Improving access to markets for SMEs: European Entrepreneurial Regions experience

Thu 11, October 2018
16:30 - 18:00 CET

Internationalization is a key way for SMEs to innovate and grow in an increasingly global market and the EU needs to provide a toolbox to help SMEs integrate into global value chains. The workshop will be used to identify the opportunities and challenges that European SMEs face with regard to internationalisation both within the Single Market and globally, and will discuss what good practices exist at regional and local level that can be adapted by other EU territories and/or mainstreamed across the EU. Representatives of the EU institutions will provide an overview of the EU measures and tools available to support SMEs access to markets (i.e. the new COSME programme and initiatives supporting clusters).

Richard Tuffs, Director, European Regions Research And Innovation Network, Belgium.
Ulla Engelmann, Head Of Unit For Clusters, Social Economy And Entrepreneurship, European Commission, Belgium.
Sylvain Leclancher, Deputy director, Directorate of Businesses and Employment, Région IŽle-de-France., Finland.
Giacomo Mattino, Head Of Unit For Enterprise Europe Network And Internationalisation Of Smes, European Commission, Belgium.
David Minton, Director, Northern And Western Regional Assembly, Israel.
Lutgart Spaepen, Een Vlaanderen - Director, Vlaams Agentschap Innoveren En Ondernemen, Belgium.
Economic development, employment
European Committee of the Regions - ECON Commission
Deutsch (DE), English (EN), Français (FR)

Session summary

Richard Tuffs introduced the workshop and the speakers, highlighting the opportunities, but also the challenges, that internationalisation can represent for SMEs, given that only a small number of them seem to achieve access to international markets. The aim of the workshop was therefore to discuss the framework and measures that can address those challenges, from the perspective of the regional and the EU policy level.

Lutgart Spaepen (Agentschap Innoveren en Ondernemen) emphasised the holistic approach (combining innovation with internationalisation) that is being practiced in Flanders, always based upon a thorough analysis of the needs of the client SMEs. She also mentioned how the help for SMEs can be not only financial, but also broader, akin to mentorship.

Julien Giraud (Île de France) explained how his region is taking up the challenge of involving SMEs in reducing trade deficits, within its specific economic and geographical context. An important aspect of the region's effective policy design is based upon the requirement for all involved public and private actors to streamline their actions. This has amongst others led to the creation of a dedicated "Île de France Export" team.

In the Q&A session that followed, both Lutgart Spaepen and Julien Giraud set out how their regions establish objectives and time frames when helping SMEs with their internationalisation process and skill improvement. They also confirmed their regions are open to learning from other regions in these areas through multilateral approaches (of which the workshop is one example) and bilateral contacts.

Giacomo Mattinò (DG GROW) gave an overview of current tools in place for supporting the internationalisation of SMEs such as COSME and the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), and also said that given their positive evaluation, it is likely there would be no significant changes of these tools under the new Multiannual Financial Framework and Single Market Programme.

The contribution of Ulla Engelmann (DG GROW) focused on the role of clusters and the importance of cross-regional cooperation when it comes to smart specialisation of SMEs. She described how the European Strategic Cluster Partnerships (with the framework of COSME) are put into place with this objective in mind.

In the Q&A session that followed various aspects of SME internationalisation were discussed further, such as the importance of access to data for SMEs and the assessment and evaluation of the support instruments that are put in place. The issue of value chains in the context of SME internationalisation was also raised, which is especially crucial for SMEs in smaller regions. The speakers agreed that smart specialisation strategies, cross border mentoring and peer learning can be effective tools for helping SMEs to take part in and develop value chains.

Take away message

In the era of growing complexity of the value chains for SMEs, regional support measures for business internationalisation are essential but the approach and choice of tools must be tailored to the specific needs and profile of the region. Effective implementation of the European support measures may help to close the gap between the needs of SMEs and policies that aim to support them.


Ulla Engelmann (DG GROW)

Clusters help enhance the impact of cross-regional cooperation in Europe by supporting the creation of networks and partnerships and fostering complementarities for stronger value chains. The Commission offers cluster collaboration/intelligence tools and promotes strategic cluster partnerships to boost smart investments and industrial leadership in global markets.

Giacomo Mattinò (DG GROW)

The European Enterprise Network is directly relevant to addressing market failures. It plays a strong role for SMEs to internationalise, grow and innovate that would not be possible at national level and will continue to do so with increased interaction and cooperation with regional SME stakeholders.

Julien Giraud, Île de France Region

Team "Île de France Export" aims at increasing the number of new exporting companies in the region. It will reveal assets, market priorities and target companies in strategic sectors to help preparing and accompanying them toward exports by means of a unique online platform.


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