Many small and medium-sized business (SMEs) owners have their hands full with all the issues involved in starting and growing their business. They have very little time and capacity to figure out how they can become more sustainable or innovative. Entrepreneurs in Groningen therefore receive support through the provincial subsidy scheme Innovative and Sustainable SME Groningen. This year, 11 companies have already received the subsidy.
There are many ways for a company to innovate or become more sustainable. Some want to emit less waste during their production process, others want to become more energy efficient. With the Innovative and Sustainable SME Subsidy Scheme from the province of Groningen, innovative and future-oriented initiatives are able to get off the ground. With the scheme, which has been in place since 2013, SMEs receive a 25% subsidy on the investments they put into hardware. On average, a company receives around 30,000 euros. “It’s really cool to see how a small company, thanks in part to our support, is able to grow steadily,” says Program Manager Rik Hoppenbrouwers, who works for the Province in the Economy Department.
The fourth round is taking place this year: a sum of one million euros from the Provincial Corona Fund has been made available for this purpose. “We think the money will be fully spent in the first quarter of next year and hope to serve 25 to 30 companies with the amount in the near future,” says Hoppenbrouwers. Especially after the corona crisis, extra support is desperately needed, he stresses. “That is why this year we have also added the most affected sectors, such as retail and hospitality, which were not originally included in the scheme.
In order for a company to qualify for the scheme, a number of conditions must be met. First of all, the project must produce results in economic terms. “For example, we look at rises in employment, at whether you are tapping into a new market and whether you are going to produce new products,” says Hoppenbrouwers. The company must also be a leader in an industry: “For example, we look at whether a machine that a company wants to use is unique to the Dutch and European market. But sometimes it’s also about process innovation. Think, for instance, of the complete overhaul of a production process, the purchase of machines, et cetera.” Finally, and quite logically, sustainability is also taken into consideration. “Will the company produce more sustainably? Will they be producing less waste? If so, that’s obviously a plus point.”
An innovative pallet machine
The company Lapack from Musselkanaal was able to make use of the subsidy during the second round of the scheme. The company developed an innovative pallet machine: wooden pallets, crates and boxes for various companies are serviced and recycled there and now a robotic arm is used to do that. This machine was made possible thanks to a subsidy of 100,000 euros from the Province of Groningen. The company Rope Access Noord also qualifies this year. The company plans to invest in an innovative technique, namely a lightweight frame, or ‘V-frame’, which can be used for working in tanks and silos. The frame allows staff to work more efficiently, safely and quickly, and also considerably reduces the environmental footprint compared to the alternatives. Lapack is investing in an innovative pallet machine.
Helping companies outside the city
The nice thing about the innovation scheme, according to Hoppenbrouwers, is the focus on the outer areas of the province. “You often see that innovation subsidies mainly end up with companies in the city: companies that stem from projects that originated at the University Medical Hospital (UMCG), or at the University of Groningen (RUG). But also outside the city of Groningen, for example around Stadskanaal, there are a lot of manufacturing companies that often do special, surprising things. You sometimes see that a small company is active around the world and can continue to grow: that is impressive to see. We have made an impact with our support and I am genuinely pleased with that.”
A number of companies that applied for grants this year may return at a later stage to compete in the next round, Hoppenbrouwers predicts. “I’ve seen that happen more often. The companies are growing steadily and starting to think more and more about sustainability and innovation. I hope they continue to make strides and possibly then come back for the next round, if they are eligible.” That these companies continue to grow, thanks in part to the grant, “that fills me with pride,” says Hoppenbrouwers.
Hoppenbrouwers hopes that after this year, funding will be made available for this scheme again. “But the final decision is of course made by the politicians. In any case, I’m going to do my best to make this happen.”
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