ARC FUND / Blog / Efficient support services portfolios for SMEs (ESSPO)

Efficient support services portfolios for SMEs (ESSPO)

The aim of the “Efficient support services portfolios for SMEs” (ESSPO) project is to improve the regional competitiveness policies for SMEs and their engagement with innovation activities in the regions participating in the project. Еnhancement of the public services for SMEs along with improvement of the economic indicators on regional level are expected. ESSPO builds on the achievements of the successfully completed project project which developed a repository of good practices and approaches for programming, implementation and monitoring of Smart Specialisation Strategies.

The project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund under the INERREG Europe ProgrammeNine partner organizations from Poland, France, Spain, Germany, Estonia and Bulgaria work together. Each of the organizations examines a specific instrument on national and regional level for public support on unleashing the innovation potential of SMEs.

  • Adam Mickiewicz University Foundation, Poznan Science and Technology Park, Poland (lead partner) – Portfolio of measures for improving SMEs competitiveness comprising of following measures of ROP of Wielkopolskie Voivodship 2014-2020
  • European Association of Development Agencies (EURADA), Belgium – Preparation of self-assessment instrument
  • North France Innovation Development – Nord-Pas de Calais RIS3, Nord-Pas de Calais ERDF Operational Program Axis 1
  • ADE Agency of Innovation, Business Financing and Internationalization of Castilla y León, Spain – Portfolio of measures for improving SMEs competitiveness comprising of following measures of “2014-2020 ERDF Operational Programme of Castilla y León”
  • Municipality of Gabrovo, Bulgaria – SMEs support system for increase of SMEs competitiveness related to the improvement and implementation of the Municipal plan of development of Gabrovo
  • Applied Research and Communications Fund, Bulgaria – National Innovation Fund (NIF)
  • Tartu Science Park Foundation, Estonia – Development Plan for City of Tartu 2013-2020
  • Tecnalia Research & Innovation Foundation, Spain – Basque Country regional Operational Programme 2014-2020
  • RDC Weserbergland plus, represented by District of HamelnPyrmont, Germany – Consulting SMEs in knowledge and technology transfer (KTT), Lower Saxon multifund operational programme, (EFRE/ESF) 2014-2020

The project consists of three phases:

  • In the first phase, problem areas are identified in the relevant regional policies and financial instruments to promote the competitiveness of SMEs and concrete solutions and measures are proposed.
  • During the second phase, the effectiveness of the measures taken in practice will be assessed;
  • ESSPO + aims to further improve the SME support instrument in line with the new challenges facing them in a crisis based on interregional peer review activities and design of improvements in support of SMEs.

Project activities include:

  • Development within the consortium of a common methodology for evaluation of the instruments for support of SMEs;
  • Carrying out a self-assessment by the partners of the specific mechanism in their region;
  • Carrying out a peer review study by the partners for each of the regional instruments of the project;
  • Organizing workshops for exchange of good practices;
  • Preparation of specific measures for specific regions;
  • Implementation of the measures by the competent authorities;
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness of the implemented measures.

The time frame of the project is as follows: ESSPO started in January 01.04.2016. The first two phases ended in 31.03.2021; The additional third phase of the project is implemented in the period 01.10.2021–31.03.2023.

The third phase of the project implementation begins with the development of a peer review methodology, focused on the logic of the intervention, and its discussion at the initial meeting of the partners, which takes place online. Each partner participates in each online peer review dedicated to one of the 5 territories. Each session covers 1) pandemic challenges and activities (practices and tools) dedicated to identifying the needs of SMEs; 2) decisions for selection of target groups. The identified challenges and good practices as a result of the project implementation so far are the basis for the stage of brainstorming during the meetings. All partners are working on improved decision-making concepts for 1) selection of target groups (different sectors affected by COVID) and analysis of their needs, 2) changes in the content of the tool and proposals for the approach to providing support to SMEs in the new conditions.

The specific objectives to be achieved under ESSPO + are:
1. To review the available information and practices for diagnosing the economy and market changes, the situation of SMEs related to it and the emerging needs, as well as the expectations of stakeholders in SME support programs;
2. Review existing or planned instruments to support SMEs in the partner territories and analyse all aspects of the existing or planned instrument, together with its intervention logic;
3. Design improvements that can be effective in market turbulence, such as the emerging crisis (or crisis scenarios) caused by COVID pandemics and security measures taken by national governments.

In the third phase of the project only part of the members of the initial consortium take part, as some of them focus their efforts on improving the activity of a new instrument for the implementation of regional policy:

  • Adam Mickiewicz University Foundation, Poznan Science and Technology Park, Poland, which remains the project coordinator;
  • Municipality of Gabrovo, Bulgaria;
  • Applied Research and Communications Fund, Bulgaria, which continues to work together with the Executive Agency for Promotion of SMEs – managing authority of the National Innovation Fund;
  • Science Park Foundation Tartu, Estonia;
  • Weserbergland RDC, Hameln-Pyrmont, Germany.

During the first two phases, the Applied Research and Communications Fund was engaged in organizing workshops with the participation of all stakeholders and discussing measures to improve the project instrument – the National Innovation Fund; the development of good practices; participation in consortium meetings to present and discuss good practices; participation in peer review procedures; developing and validating an Action Plan to improve support for SMEs provided under the instrument; consultations with the managing authority on the implementation of the activities included in the Action Plan.

The activities that the ARC Fund will carry out during the third phase of the project include participation in consortium meetings and brainstorming sessions to analyse the challenges facing SMEs in a crisis, as well as to generate ideas for providing more targeted support for more effective way; participation in all peer reviews, including the preparation and conduct of an independent online peer review focused on the activities of the National Innovation Fund; participating in consultations with the NIF Governing Body and taking decisions on improving the support provided to SMEs.

The expected results of the project implementation include peer reviews and identified challenges; developed and identified good practices; developed and implemented Action Plans; SMEs received support after the implementation of the measures for improvement of the financial instruments analysed within the project.

For more information please visit the website of the project

Contact information of the Bulgarian partner – ARC Fund:

Tel.: 02/ 973 3000, Teodora Georgieva,