In this edition of Business Planet, presented by Serge Rombi, we look at the European funds available to small and medium businesses and how they are used. How do they enable SMEs to innovate and grow?
Our report focuses on a Prague-based company specialising in the manufacture of pressure vessels, which decided to diversify.
Five years ago it successfully applied for a grant from the European Regional Development Fund – an investment of almost 900,000 euros, that allowed it, among other things, to first design then bring to the market a biomass boiler – the first of its kind in the world.
“We are the only ones who can burn the whole bales of straw without cutting them… Which saves electricity, up to 157 kilowatts per hour. This is our competitive advantage,” explains Klára Pavlícková, business director of Step Trutnov.
So this Czech SME was able to branch out into the green energy sector. The grant enabled it to fund research and development and to train employees in new techniques.
Ultimately, diversifying opened new and, significantly, foreign markets for the company.
Klára Pavlícková says it also meant it could maintain staff levels in a region hard hit by the economic crisis:
“In 2009, we were 46 employees, and we have grown to 51 employees today. This is not a significant figure but despite the crisis in 2009, we are one of few that survived in this region.”
So, on what basis were these funds granted to this SME? What did it have to do to qualify for them?
The grant stems from the EU’s Cohesion Policy Investments initiative. Between 2007 and 2013, some 70 billion euros were invested from this fund. It supports 70,000 start-ups and has created some 250,000 jobs in small and medium enterprises. The funding is in the form of grants, loans and loan guarantees, which are given out if the applicant meets certain criteria.
The requirements are quite clear, as Jan Novotný, Vice President of the Czech Chamber of Commerce, explains: “They must have a background in business. Their application must be linked to an EU-supported activity. They must have a good business plan and clearly defined objectives.”
If you are an entrepreneur seeking to access European funds there are contacts to get you started in your region or country.
Chambers of commerce and industry are there to help, says Jan Novotný: “We provide information and advice to our members, but also to other entrepreneurs, on the European structural funds available. And we also guide them so they don’t feel lost going through the process.”