Information, awareness raising and technical advice and support to technology-based start-ups to prepare successful H2020 SME Instrument applications.
The H2020 SME Instrument is an innovative and attractive financing facility that supports technology-based SMEs to check (1st stage) and accelerate (2nd stage) their growth proposals. The SME Instrument has attracted great attention (nearly 50,000 applications; over 3,200 funded), as it helps fast-growing companies to overcome the “Death Valley” that goes from business plan to the market, and offers other additional features, such as the external endorsement of the business plan, a seal of excellence and the access to venture capital operators. Applying to the SME Instrument requires start-ups to think their business plan thoroughly and identify their growth opportunities, but this is sometimes difficult for technology-based start-ups. FSS has been encouraging the participation of companies in the SME instrument, organising information events as early as in February 2014, and has added a bespoke advice and support service to general start-up support programme (EKIN+) to inform start-ups and help them to face the challenge of applying. The support programme features:
- An workshop on the SME Instrument characteristics and requirements, as well as some tips for a successful application.
- A 3-hr meeting with a specialised consultant to review the project idea and assess its readiness for the SME Instrument
- Advice on the preparation of the application to the companies whose projects are considered to be ready for submission.
All the process is free for the companies.

Resources needed

FSS coordinates the whole process to recruit the companies. The workshop and the technical support is provided by an external specialised consultancy. The cost of the programme depends on the number of applications submitted, and may range from €10,000 (no applications) to €30,000 (5 applications).

Evidence of success

The programme has contributed to the high turnout of San Sebastian (SS) companies in the SME instrument and to the large number of companies that have been funded. Up to March 2018, 17 companies headquartered in SS were funded, 5 in Phase I, 12 in Phase II. This is a very high rate in any comparison: Nearly 70% of the projects funded in Phase II in the Basque Country and 7% of the whole of Spain are located in SS. 2 new companies participating in the programme have successfully applied to.

Difficulties encountered

This is a very specific and targeted programme. Company recruitment is therefore critical. Companies in a very early stage may find it difficult to access and may crowd out others, but on the other hand it is important to raise their awareness for future participation.

Potential for learning or transfer

This is an easily transferable programme as it refers to supporting companies to an EU-wide scheme, not influenced or conditioned by national regulations or differences. Moreover, the programme offers an added value as the preparation for the SME Instrument will help the start-ups to review their business model and growth strategies and will enhance their management skills. It would be important to choose the right advisors to ensure the participant companies receive high level advice and support; otherwise, companies may end discouraged.

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Main institution
Fomento San Sebastian
País Vasco, Spain (España)
Start Date
February 2014
End Date


Xabier Hualde Please login to contact the author.

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Angelina Todorova

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