ECARE+ was a Specific Support Action funded under the Aeronautics & Space priority of FP6. It followed up the ECARE project (2003-2005) and its goal was to capitalise on the first project and deliver better service to European aeronautical SMEs.
ECARE+ was the only bottom-up Specific Support Action in the Aeronautics field, with a twofold ambition:
- Better involve research-intensive aeronautical SMEs into EC funded research during the Seventh Framework Programme.
- Further establish the ECARE Group of local clusters as the voice of the European aeronautical SMEs.
ECARE+ aimed at structuring SME technological offer at European level. ECARE+ was based on a dynamic pan-European network of local Aeronautics clusters working together following a common methodology to establish a high quality database and provide project co-ordinators with a shortlist of research-intensive SMEs.
ECARE+ also supported specific measures for SMEs: mapping of European Aeronautical SMEs, development of dialogue between ECARE+ and the European aeronautical Regions and incitation to trans-regional partnerships between aeronautical clusters of different countries.
The objectives of the second project were to expand the ECARE group while playing a coordination role for the network, and supporting SME participation in the two first Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) aeronautics calls. The first objective has been reached during the life of the project, with some limitations due to the lack of visibility regarding the sustainability of the ECARE group in the future. After a difficult start on call 1, the second objective was fulfilled in the context of call 2, with five SMEs taken onboard by level 2 consortia as a direct result of ECARE+ activities.
The project method was derived from the first ECARE project, based on a multiplying model: first training the representatives of SME clusters and associations (or ECARE regional contact points), then using them as relays of information for their local SMEs during regional sessions. During the life of the project 30 members of the ECARE group organised 20 such sessions, involving more than 500 SMEs.
The methodology of the ECARE+ project was based on 5 main steps:
- Expansion of the ECARE group from 19 to 30 clusters;
- Training of Regional Contact Points on FP7 opportunities;
- Regional Sessions for SMEs on FP7 opportunities;
- Technological capability assessment of 350 SMEs;
- Pre-matching with large collaborative project proposals.
Following the regional sessions, SMEs had the opportunity to demonstrate their competencies by entering or updating their entry in the project database, which included a quality control process designed to help them presenting their technological offer in the most structured and attractive way possible. Entries in the database pointed to level 2 project proposals, updated for each call.
The best ECARE+ results were achieved in the framework of call 2, when regional sessions gave way to technology-based workshops organised in four regions, involving a panel of SMEs from various countries and the level 2 proposal coordinators from the industry. Following these targeted workshops five SMEs were selected for participation within consortia.
The final ECARE+ event was the occasion for clusters and SMEs alike to deliver a very positive message on the effect ECARE+ had on their existence and involvement in European-funded research. The proof of its utility having been made, the ECARE Group now has to demonstrate its ability to become a self sustainable body at the European level.
Figures made available by the EC for FP6 indicated that between Call 1 (ECARE not yet involved) and Call 2&3 (ECARE involved), the SME share of funding in IPs grew from 5% to 9%.