and finding the money can be offputting. Academic partners receive full funding, equivalent to the total EU grant of 50% of allowable project costs, equal to about Ecu1m. Firms must find the other Ecu1m, or make contributions in kind that may include equipment.
To qualify the work must be novel to the application; it must have a true European dimension with at least one research and three industrial partners; and it must make economic sense.
Small firms can get advice, much of it free, from specialists such as Beta Technology organised as a pan-European network of focal points at national, regional and technology-specific levels. That ensures that half of all applications for Craft funding will be approved.