Bringing innovative digital products and services to the markets is a challenge for many SMEs

The digital transformation brings businesses both opportunities and constraints in fast changing competitive environments. Existing or emerging technologies can e.g. help increasing the efficiency of manufacturing processes, leverage the delivery of services through web-based platforms and remote interaction with the client, or enable the launch of new products and services thanks to new possibilities offered by technology, and thus gain competitive edge over competition. On the other hand, SMEs acting in highly digitalised markets are faced by increasing pressure of fast-paced innovation cycles or the increasing need to add digital components to their products and services in order not to lose ground on the market.  

For most SMEs, however, the lack of financial resources for the development and launch of innovative digital products and services remains a barrier to their growth and competitiveness. They need to overcome the limitation of their resources, which do not allow them to develop too many products in parallel, combined with the risk of not meeting the needs of their customers. Though, as we can see in Brittany (France), practice-proven support offers are available and ready for uptake.

An interesting approach: a support programme for testing innovative digital products and services

The Regional Council of Brittany, a partner of the Interreg Europe project CYBER - Regional policies for competitive cybersecurity SMEs has implemented a specific support programme addressing the need of SMEs to validate their digital innovations during the development process, i.e. testing their market readiness and maximise user acceptance before launching them on the market: regional calls for testing innovative digital products and services (access to the full description of the programme in French).

This funding scheme targets SMEs, -start-ups just as well-established companies - located in the Brittany region and acting in one of the priority sectors of the regional economy, i.e. food, maritime industries, tourism, biotechnologies, mobility, marine renewable energy, defence and security, green industries, health, building, eco-construction and eco-renovation.

SMEs need to involve in their application for funding at least one user, which shall contribute to develop the specification of requirements for the innovative solution, support a test implementation and the improvement of the solution towards market-readiness. The support can be provided as a grant or an interest-free loan, with amounts ranging from about €20.000 to a maximum of €150.000. In exceptional cases, also the user can get support, e.g. if its involvement requires specific investments. The funding modalities are defined depending on the maturity of the applicant SME, the budget of the project and the estimated time to market. The maximum length of the supported projects is 24 months; in practice they are also often shorter.

A regional specificity: regional science and technology parks supporting the implementation of the scheme

The 7 technopoles in Brittany - Technopôle Brest Iroise, Technopole Anticipa (Lannion), Lorient Technopole, Technopole Quimper-Cornouaille, Le Poool (Rennes), Technopole Saint-Brieuc Armor and VIPE Vannes - are local actors of economic development with the political mandate to support innovative companies all over the regional territory. Their services include support to entrepreneurship, including business incubation, support to the development of established businesses through innovation and access to new markets, vocational training and networking or matchmaking of competences. The 7 Technopoles Bretagne represents a key innovation operator in Brittany, based on a network of local players, labelled by the national RETIS innovation network (incubators, technopoles, European Centers of Companies and Innovation - CEEI), experts in supporting innovative companies, covering the whole of Brittany.

Territorial coverage of the 7 technopoles in Brittany
Source: 7 Technopole Bretagne

The technopoles contribute to the promotion of regional calls for testing innovative digital products and services under the above-described support scheme and support its implementation by identifying relevant projects and supporting SMEs through the whole process of submitting an application, implementing the innovation project (if funded) and evaluating its results. Thus, as proven in practice, the active involvement of regional science and technology parks contributes to ensuring the commitment of the participating companies and enables the Regional Council to collect valuable feedback on the relevance of the scheme for local businesses.

A successful scheme

After having been limited to the cybersecurity sector during the initial phase of implementation (2014-2017), the scheme was extended to other regional priority sectors, considering its good outcome in terms of project results and demands expressed by the local SMEs. An immediate benefit of this extension lies in the emergence of a new range of innovation opportunities at the interface between the digital sector and further economic sectors.

Having led to first concrete results in terms of employment and economic benefits, the scheme has proven especially useful in targeting SMEs which had not benefitted from innovation support schemes before.

The current call for proposals – open until 30 September 2020 – will pay special attention to projects that also contribute to providing medium or long-term responses in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and/or to the anticipation of such a health crisis.

In the framework of the CYBER project, the Agency of Innovation, Business Financing and Internationalization of Castilla y León  is currently getting prepared for an uptake of the Breton scheme for its own regional portfolio of support measures.

Image credit: Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels