SESAR JU has recently published an interesting article that explores how participation in Horizon 2020 influences the growth of a SME.

We present an excerpt of the full article, which is available on the official SESAR JU website

Creating a SESAR research consortium complete with grant agreements, proposals and submissions consume precious hours for a small company, however if successful, delivers substantial benefit.

Belgian startup Unifly led the consortium selected for the Safe and Flexible Integration of U-space services in a Real environment (SAFIR) U-space programme in 2018.

“We are providing our full stack of services to a brand-new customer segment,” says Unifly Marketing Chief Ellen Malfliet. “Our visibility has grown: The more players we work with the bigger our network becomes.” The collaborative nature of the SESAR JU programme also contributes to the “cross-pollination” of knowledge and ideas. “Each participant looks at the big picture from a slightly different angle and this achieves more than the sum of its parts.”

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) represent about 15% of companies participating in research co-funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking as part of European Horizon 2020 activity.

Ground-breaking programmes such as U-space however are setting new patterns with up to 50% SME participation. The disruptive technology behind this research is sending ripples through the programme, and across the airspace management sector generally.

“Programmes like SESAR allow SMEs to form interesting B2B partnerships and be noticed by companies higher-up the food chain. SMEs gain experience they would never normally access” says Tine Tomažič, CTO of light aircraft producer Pipistrel.

SME TopView, for example, reports accelerated growth and access to industry insight as a result of its participation in U-space projects such as the Drone European AIM Study DREAMS. “DREAMS has been crucial for TopView’s strategy and growth” says Business Development Manager, Vincenzo Maria Ascione. “It has allowed us to become part of the U-space network. We have built strong and lasting partnerships across the EU resulting in business opportunities and research projects like the Integrated Common Altitude Reference System for U-space ICARUS.”

Yet, despite many improvements to Horizon 2020 mechanisms, participation remains challenging, report SMEs. While the research supports developments that would be untenable for a small entity on its own, the time gap between selection, doing the work and receiving funds can be difficult for a small company. In addition, SMEs can spend months putting proposals together with no guarantee of success.

“U-space is a very small world where everybody knows each other,” says Ellen Malfliet. “If SESAR had an incubator of its own – a list of new players – they could push one or two of these tiny shrimps onto existing consortia to help them take their first big steps.” This concept could be expanded to include training and mentoring to help small companies to meet the selection criteria suggests Vincenzo Maria Ascione. 

Tine Tomažič agrees: “SMEs bring the mindset and agility towards getting things done. Failure is not an option for big companies, for smaller players to partially fail early may mean they reach their overall goals faster. We dare to be bold in our approaches, and we dare to challenge the established.”

In a digital environment increasingly dominated by tech giants, safeguarding the diversity and flexibility brought by SMEs is important in ensuring programmes such as U-space continue to develop building blocks to support future airspace management.

U-space enables this to happen by providing the overarching architecture which allows SMEs to deliver their unique value.

For more information

(Image: DREAMS presentation at U-space ConOps and Research Dissemination Conference – image: SESAR )