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Archive for ‘COVID-19’

COVID Stories – Hacking for health

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Here on the Promoting Enterprise News Portal we have been bringing you stories from the pandemic, with a particular focus on news and information from which you, our Promoting Enterprise community, can benefit most.

Previous examples have included features on the E-health at home COVID-19 initiative in the Netherlands, which supports healthcare providers in implementing e-health applications to ensure continuity of care, or on Catherine Lorent, a Belgian seamstress who started with acts of solidarity and then innovated and received national aid to keep her business going. In this latest instalment we take a look at two initiatives – one in Greece and one in Turkey – that target the development of applications and solutions to help businesses and people weather the coronavirus storm.

The Antivirus Crowdhackathon in Greece and the Coronathon Türkiye Initiative both have in common the fact that they aim to generate ideas and solutions that will help entrepreneurs to tackle problems related to COVID-19 and to continue to thrive in spite of the restrictions put in place to halt the spread of the pandemic.

Antivirus Crowdhackathon

Antivirus Crowdhackathon is a remote innovation marathon targeting the development of applications to tackle the pandemic. The first of its kind in Greece, the hackathon promotes a new remote approach to innovation through the use of new technologies in order to contribute to solutions that address the impact of the pandemic. In this way, the initiative hopes to generate new innovative applications within health, business, education and the cultural sector, to help the Greek business and social ecosystems to adapt in an increasingly digital era.

The first cycle of the innovation marathon was held on April 2-5, 2020 and generated ideas for a home health recording platform that identifies the most serious cases and automatically informs medical staff, along with a community awareness platform dedicated to collecting, exchanging and statistically analysing information from citizens about the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Meanwhile, solutions from the second cycle, on 21-24 May, included a community-driven ordering and delivery platform from grocery stores aimed at the elderly, among other solutions.

Read more about the innovation marathon here.

Coronathon Türkiye Initiative

At a time of great uncertainty, the main goal of the Coronathon Türkiye Initiative is to help entrepreneurs tackle problems related to COVID-19 and its spread. Through its online platform, the initiative attracts entrepreneurs with innovative business models and social projects and helps them access resources and develop their ideas. The initiative provides an online forum where business models and social projects can access assets such as raw materials, human resources, mentoring and investment support.

All of this is done online, so the safety of all parties involved is ensured. The initiative also raises awareness of the problems caused by COVID-19 and holds online hackathons to address these problems. Coronathon Türkiye also supports other organisations and intuitions working on COVID-19 solutions through announcements, experience and resource sharing, and providing direct support through webinars and mentoring.

Read more about the initiative here.

Be sure to come back to the News Portal, and follow us on Twitter & Facebook to stay up to date with the latest measures and new support granted under the Commission Temporary Framework or to learn about other initiatives in response to COVID-19.

COVID Stories – E-health solutions and mask manufacturing

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Here on the Promoting Enterprise News Portal we want to bring you stories from the pandemic, in particular the information that you, our Promoting Enterprise community, can benefit most from.

Previously we have brought you stories and examples like that of Catherine Lorent, a Belgian seamstress who started with acts of solidarity and then innovated and received national aid to keep her business going. We have also looked at tips on how to support small businesses as a consumer, measures for SMEs when the effects of the pandemic started to be felt, the ongoing support granted under the Commission Temporary Framework, and other Commission funded coronavirus projects.

Today on Promoting Enterprise we are looking at some initiatives that were launched in response to the pandemic in order to mobilise the brightest minds, bring innovators together with those in need of solutions and, most importantly, find solutions to ongoing issues caused by COVID-19. Read through the featured initiatives below and be sure to visit their websites to learn more about their work.

E-health at home COVID-19, The Netherlands

The COVID-19 outbreak has meant that healthcare providers have had to make an extra effort to care for people with vulnerable health conditions living at home. In the new situation of social distancing, it was necessary for the health providers to adjust or extend their care for this vulnerable group.

In order to support health care providers during the COVID-19 crisis, a temporary emergency fund was made available by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. This fund, executed by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), supports health care providers in purchasing or leasing and implementing e-health applications to ensure continuity of care, in this case remote care or telecare. The 23 million-euro fund was opened twice between 26 March and 8 May and attracted more than 1700 applicants of which 460 were funded.

