Greenovate! Europe’s experts design and test new instruments to support eco-innovation in co-operation with the European Commission and with national and regional innovation agencies. There are a wide variety of such instruments that can be used to accelerate eco-innovation, but one that we find particularly well-adapted for SMEs is the innovation voucher.

An innovation voucher is a measure to facilitate open innovation by connecting an SME with external expertise who enable the SME to remain competitive by providing innovation support.

The basic reasoning behind the creation of innovation vouchers is:

– SMEs are the backbone of our economies;
– SMEs are under competitive pressure and need to stay state-of-the art, be innovative, and reduce costs;
– SMEs typically do not have their own R&D base;
– SMEs find it complicated to access external knowledge.

First generation vouchers

Innovation vouchers first appeared in the support landscape in 2005, pioneered by the Dutch innovation agency Senter Novem, but were taken up by several national and regional innovation agencies across the EU. These vouchers supported technology co-operation between SMEs and research centres.

Second generation vouchers

Recently, a number of variations have emerged on this voucher model, focusing more on service innovation and service-specific vouchers. The vouchers advocate a sector-specific approach to innovation support, as well as access to external business – rather than technical – expertise. We have started to call these ‘second generation vouchers’. They allow SMEs to get advice on their innovation and expansion plans, on business strategies and on any other innovation initiative they might have.

Third generation vouchers

Greenovate! Europe experts have been involved in the EC project KIS-PIMS that set up such sector-specific service innovation vouchers and was pioneered by the innovation agencies OSEO (FR), TEKES (FI), LEV (AT) in 2008. Third generation vouchers offer combined access to technical AND business expertise. Such vouchers were used in the projects GreenConServe (sustainable construction sector) and REMake (resource efficiency in industrial SMEs).

Project outcomes

To read more about the outcomes and experiences from the KIS-PIMS and GreenConServe projects, download the project brochures from the Publications section. These brochures give further information on how the voucher schemes were implemented in the participating countries, contain case studies of individual voucher projects and provide recommendations for future voucher schemes at the European level.