European Commission floats voucher scheme to help SMBs go digital

The European Commission has published a blueprint for small businesses to get access to new technologies worth up to 10,000 in exchange for "innovation vouchers".

The vouchers would be exchanged for services, such as software training or website development, with funding to ensure the money allocated to companies is spent quickly.

The scheme has been piloted in the Spanish Regions of Murcia and Extremadura.

The European Commission said in G20 countries, technology-enabled SMBs have 22 per cent higher revenue growth and in Germany 93 per cent of small firms with an active web presence increased employment over three years, compared with only 50 per cent of those not online.

The vouchers will be issued by local authorities and can be used by SMBs to implement eCommerce services, or adopt more sophisticated ICT tools for business processes, such as supply chain operations and customer relations management.

The blueprint will help authorities identify the needs of SMBs to go digital and to assess whether vouchers are fit to address this. The guide outlines how to set up a tailor-made voucher scheme for their region or to expand existing ones. The voucher's value may vary according to the needs of the SMB and the regional priorities.

The blueprint said any local initiative should be light on paperwork and enable services to be bought from a range of providers including private companies, universities and research centres.

"Small businesses using digital services grow twice as fast, export twice as much, and create twice as many new jobs. Everyone should benefit the way Murcia and Extremadura are benefiting in Spain," said Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice president.

Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for regional policy, added: "Giving access to digital technologies is one of the many ways that Regional Policy can help small businesses be more competitive.

"SMBs are the lifeblood of Europe's economies and the source of future jobs in our cities and regions."

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.