The Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform organised an online discussion on innovation vouchers on Tuesday 13 July 2021. The online discussion explored how innovation vouchers can be used to promote university-industry collaboration and research and innovation activities in Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). 

Innovation vouchers are small lines of credit (usually ranging from €2000 to €20,000) provided by regional or national governments to Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to purchase services from knowledge providers such as universities, research centres, or consulting firms with a view to introducing new products, processes, or services in their business operations. Meanwhile under Horizon 2020 SME innovation vouchers up to 60 000€ were available for SMEs through cascade funding type projects.

Innovation vouchers have three main objectives

  • To stimulate the introduction of product, process, organisational or service innovation in SMEs, which tend to lack leading-edge knowledge compared to large companies or innovative start-ups.
  • To promote science-industry collaboration and stimulate knowledge transfer.
  • To foster the formation of networks between SMEs and other academic, research and private partners.

Innovation vouchers can be used to attract SMEs newcomers and connecting them with service providers of innovation thus developing the competitiveness of the regional innovation ecosystem. Innovation vouchers must be administratively simple, fast and light, responsive, and address place-based research and innovation weaknesses. Innovation voucher schemes require the public agency in charge of the programme to have effective brokering capacity to identify and match partners and organisations.

Innovation vouchers need to have a clear objective, for instance, to promote the twin transition (sustainability and digitalisation). Regional policymakers can use innovation voucher schemes to stimulate changes within SMEs. To do so, innovation vouchers must be part of the regional policy-mix and the regional Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) (Presentation by Esteban Pelayo, EURADA)

Innovation voucher schemes can be flexible and should be administratively simple to ensure they are attractive to SMEs (effort to apply versus amount of funding available). The Tampere region innovation voucher scheme was implemented in an agile and flexible way, enabling  companies under a first come first served system to select service providers without pre-selection by public authorities as there was no competitive tendering for selecting service providers. A digital platform was created to handle applications.  The budget of the project 1.7 M €, of which 1.0 M € was distributed as vouchers to companies (max of 5,000 € per company). The good practice aimed to reduce administrative burdens to a minimum (Presentation by Niina Immonen, Business Tampere).

Innovation voucher schemes can be used to promote university-industry collaboration. For instance, innovation vouchers can promote mobility—from business to research and to research to business—or for supporting private companies to hire PhD candidates. 

If you have any specific questions related to innovation vouchers, you can reach out to Policy Learning Platform experts directly via the policy helpdesk.