Printers are facing a host of challenges in turbulent times, but a financial boost for innovation can help you survive and thrive.
Businesses of all shapes and sizes are facing a period of great uncertainty. For some time, industries have been bombarded with messages stressing the importance of innovating, automating, and digitising, and that failure to do so will mean they’re left behind – print is no exception. But now, a transition that was already proving challenging – just one in five companies in the EU are adequately digitised, according to the European Commission. This has become much harder due to confusion around Brexit and a global pandemic that means many businesses are struggling to stay afloat, never mind embrace new ways of doing things.
Additionally, Horizon 2020 – the largest ever European funding programme for research and innovation – is now drawing to a close. The €79 billion programme, which ran from 2014 to 2020, was a major source of funding for businesses looking to boost their operations as part of the EU’s pursuit of “smart, sustainable and inclusive growth”.
However, as both the EU and UK government look to a post-pandemic landscape, the onus is very much on ‘building back better’. This period of flux has presented an opportunity for recovery that will ensure businesses are more agile and resilient for future challenges. For printers, this means adopting automation and digitisation sooner rather than later.
Understandably, the current state of affairs means that many companies will feel safer doing things the way they’ve always been done until the situation calms down, but there are other sources of funding available that mean businesses can survive and thrive.
For a start, the existing Horizon 2020 programme will become Horizon Europe, a similar initiative that will run from 2021 to 2027. It’s not yet clear exactly what this programme will look like, but the EU has confirmed it will focus on three pillars: open science, global challenges and competitiveness, and open innovation. Furthermore, the UK will associate with Horizon Europe, which will give UK scientists, researchers and businesses access to funding under the programme on equivalent terms as organisations in EU countries.
Ready for the digital age
The programme aligns closely with the European Commission’s six priorities for 2019-2024 – two of which are particularly pertinent to printers looking to innovate their businesses: ‘A Europe fit for the digital age’ and ‘A European Green Deal’. It is, after all, important to remember that automation and digitisation bring a raft of environmental benefits – reduced material use, better energy efficiency, and so on. So, so these kinds of improvements will also be eligible for funding, particularly under Europe’s Circular Economy Action Plan, which includes measures to mobilize private financing in support of the circular economy through EU financial instruments, such as InvestEU.
Indeed, InvestEU – Europe’s flagship investment programme built on the previous successful Juncker Plan – is one particular initiative earmarked for greater support from Europe’s overall Economic Recovery Plan, which has a total firepower of €1.85 trillion between 2021 and 2027. The Commission says it’s keen to mobilise investment in areas such as digitisation and plans to create a new ‘Strategic Investment Facility’ to help bolster ‘green and digital transitions’.
Priming the pump
So, there will be funding opportunities available in the coming months. The question is, where to look for them? For companies in Europe, the Enterprise Europe Network is the first port of call. The network provides expertise and support for all kinds of business innovation matters – including funding – through local network contact points. The service also allows businesses to search for partners to manufacture, distribute and co-develop products and ideas, which can be useful if you’re considering making a more significant funding bid.
In the UK, companies should consult Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation. Since 2007, the public body has invested around £2.5 billion to help businesses across the country pursue innovative endeavours, and its support is available to businesses from all economic sectors, value chains and UK regions. Search for funding at ukri.org/opportunity.
Additionally, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy website includes an aggregated database of local, region-specific funding opportunities, which is particularly useful if your business is small, in its infancy or located in a rural or underserved area. Search it here: www.gov.uk/business-finance-support.
It’s no secret that the print industry has weathered its fair share of challenges in recent times – long before Brexit uncertainties and the pandemic took hold. These more recent events have only exacerbated the need for print companies to find smarter ways of working, and while it may be tempting to continue treading water until the future is clearer, one thing is certain: companies that take steps to automate and digitise now will be best placed to weather tomorrow’s storms. UK and EU governments recognise this, and the provision of funding remains for all companies willing to innovate – printers included.
by FESPA Staff