The BRIDGE project - BRIDGing the gap bEtween the capacities of local SMEs and cadre and innovative market demands for practical competences in the context of Serbia’s EU integration – has supported a series of targeted innovation-focused training courses for graduate students and SME managers in Southeast Serbia.
Launched in December 2012, the project was funded by the GIZ develoPPP.de programme and carried out by the IfU GmbH Private Institute for Environmental Analysis (the lead partner organisation from Germany), CIM Grupa d.o.o. (the partner organisation in Southeast Serbia), the Regional Chamber of Economy Niš, and the University of Niš, Faculty of Electronic Engineering. Europlan UK, represented by Dr. Stephan Pascall, contributed to the project with its expert knowledge of EU policies and funding instruments. The BRIDGE project was closed officially on 23 April 2015.
The SMEs in Southeast Serbia are facing difficulties in achieving business goals and surviving on the market. The lack of efficiency and innovation is mainly due to disorganised business processes, the absence of standards implementation, non-existence of cost control, lack of on-the-job trainings, lack of environmental initiatives, and the lack of knowledge and information needed for accessing external funding sources, such as EU funds, to support the innovative initiatives. Although, the EU integration process of Serbia creates a major room for new business opportunities in the mid-term future, many SMEs in this part of Serbia have insufficient skills to make the change.
Against this background, the BRIDGE partners designed and delivered a targeted training programme on innovative management models and best practices in the domains of business process excellence, quality & lean management, environmental management, and EU funding opportunities for SMEs. The ultimate goal was to support more competent and market aware students and SME managers, and, thus, contribute to the innovative sustainable development of the region. The BRIDGE experience helped the partners to prepare ground for the future business training academy that will serve the local training needs.
To improve the related knowledge and competences of graduate students and young managers, the BRIDGE partners offered training in four major domains:
- Innovation management systems for SMEs;
- Business process excellence, quality & lean management;
- Environmental Management; and
- External funding opportunities for SMEs, primarily EU funding sources.
Role of Europlan UK
The Europlan experts designed three dedicated training courses to deliver a comprehensive training programme on the topic of EU funding programmes and instruments that are suitable for young innovators in Serbia. The training courses consisted of lectures, discussions and practical exercises. Most of the participants earned high test scores, which reflects their interest and enthusiasm about the training.
Course 1. The European Union: Historical, Economic and Institutional Perspectives (02-04 April 2013)
Course participants acquired the appropriate theoretical knowledge about the EU making, institutions, policies and programmes. In addition, they were introduced to an excellent analytic toolkit for real-life problems, through case studies and examples that have a strong link with current practice. This knowledge is essential to be able to work in an EU environment, both on the policy and project side.
Course 2. Horizon 2020: Major Building Blocks and Thematic Priorities (13-15 March 2014)
Course participants were introduced to the underlying structure, principles and key thematic priority areas of the EU’s Eighth Framework Programme for Research and Innovation and other related European R&D programmes. They were offered practical training on a number of issues related to the participation in Horizon 2020, such as successful preparation of project proposals, including partnership-building and rules of participation, as well as the administration of FP projects including financial, legal, reporting and other matters.
Course 3. Applicant’s Perspective on EU Funding: Best Practices from the UK and Germany (23-25 April 2015)
The aim of the last course was to provide specific advice on how to prepare successful applications for research and innovation funding in the EU context and to share best practices from successful applicants in the UK and Germany. Course participants were trained to work with EU funding and application portals, search for necessary information about calls for proposals and grant conditions. They were also trained to present their ideas to funding agencies and private investors in a convincing way both in writing and orally.