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European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA)
News article6 December 2021European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency5 min read

Strategic alliances for the uptake of advanced technologies by SMEs

Following the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, the European Commission launched a recovery package to boost Europe's economy. Key to this was support enabling SMEs to adapt to the digital and green transition.

On 10 March 2020, the European Commission set out an industrial strategy that would support the twin transition to a green and digital economy, make EU industry more competitive globally, and enhance Europe’s strategic autonomy.

One day later, the World Health Organization officially announced Covid-19 as a pandemic.

Following the outbreak of the pandemic, the Commission launched the 2020 recovery package to support the recovery of Europe's economy and society.

The Covid-19 crisis has strongly affected the EU economy across all sectors and company sizes. For example, 60% of SMEs reported a fall in turnover in 2020, while there was also a 1.7% drop in employment in the same period.

All EU industrial ecosystems will have to adapt to the post-crisis economic environment, with businesses facing new consumer and industrial demands and sustainability objectives.

SMEs need to be supported by adequate policies and actions aimed at adapting to new value-chains and demand if economic recovery is to continue. However, adaptation is an opportunity to improve the overall environmental footprint and economic resilience of businesses, such as through the uptake of advanced technologies.

The extent of the necessary adaptations will pose major challenges for SMEs, which typically do not have the same capabilities as bigger firms. Yet, many SMEs will face similar challenges, and alliances between those SMEs would enable pooling not only of their demand but also of their resources, as well as engineering and technical support.

On the other hand, a number of tech-savvy SMEs propose using innovative advanced technologies that can help traditional SMEs to adopt similar technologies. Therefore, building bridges between tech-savvy traditional SMEs would be mutually beneficial. Cluster organisations are ideal in bringing SMEs together and facilitating a pool of common needs.

In May 2021, the Commission updated its industrial strategy in order to take into account new circumstances following the covid-19 crisis.  The updated strategy reaffirms the priorities set out in March 2020, while responding to the new challenges of creating a more sustainable, digital, resilient and globally competitive economy.  The SME dimension is at the core of the updated strategy with financial support and measures to enable SMEs and start-ups to embrace the green and digital transition.

COSME actions supporting advanced technologies

In 2020 the COSME programme published a call for proposals on strategic alliances for the uptake of advanced technologies by SMEs on the economic recovery.

Its general objective was to contribute to the European Commission’s recovery package through establishing strategic alliances between tech-savvy SMEs and traditional SMEs facing the need to adapt to the post-crisis economic environment, focusing on the benefits of adopting advanced technologies. The call also aimed to spread advanced technologies wider throughout SMEs in Europe.

EISMEA launched two funded projects in September 2021. With a total co-funding of €4.6 million, they involve 25 organisations from 13 countries and all European regions.

Now is the time to get to know more about our projects.


ReStartSMEs aims to support manufacturing SMEs to adapt to value-chains and new demand caused by Covid-19. The goal of the project is to help affected SMEs innovate their processes, products and business models through the adoption of new technologies and the transition to Industry 5.0, a more sustainable and resilient approach to traditional manufacturing and industrial practices.

Making different industries across the EU more resilient and sustainable demands a substantial scale of operations. To achieve that, ReStartSMEs will create 15 strategic alliances bringing together manufacturing SMEs and technology providers to promote the exchange and the uptake of Industry 5.0 ideas and technologies.

What does the project offer to manufacturing SMEs?

ReStartSMEs allows 500 manufacturing SMEs a free assessment of their maturity of technology adoption. The assessment process - consisting of an online test and a professional individual review - will be available on the ReStartSMEs’ website by mid-December.

In early 2022, the consortium partners will organise a series of local workshops, aimed at identifying the main needs and challenges that manufacturing SMEs face in Europe. This will help to define the focus and mission of the strategic alliances.

The next phase of the program will feature five transnational hackathons. Certain manufacturing SMEs also have the opportunity to receive professional support for the development of a technology adoption roadmap, a strategic planning tool that will help match short- and long-term goals of the SME with specific technology solutions. On top of this, SMEs can access free training on Industry 5.0 and business support to explore funding commercial opportunities in collaboration with technology providers.

ReStartSMEs is a project funded by the European Commission and implemented by a consortium of five European Clusters (bwcon, Torino Wireless, Mobinov, Clustero, Linpra), two technology providers (Eurecat and Imec) and a Community of European tech Innovators (FundingBox Accelerator)


The STrategic Alliances boosting Railway SMEs project  (STARS) is developing a comprehensive approach to the objectives, addressing over 2,000 European SMEs with reference to the 14 Industrial ecosystems of the EU Industrial Strategy – both in the mobility-transport and construction .

STARS has been developed and coordinated by DITECFER railway cluster from Italy and has the support of 30 key European organisations. It includes 10 railway cluster organisations, 5 technology centres,1 digital innovation hub and 1 start-up. It will increase the impact of the activities run by the technology centres in supporting the adoption of the advanced technologies. This will enable the SMEs within the STARS strategic alliances to experience first-hand the technologies they need.

STARS addresses all aspects related to the uptake of advanced technologies by SMEs and includes support for organisational or cultural changes based on innovation, support for a better understanding of investment aspects and return-on-investments relating to advanced technologies training and assistance on funding opportunities for investments and support for upskilling and reskilling.

All the activities planned for the preparatory phase have started. These include the signing of the pact for skills charter, committing to a stronger European resilience through new skills, the organisation of a two-day working and teaming-up meeting in Turin, the, ongoing development and customisation of the STARS blockchain network, and key communication activities, including a long-term web platform.

Twitter: @STARS4Rail (



Publication date
6 December 2021
European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency