The EC’s Horizon 2020 initiative replaces the previous framework programmes and will fund research and development across the continent.
Consortia of universities and companies will bid for project funding from Horizon 2020, which will begin next year and run until the end of the decade. Each consortium must involve small businesses.
Professor Anne Glover, who served as chief scientific adviser for Scotland from 2006 to 2011 before joining José Manuel Barroso’s team last year, said Horizon 2020 represented an “unparalleled opportunity” for small firms.
Glover told Scotland on Sunday: “The money is there for the winning. The UK is the most successful member state when it comes to winning European research grants and so we should do well when we marry that with the entrepreneurial spirit of our small and medium-sized enterprises.
“More importantly, Horizon 2020 will allow Scottish firms to make contact with potential markets for their products. The biggest market for the UK is Europe, which is sitting right on our doorstep.”
Glover also highlighted the work of Scotland Europa, a membership body based in Brussels that helps firms access European markets.
“Funding is one thing but local intelligence is important too,” Glover said.
Interface, the public body that brokers deals between small businesses and universities, and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) are offering grants of up to £5,000 to “explore the opportunities” under the scheme.
The first grant was awarded last week, although Interface and the SFC declined to name the technology company that had received the funding.
Siobhan Jordan, chief executive at Interface, said: “Scotland is leading the UK in this field. Northern Ireland is looking at what we’re doing.
“Businesses can either come to us at Interface and we’ll find them a university partner or they can come to us with a partner already in place. The grant will go to the university so that it doesn’t mess up the small company’s cashflow.
“These are feasibility studies so not all of them will lead to applications for Horizon 2020 projects – but some of them could lead to other partnerships with universities to develop products and services.”
Laurence Howells, interim chief executive at the SFC, added: “Applications for funding from the EC can be onerous for small businesses – the vouchers are designed to ease the burden of this.
“Scotland’s universities are very good at securing funding from the EC and, by working with a university, small businesses can benefit from this experience and advice, making their applications more competitive and therefore more likely to be successful. The funding goes towards the networking, travel to Brussels and the investment of staff time.