Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) are among the most common group of final recipients for financial instruments using the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). Awareness-raising about opportunities for SMEs from ESIF financial instruments happens at different levels and locally-based advice is beneficial. A useful source of this information at local level can come from the EU-funded Enterprise Europe Network (EEN). This supports SMEs through a network of 600 local organisations, including chambers of commerce, enterprise agencies, regional development organisations and research institutes.
Launched in 2008, the EEN has advised and assisted more than 2.6 million European SMEs. They are able to direct SMEs towards the most appropriate programmes and funding schemes, including ESIF funded loans, guarantees and equity instruments. Dr. Raffaella Bruzzone coordinates the EEN’s working group on 'advanced services on access to finance' and she explains that "the EEN raises local awareness about ESIF financial instruments through events that are organised by our members. EEN network advisers have also actively participated in local discussions with managing authorities and financial intermediaries during the development of new instruments. The network has recently discussed innovative business development tools, like crowdfunding and minibonds."
EEN inputs are noted by Dr. Bruzzone as often being particularly useful for helping SMEs to prepare for support from ESIF financial instruments. She believes that "such capacity building can be done through dedicated training on ESIF financial instruments, as well as webinars and forums. Our EEN experts can perform a company needs' analysis and identify the financial support to consider. They can also put SMEs in touch with business angels, venture capital firms, banks and other investors."
Dr. Bruzzone sees potential synergies between the EEN and fi-compass. "Both platforms provide advisory services and are involved with the EU’s goals for enabling SMEs to grow and create jobs. EEN and fi-compass can be seen as two links in the same chain of support. We work directly with beneficiaries while the fi-compass services are mostly for managing authorities and financial intermediaries. By sharing our knowledge and building capacity we can help to increase the success of SME advisory services concerning ESIF financial instruments."