The EIF program, created by APPAU in 2020, has come a long way and is now available to all the UCA clusters. The program was created on the “single window” principle, where industrial SMEs, clusters participants, can receive a full package of consulting assistance in preparation of grant applications, find an expert or partner, as well as provide information about their own needs and expertise. The program is supported by an online platform that implements matchmaking and fundraising functions. This publication provides program details for UCA participants.
About the EIF program
EIF (Export-Internationalization-Fundraising) program was created in May 2020, but was actually launched by the APPAU association in May 2021. The initial idea was to improve the indicators of the Ukrainian Industry 4.0 community in the specified three components and by starting fundraising as a priority. Fundraising, as a strategy in the development of innovations, involved not only the financing of developments, but also a deep penetration into priorities and directions of the Industry 4.0 technologies development in EU programs. And from there, there is one step left towards internationalization of the Industry 4.0 innovators community members. But also internationalization of clusters, because in the European ideology, clusters today cannot but be innovative.
Among numerous EU grant funds, the main focus was on I4MS / Horizon 2020 projects – a special program of the European Commission to improve digital innovation among industrial SMEs with a fund of tens billions of euros. The I4MS program started back in 2014 and at the time of the APPAU EIF program launch, it entered the phase of cascading financing of calls (grants) aimed at wide application of new developments among industrial SMEs, end users.
APPAU has been paying attention to lagging of Ukrainian SMEs in this area since 2016-17, and before appearance of system proposal, the association management made several unsuccessful attempts to organize such services through external consultants.
So, in 2021, APPAU organized its own project office and offered Industry 4.0 experts and developers a number of activities in the following areas:
- Regular monitoring of available grant projects with extensive and regular communications to program participants. It was this initial function of innovative brokerage that the APPAU project office took on.
- Transferring all existing 4.0 Centers (Kyiv, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Poltava) to the methods and rules of operation of the European DIH (Digital Innovation Hub) network.
- Mobilization of a wide range of technological experts around the I4MS open calls, their inclusion in the enlightenment and education of the market in the specified calls.
- Creation of an online platform where experts could perform matchmaking activities with developers and customers from industry.
- Involvement of experts in the European activities of the I4MS program, primarily within the framework of the EU4Digital program, as well as on the funding.box platform.
Particularly active involvement of experts continued in 2021 within the framework of the BOWI project, in which DIH KPI won with the support of APPAU.
The main results of the 1st year of the program
Based on the results of the first year of the program, i.e. from June 2021 to June 2022, the following results are important for consideration:
- APPAU project office launch marked transition from the ad hoc regime (spontaneous and irregular work with the market) to systematic regular actions to work in the light of the market, involving experts and SMEs.
- KPI’s DIH launch showed how a real DIH (Center 4.0) should work, and where the focus shifted significantly from grants “for themselves” (as the main behavioral model of universities) to serving SMEs and enlightening the market.
- The matchmaking platform launch is a very important step towards the “digitization” of all fundraising processes, including those in the interaction of experts with SMEs. From April 2022, APPAU transferred to the platform all open I4MS files that were previously communicated in xls-tables to a limited circle of program participants.
- The network of European contacts has expanded significantly, and APPAU has become the contact point of the I4MS program. Promotion of the program’s projects has gone beyond Industry 4.0, and in the spring 2022 it will also be extended to the clusters of the Ukrainian Cluster Alliance.
- The first results of the BOWI project look positive and encouraging:
- Formed group of SMEs that have experience of submitting projects to I4MS is 35 companies.
- Similarly, there is a group of 22 experts who are able to serve SMEs.
- Developed algorithm of experts’ cooperation with SMEs in a group format.
- The first group of experts who regularly conduct educational campaigns has been selected.
- A system of motivating experts has been developed and implemented.
The most important result – thanks to the BOWI project, we have changed attitude towards I4MS projects both by experts and the SME market. From the perception of “long, difficult, unclear (= not for us)” and thanks to the acquired knowledge, new skills are now open when perceived as “it’s interesting, promising and completely within our means”.
Undoubtedly, image of APPAU and DIH KPI grew – we proved to the market that we can be a reliable partner in providing innovative developments with financial resources. At the same time, there is an understanding that the 4 SMEs that are currently receiving 60,000 euros each are only the beginning of history of widespread involvement of Ukrainian industrial SMEs in European innovation funds.
EIF program service offer
Thus, since May, the APPAU program has completely migrated to the UCA level and is offered today to all the UCA clusters participants. Cluster members have access to a range of professional services focused on industrial markets, which provide you with the following benefits:
- The APPAU platform performs roles of matchmaking and fundraising. Here you can find all information about available grants (from the EU and Ukraine) in the field of industry and hi-tech, get advice from an expert and become a member of specialized groups.
- Twice a month, EIF experts hold informative webinars where details of new calls (grant proposals) are explained, best practices and project submission experience are analyzed. Also here you can meet new partners and get useful contacts.
