As we’ve seen, Smart Specialisation as a concept aims to support bottom-up discovery of local strengths and assets. At European level, much as in England, the performance and participation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is vital in realising the potential of a region.
The following is adapted from material originally posted on the website of the Smart Specialisation Platform in Seville. It sets out some of the conditions required to ensure SMEs are supported in their role as co-deliverers of economic performance.
SMEs – the 99%
SMEs represent 99% of all businesses in the EU. In the past five years, they have created around 85% of new jobs and provided two-thirds of the total private sector employment in the EU. This makes them a pivotal part of the European economy; they need to be a central part of any Smart Specialisation strategy.
SME competitiveness in Europe relies heavily on innovation, and there the successful implementation of national and local/regional Strategies for Smart Specialisation. The quality of its delivery mechanisms for supporting services and structures is key.
Priorities for ERDF funding
In line with the 2014-2020 ERDF thematic priorities, these support services should enhance research and development and innovation activities, or strengthen enterprise competitiveness.
The links between Smart Specialisation Strategies and SME support services are important. For successful SME support services to be deployed in a region, the following elements should be considered:
- to involve SMEs and their representative organisations in Smart Specialisation Strategy development, and identify the different categories of the regional SME population to provide targeted and high value-added services;
- to adapt support to a wide typology of businesses, but also to the innovation capability, willingness and readiness of businesses’ management teams and focus support not only on research & development but also on innovation;
- to create a ‘policy mix’ that combines financial support with advice, access to specialist infrastructure and where possible as a network of professional facilitators, including the support to achieve investment readiness and undertake proof-of-concept work;
- and to properly use monitoring and evaluation to measure the desired structural change and to manage the implementation of the strategy, allowing for informed amendments of the policy mix, not just measuring transactions.
The UK’s story
As we continue to develop the work of the Smart Specialisation Hub in the UK – and local areas make further progress in determining their strategies – the above set of principles can act as a useful guideline for local decision-makers as they seek to play small and medium-sized businesses into their decision-making.