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Innovation voucher scheme

Written by Christian Saublens


The concept

How to implement it?

Step in the RIS process

What can be expected?

A quote


The case of ICT vouchers


The concept

Innovation voucher schemes are support instruments for SMEs in the form of a small grant to contract a service provider to conduct small projects or to explore new business models, opportunities or problems.


How to implement it?

An intermediary organization issues the vouchers and pays the invoice of the service provider after the SME has received the foreseen service. Often, the service providers have been selected by the intermediary organization. Unfortunately, voucher schemes are not used to acquire services from transregional providers or SMEs are reluctant to buy services from a provider located outside of their region.

Vouchers are helpful to conduct small innovation projects, to acquire ICT competences, to develop an international strategy, to acquire knowledge, to initiate a product/service diversification process, to find solutions to any entrepreneurial problems, …

For a voucher scheme to be successful, policy makers should keep the following recommendations in mind when designing the scheme:

  • Quick decision making process, simple application form, no bureaucracy
  • Working in a network in order to facilitate the matching between SMEs and service providers
  • Defining the eligible costs and SMEs’ contributions
  • Assessing the quality of the services delivered by the providers
  • Assessing the capacity of the SMEs to make good use of the service provided thanks to the voucher scheme
  • Adapting the voucher to real SME needs and to fix the value of the voucher to the intensity of the added value to be provided (5000 €, 10 000 €, 20 000 €, …)


Step in the RIS process

Step 5: Definition of the policy mix, roadmap and action plan


What can be expected?

  •  SMEs’ absorption of new knowledge or business models (for instance the use of ICT, internationalization, …)
  • Fast take up of policy objectives (innovation, internationalization, market diversification, testing new ideas, resource efficiency, environmentally friendly company policy, …)


A quote

“The ICT innovation voucher scheme is a useful instrument to include in strategies for innovation and growth implemented at local and regional levels.” from the website of Digital Agenda for Europe



  •  Riga declaration on voucher schemes
  • Commission staff working document “SMEs going digital – A blueprint for ICT innovation vouchers”
  • Greenovate! “Guide to green innovation vouchers”
  • Innovation vouchers Enterprise Ireland


The case of ICT vouchers

DG CONNECT promotes the use of vouchers to help SMEs in taking up the benefit of internet and e-commerce. The voucher schemes could be designed to address the specific needs of 4 categories of SMEs:

  • services for No web and Low web SMEs;
  • services for Medium web SMEs;
  • services for High web SMEs
  • ICT content start-ups


1. No web – Low web: Potential eligible Services:

  1. Auditing 2.0
    Helping SMEs to articulate their problem through a so-called XXI century auditing. The main aim is to raise awareness of No/Low web SMEs about possible ways of ICT applications that can be helpful for their business.
  2. Basic Digital business skills
    Fund ICT services related to the use of basic ICT applications to business process (for instance Microsoft Excel training, Linkedin, social media, etc.). The aim is to enable No/Low web SMEs to exploit the benefits of basic ICT applications to their business activities.
  3. Commerce related services
    Help low web SMEs in getting in contacts to their customers through ICT applications, (including for local market in order to overcome the "invisibility of services/business"). An issue raised in the discussion concerns the promotion of the new services implemented by SMEs in regions and areas characterised by low ICT diffusion. This could be possibly done through traditional means of communication.


2. Medium web:

What is a Medium web SME:

  • PCs in place for most employees
  • Basic web presence (static, not updated)
  • Basic use of office software

The services targeting this group should aim at increasing working efficiency (including value chain), create new products, innovation and provide access to new markets/clients (in order words elaborate strategic objective for growth).

Potential eligible services:

  1. Digital Auditing
    Offer a quick and easy questionnaire/self-assessment/on-line digital survey (the possibility of exploiting DG ENTR e-commerce readiness tool should be explored).
  2. Improving web presence
    Services in this category can range from migration from static to dynamic, multilingual content to mobile web and ecommerce platform (selling, booking etc.).
  3. Improving work efficiency
    Services in this category can range from customer relation management (using social media), e-invoicing, e-taxation, intranet for communication (how to manage dispersed staff better, company resources) to e-skills training and value chain management.

All eligible services should be complemented (most importantly) with training and support services.


3. High web: Eligible services:

  1. Application of ICT to new business models
    More in detail: customer services delivery, support for mobility (for services, processes and staff), migration to cloud services, application of "Internet of Things" to services
  2. ICT design and development
    More specifically access to processing capacity, application development platform and collaborative tools
  3. Investment readiness (also applicable to low and medium web)
    This category should encompass networking services, mentoring, coaching and brokering. In this perspective the role of the SMEs could be transformed in the one of service provider. Further discussion is needed for this point.

Other ICT services could also be considered as eligible:

  • use of online analytic tools (i.e. Google analytics);
  • implementation of automatic error reporting systems( linked to cyber-security issues),
  • prototyping (especially for high web).


4. ICT content start-ups

  1. Proof of concept
  2. Investment readiness
  3. First client search
  4. Internationalisation


Mr Christian Saublens


Christian Saublens has more than 30 years of working experience in European trade organizations. Since 1992 he is the Executive Manager of EURADA, the European Association of Development Agencies, a network of 145 organisations. Christian has been involved in the organization of numerous conferences and meetings dealing with all matters related to regional development. He wrote several papers and working documents on business support schemes for SMEs. He played an important role for the dissemination in European regions of concepts such as benchmarking, business angels, investment readiness, proof of concept, clusters, open innovation, financial engineering, crowdfunding, … Several times Christian has been appointed as an expert by the European Commission and the Committee of the Regions.