- Fundraising experts and the APPAU project office, Centers 4.0 and DIHs generate unique and useful content that is only available to program participants. These are white papers, guides, analytical reports, manuals, as well as specific market information necessary for all 4.0 innovators.
- In order to apply for an innovation competition and win it, SMEs usually need a thorough consulting support. Our experts can help you: a) choose required quantity; b) help prepare grant application; c) accompany in execution process.
- UСA supports an intensive internationalization and export program (see schedule of events), which is available to all members of UKA clusters. The range of directions for internationalization is wide – from the search for a partner, supplier or client to joint innovative projects. As part of the UCA, the APPAU project office has also begun to widely involve other clusters and their experts in the EIF program, meetings on various topics are held almost every month. To receive individual consultation and program presentation, cluster coordinators can contact the program manager: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plans until the end of 2022
In 2022, APPAU plans to develop the EIF program in the following areas:
- Expanding the pool of program experts. APPAU offers the selected experts, who have agreed to the status of technology brokers, to sign a memorandum, in which the parties fix mutual obligations. Forcing development in this direction is due to the fact that the lack of support for SMEs and their regular enlightenment through open calls is the biggest and still unresolved challenge in establishing a regular flow of project applications. The KPI of this area is at least 20 experts who conduct regular work on enlightenment and support of open calls (now – only 4).
- Maximum engagement and use of online platforms. APPAU plans to significantly increase the number of interactions on its own matchmaking platform and to form a full-fledged knowledge management functionality there, while at the same time involving participants of the cluster alliance on the platform. At the same time, it is important to know that access to the platform will be available only to UCA clusters members – in this way, APPAU stimulates joining of SMEs to business communities.
This direction key performance indicator is gaining no less than 150 participants from SMEs, various industries, and UCA members.
- Obtaining funding to support the EIF program. Since 2016, APPAU’s efforts to receive any support for the innovative development of Industry 4.0 have not received response. State structures, as well as international donors, generally do not “see” this direction as a priority for country’s economy development. Accordingly, lack of funding is the main obstacle for innovative development and partially explains why Ukraine is moving so slowly towards industry digitalization. Currently, the EIF program is solely funded by APPAU, and we would welcome donors to join our support. The grant application, which details points 1-2, was written back in 2021. In particular, it emphasizes the obvious fact that without initial funding it is very difficult to stimulate market experts to invest in enlightenment and education of SMEs, including in the EU open calls. Now it is carried out rather on a volunteer basis.
This area KPI is at least 1 grant with a value of 10,000 euros or more.
- If points 1-3 are fulfilled, we can easily increase applications flow and improve conversions in fundraising. This task was also faced last season, but it was precisely lack of a sufficient number of active experts that prevented us from achieving better performance indicators.
This direction KPI is the minimum submission of at least 30 project applications (of all types).
- Formation of a system proposal from the Ukrainian Industry 4.0 ecosystem for European partners with access to specific agreements. War can set back our innovative development for many years and finally consolidate a raw material country status. And, instead, like any major crisis, it can mobilize our best resources and open up new opportunities. The unprecedentedly high level of support from the EU and the world is definitely a big window of opportunity. And it should be used now. Until now, Ukraine has practically not positioned itself in the arena of the EU Industry 4.0 innovative ecosystems. We are practically unknown to anyone, we have a small number of DIHs, we did not participate in the I4MS innovation calls, tens of which for millions of euros have been held since 2014. What a shame, we don’t even know who in the state is responsible for all this. Our numerous attempts to find anyone from the government authorities as a EU4Digital representative, and where we were actively involved, were in vain. Now is the time to close this loophole, quickly cooperate with central executive authorities and hand systemic proposals for innovative development and digitalization of industrial SMEs to Brussels. APPAU already has a number of proposals and is negotiating with European DIHs regarding creation of special programs and proposals for accelerated development of Ukrainian DIHs, as well as other elements of innovative hi-tech industrial ecosystems. And we have long been ready to coordinate these activities with the relevant ministries. It remains to be determined with whom exactly.
So, let’s summarize all of the above. European innovation and digital development funds have always been open to Ukrainian SMEs and clusters, but lack of effective support mechanisms prevented us from using these funds systematically and massively. The EIF program from APPAU, which in 2022 became available to all UСA clusters, is such a mechanism, the only one in the country, which is specifically aimed at 4.0 innovators and industrial SMEs. The program is already showing its first results and gaining popularity among industrial technology companies. Wide promotion by cluster coordinators and innovation experts is necessary for its dissemination among all UCA clusters. As a primary tool, we recommend sharing this link.
This publication was prepared with support from “EU4Business: SME Competitiveness and Internationalisation” programme which is co-financed by the European Union and the German Government and is implemented by German Federal Company “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH”. The programme aims to create better conditions for the development of Ukrainian small and medium-sized enterprises, support innovation and export promotion, resulting in sustainable and equitable economic growth. As part of the Team Europe approach, the initiative will also contribute to Ukraine’s COVID-19 recovery.
EU4Business is an umbrella initiative that includes all EU support to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the Eastern Partnership countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Read more: www.eu4business.org.ua.