Find out more about the scheme here.

Corradino Correction Facility, Malta

Prisoners at the Corradino Correction Facility in Malta are helping to combat the outbreak of COVID-19 by producing masks and other personal protective equipment. These masks are being used by officers and residents of the facility and by other government entities. The Minister for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement in Malta expressed his gratitude for the initiative, and highlighted the importance of showing unity and solidarity. The administration of the facility said that despite the fact that prisoners have made mistakes in the past, they are now supporting society during such a difficult moment for the country.

Be sure to come back to the News Portal, and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date with the latest measures and new support granted under the Commission Temporary Framework or to learn about other initiatives in response to COVID-19.

Expression of interest – Interregional innovation projects to support coronavirus response and recovery

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The original press release is available in the Commission Press Corner.

On 27 July 2020 the European Commission launched a call for expressions of interest for thematic partnerships to pilot interregional innovation projects that support the response and recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.

This call serves to assist regions in identifying opportunities emerging from the crisis and using them to “build on green and digital transformation for the recovery of the most affected sectors, such as health and tourism”.

Transnational and interregional partnerships between regional authorities and other stakeholders (e.g. SMEs, universities, research clusters etc.) under the following four thematic areas are eligible for support under this call:

  • Development of the medical value chain
  • Safety and management of medical waste
  • Sustainable and digital tourism
  • Development of hydrogen technologies in carbon-intensive regions

Partnerships should be willing to pilot interregional innovation aimed at “facilitating the commercialisation and scale-up of interregional innovation projects and to incentivise business investment”.

The deadline for application is 7 September 2020.

More detailed information on the call, eligibility and how to apply can be found here.

INNOSUP funded open call DIGI-B-CUBE – SMEs against COVID-19

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The original article can be found on the EASME website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives and presented new challenges across different sectors. One sector in particular that has had to endure, react and innovate is healthcare, and healthcare systems in particular have been under significant strain.

In response to this the INNOSUP funded DIGI-B-CUBE project “aims to unlock the cross-sectoral potential of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and generate innovative solutions to reconfigure patient-centred diagnostics towards a Health Economy 4.0.” In order to do so the DIGI-B-CUBE project offer direct financial support to projects focused on promoting and integrating digital innovations and disruptive technologies across the Medical Diagnostics and related value chains.

The project exists to support innovative SMEs that have developed solutions for the broad issues and challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused and highlighted. The recently launched call is directed specifically at SMEs and new start-ups “to fight COVID-19 through transversal collaborative projects”. SMEs considering application are eligible for up to 60 000 EUR in direct support and can be from the following sectors:

  • Healthcare medicine;
  • Biotech;
  • Biopharma;
  • IT;
  • Robotics;
  • Automation;
  • Electronics;
  • Nanotech.

Application information
The first cut-off date is Wednesday 29 July 2020, after which an evaluation process taking up to 4 weeks will take place. The second cut-off date is Wednesday 3 February 2021.

For more information consult the EASME article and project website, or contact the project coordinators directly with specific questions.

More about INNOSUP 
The Horizon 2020 INNOSUP programme aims to test new approaches for better innovation support through funding opportunities for innovation actors across Europe. Funding opportunities exist for clusters, innovation agencies and other SME Intermediaries, as well as individual SMEs and researchers. More information can be found on the INNOSUP website.

Acts of solidarity – How a Belgian seamstress supported the medical sector and general public

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We are back with part two of the first of our ‘COVID Stories’ which look at how companies and people have been affected by the current pandemic and how they have adapted to their new business environments.

In this interview Catherine Lorent, a Belgian micro SME owner who has used her sewing business to aid the medical sector and general public tells us what happened next and where she is now. If you haven’t already, catch up with part one of her story here. In her last interview Catherine explained how she started making masks and hospital blouses for the medical sector, and her experience in learning how to make masks and being able to source the correct fabric.

