The benefits of digital systems and tools are about to come a step closer for a good many European small and medium-sized businesses and even micro-entrepreneurs. A new EU voucher scheme is designed to enable them access specialist IT services or adopt sophisticated ICT tools that will help them to make the transition.

EU ICT Innovation Voucher Scheme Will Help SMEs Go Digital
The European Union’s Digital Agenda is alive and well! This seems to be the claim behind the recent announcement from the office of Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, that the EU is to introduce a system of vouchers worth up to €10,000 each to help micro-companies and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) get on to the digital path almost free-of-charge. This brand-new initiative serves as a reminder that while new firms are being established and startups are coming up with innovative ideas in the here and now, sustainable growth and innovative processes still require the underpinning of coherent public policy decisions. In order to inject some extra impetus into the European entrepreneurial scene, which is overwhelmingly made up of SMEs, the European Commission wants to help create a solid basis for the European economy in the longer term by giving smaller firms the opportunity to keep up with what’s happening on the market and take advantage of the latest Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

Regional development focusing on digital

The ICT Innovation voucher scheme will be funded through the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER) which has already proved its worth in several under-developed areas of Spain, Portugal and Eastern Germany. Under the umbrella of FEDER and other Structural Funds, the EU provides a wide variety of economic support programmes and targets investment initiatives to enable the least developed regions of the European Union to catch up with the rest of their own country and emerge from their isolation or peripheral status into the mainstream EU economy. The ICT Innovation Vouchers scheme is part of this approach, the intention being to target especially those regions which are suffering from a digital deficit. Spain is taking pride of place in this scheme: the regions of Murcia and Extremadura have been selected to carry out pilot projects.

An economic accelerator

The voucher scheme is especially intended to help drive forward a digital transition in Europe which is looking rather sluggish, and to overcome hesitations on the part of smaller firms. European Commission figures indicate that between 2010 and 2012 there was a mere 6% rise in the number of EU-based businesses with a website, despite the fact that ‘connected’ companies show on average an increase in revenue of almost 22%. With just over €14 billion worth of Structural Funds earmarked for ICT-related investments over a 6-year period, the EU policymakers are demonstrating the value they place on Information and Communication Technologies as a tool for growth. Underlined Neelie Kroes: “Small businesses using digital services grow twice as fast, export twice as much, and create twice as many new jobs. Everyone should benefit the way Murcia and Extremadura are benefiting in Spain.”
By Quentin Capelle