Many Europeans may not have heard of VisionBox but it’s likely they have used its technology.The Lisbon-based SME was one of the first companies to harness the potential of the biometric information in passports to develop automated passport control gates.
Founded in 2001, the European company’s technology is already used in more than 80 airports with 700 million passengers processed every year. Now they are working on a new project, Happy Flow, which aims to make the whole airport journey paperless and contactless – passengers will pass through the airport using just their face as documentation. Biometric-enabled cameras capture their facial images, allowing them to make transactions and access services.
Unlike many growing tech companies, VisionBox did not look for venture capital to help them grow: instead the company wrote a proposal to get European funding, which was accepted. This gave them access to a two-year SME programme and support from the Enterprise European Network (EEN).
The EEN is an EU-funded network that is active in more than 60 countries worldwide. It helps ambitious small and medium-sized companies grow their businesses within Europe and beyond. In 2017, 192,060 SMEs benefitted from the network’s services, with more than 130,000 of those receiving training and information services, and 37,000 getting individual advice on how to innovate and grow internationally.
Speaking to Euronews at Web Summit, the world’s largest tech event, Pedro Torres, Innovation Director at Vision-Box described the support they received: “Europe is very big, so you need someone local. EEN has local, national delegates who are very close to each company. So we have someone with to talk to on a regular basis that can help us with anything related to the network or to the project.”
Another interesting tech SME being supported by the network is the German business, Tawny, which develops emotionally intelligent services. Imagine if your car could tell when you were tired and needed a break, or if your workplace software could read your stress levels. Tawny’s technology does that by reading physiological signs like heart rate or skin resistance. The software has already been tested on a car production line where it anticipated occupational accidents, as well as in a call centre where it predicted successful pitches based on physiological signals.
“It helps us with financial support,” Sebastian Schröder, head of business development at Tawny, told Euronews. “But they also help you at a strategic level. So we had business coaching for three days with a very experienced business coach, which helped us to redefine our strategy: where should the company go, how should we talk to investors, how should we organise ourselves?”
A recent report released by the EEN, based on a survey of the small companies it helps, showed high levels of confidence in terms of expected growth and job creation. Some 63% of the SMEs who go international expected to increase turnover in the following 12 months, and a third of businesses expected to create new jobs in the coming year.
Countries where this positive trend was particularly obvious were: Denmark, Portugal, Slovakia and Sweden. Outside the EU28, SMEs in Serbia and in Bosnia & Herzegovina showed the highest levels of optimism for the future.