On 14 March a fi-compass seminar took place in Brussels focused on financial instruments under Thematic Objective 3 (TO3) ‘Enhancing the competitiveness of small and medium–sized enterprises (SMEs)’. This event was organised to promote knowledge sharing between representatives of managing authorities and intermediate bodies about their experiences with designing, setting up and implementing financial instruments which support SME competitiveness.
Two case studies explaining financial instruments for SMEs were presented. These were: Northern Ireland's 'Access to Finance Solutions for SMEs' (which had been presented during a similar fi-compass thematic TO3 seminar last year); and France's FOSTER TPE-PME (Fonds de Soutien aux Très petites Entreprises Régionales) Fund of Funds that was set up in the Occitanie region (created following the merger of the former French Regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées).
FOSTER TPE-PME is an innovative Fund of Funds totalling EUR 113 million that aims to catalyse EUR 700 million of new investments in at least 5 000 SMEs. This Fund of Funds' pioneering approach to promoting the competitiveness of urban and rural SMEs is co-financed by EUR 52.675 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and EUR 12.64 million from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). The remaining funding is provided by the Occitanie regional authority.
In practice, FOSTER TPE-PME encompasses four Funds of Funds that include seven instruments designed to meet the financing needs of entrepreneurs and farmers during different phases of business development. Two of the Funds of Funds use ERDF (one in Languedoc-Roussillon and one in Midi-Pyrénées) and two others use EAFRD (one per each of the former regions). Details about the range of loans, guarantees and equity finance available through FOSTER-TPE-PME are included in the fi-compass event presentation, which also highlights lessons learned from the practitioners involved.
Expertise from the European Investment Bank Group was vital in developing FOSTER TPE-PME. The European Investment Bank (EIB) conducted the ex-ante assessments in both former regions, covering the SME and agriculture sectors. These ex-ante assessments proposed financial instruments adapted to the territories and aligned the governance structures to propose a 'greater region approach'. The European Investment Fund was appointed to manage these four Fund of Funds and supported the region in fine-tuning the instruments, as well as revising the EAFRD Rural Development Programmes.
Carole Delga, President of the Occitanie region is enthusiastic to see the introduction of the FOSTER TPE-PME Fund of Funds and she notes that: “access to finance is an essential issue for a very large number of enterprises in the region and there is a need for financial tools that enable companies to access finance more easily.”