Today Catherine is telling us more about the business, the need to diversify, direct impacts due to COVID, expanding her new products to the general public and where she sees her business in future.

How have you diversified your business in response to COVID-19?

I started with the call for masks and blouses for the hospital staff, but once the demand from hospitals began to decrease (due to the arrival of medical grade masks), I found myself becoming less busy and not having as much work again, which was worrying. I looked into making other Personal Protective Equipment, specifically the plastic visors for the hospital staff as I knew there was a shortage, but unfortunately I was unable to source the correct materials.

It was at this point that the government guidelines for citizen mask-wearing began to become clearer, and I started receiving orders from the general public, the spokesperson for the Belgian Prime Minister and the office of the Secretary General of the European Commission. These orders led to my business slowly picking up again, and saw a slow transition from providing fabric masks only for the hospitals to taking private clients. I have been lucky as I have not had to inject personal funds into my business and have been supported by the government bridge scheme for entrepreneurs.  

Diversification also happened with the way I get my products to my clients, which was a big problem during COVID specifically. There were times when it took up to 3 weeks for some of my clients to receive their masks in the post, which was simply not quick enough. To solve this, my son and I reached out to some cyclists to set up a delivery work, which now works to get the products to clients in a more reasonable timeframe. I cover the costs of the cyclists but some of them are volunteers that wanted to help me however they could.

What other effects has COVID-19 had on you and your business?

There is definitely a change in perception of my skills and industry. Prior to the beginning of this pandemic I did not feel as valued, and I think that in general my sector and my profession were not valued as much as they were a few decades ago. In general I think that manual labour is sometimes seen as ‘easy’, and that anyone can do it. The need for fabric masks highlighted our specific skillsets, and as a result people’s mentality has changed and I feel like my work is more appreciated.

With this appreciation I hope that there is another mentality shift towards valuing quality clothes, and investing in good pieces and repairing them over time to make them last. If a higher quality of clothes becomes the standard, then the value of repairing and tailoring them should also increase.

How do you see the future of your business?

I hope that I will not have to make so many masks! To date, I have made around 1600 in total. It is a product that I will continue to offer as there is a demand and a need, but I’m hoping that I will not have to make as many as I was producing at the beginning of the lockdown period. I’ve experimented with a few different models of masks now that it is a steady product that I offer, and I’m thinking about coming out with a summer collection!

I also hope that the outpouring of support for small businesses will continue and that people will value the SMEs in their community and take their business to them. It is important to champion entrepreneurs, and I think that one of the results of this pandemic is that people have discovered small businesses and want to support them however they can. In my case I was very moved by all the people wanting to offer their help to make me a website, help out with my social media, volunteer to help my business, and just showing their support for me and my work. Hopefully this kind of attitude continues in future.

It will also be great to see my clients again, and hopefully gain some new ones! The bigger contracts should also come back so that is something to look forward to as well. Overall I will continue to diversify my products, and perhaps transition my business back into a hobby in the future, we will just have to wait and see.

Don’t forget to go and follow L’Or en 4 on Instagram and Facebook to learn more about Catherine and her story.

Have you got a COVID Story like Catherine’s to tell? Do you know an SME owner that has adapted to COVID-19 and wants to share their story? We would love to hear about it and feature it right here on the News Portal. Contact us at: promotingenterprise@gopacom.eu

Acts of solidarity – How a Belgian seamstress started making masks

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Today on Promoting Enterprise we are bringing you the first of our ‘COVID Stories’ which will look at how companies and people have been affected by the current pandemic and how they are adapting to their new business environments.

Our first story focuses on Catherine Lorent, a Belgian micro SME owner who has used her sewing business to aid the medical sector and general public by learning how to make masks and fabricating them, as well as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gowns and shirts for nurses at children’s hospitals who found themselves facing shortages as the urgent demand for PPE continued to rise.

In this interview she tells about what motivated her to start her business and how she brought her plans to fruition, as well as the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on her business.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your business?

My name is Catherine Lorent and I own a sewing business called ‘L’Or en 4’. I started my current business in 2017 after I had become unemployed. Up until that point I had been working for a company for many years, until it closed around 2016. I was 54 at the time and I realised that my re-employment opportunities were limited due to my age and that it would be potentially difficult to reintegrate into the workforce.

It was at this point that I decided to re-pursue my passion for sewing, and try and make a business out of it to be able to keep working. I’ve always enjoyed sewing and I did have a small business at one point so I decided to start it up again as I wanted to become independent and work for myself.

My sewing business covers just about everything, I’m a seamstress so I can fix clothes, furnishings (like curtains and upholstery), and I also do restoration work. In addition, I’m a creative seamstress so I help people bring their designs to life and co-create bespoke pieces for them from scratch.  

What were the initial effects of COVID-19 on you and your business?

At the beginning of the pandemic it was really stressful because my clients stopped coming to my premises to have their garments tailored due to the lockdown measures which really affected my source of income. What’s more, some of my contracts started to be put on hold or dry up, like my work with the scouts to produce their scarves, seeing as all activities were suspended. The cancellation of several events also had quite a big knock on effect. My business is also tied to a lot of shops, as I work with several of them as their main seamstress for alterations, and when they had to close due to the health measures that also halted another line of work for me.

Overall it was an incredibly stressful period, and at one point I called one of my sons who helps me with the business and told him that I thought that I was going to have to close my business and stop working. I just couldn’t see how to replace my normal work and keep my business afloat. It was a difficult moment for both of us but it made me realise just how passionate I am about what I do and that I wanted to keep going however I could.

When and how did you start making masks for the hospitals?

I started making the masks as an act of solidarity as I realised that supplies were low and there was a genuine need. There was also this general expectation that people with skills like mine should pitch in and help out the hospitals and travelling nurses where they could, so I started experimenting with patterns and construction and making my first fabric masks. There was a lot of trial and error at the beginning as there were no official guidelines, requirements or certifications in Belgium for non-medical grade masks at the time.

Even sourcing the correct fabric was difficult during lockdown and I began by using my own stocks of hard polyester. When I ran out I turned to my own network to source more in order to keep up with demand. The fabric shop owner that I work with really helped out and at one point was throwing my fabric order down to me from a window! This was the only way that we could keep our supply chain going and helping the hospitals whilst keeping ourselves safe and socially distancing. It really emphasised that sense of community and just highlighted how everyone wanted to play their part and work together.

At this stage I was being paid by the national government via a dedicated scheme (Droit passerelle pour indépendants / Overbruggingsrecht voor zelfstandigen) for the self-employed that needed temporary financial support due to COVID-19. Through the scheme I was paid for my time and contribution so I was able to keep the business afloat, but I was still quite worried about how to keep my business going in the future.

What about the hospital gowns and shirts, when did you start making those?

Once I had already started making masks I saw an appeal on Facebook that was launched to find seamstresses willing to help children’s hospitals. The nurses that were working in these hospitals were running out of protective clothing as the main hospitals treating COVID-19 patients used up most of the supplies. The appeal asked for help in producing this protective clothing but also for the seamstresses to try and source ‘fun’ fabrics, as these nurses were treating young patients. I responded to the appeal and managed to make shirts for the nurses out of recycled fabric that I already had.

That is something else that I really stand for, the idea of recycling fabric or using what you have. Where possible I want to respond to the need for new products but not contribute to waste or harm the environment. If I can, I re-use or recycle fabrics or upcycle existing products into something completely new.

What was it like diversifying your activities to include masks and protective clothing? Was it difficult to keep up with demand?

At first it was a slower uptake but then it got to a point where I was not able to do it all on my own. I was very lucky to have neighbours giving me their time and helping out, as well as my sons. I taught them to sew when they were young so they helped me on the weekends to keep up with the orders and make sure we got everything out on time.

How did Catherine continue to diversify her business? How is she doing now and where does she see the future of her industry? Find out all of this and more in our next interview right here on the Promoting Enterprise News Portal. You can follow L’Or en 4 on Instagram and Facebook.

Have you got a COVID Story like Catherine’s to tell? Do you know an SME owner that has adapted to COVID-19 and wants to share their story? We would love to hear about it and feature it right here on the News Portal. Contact us at: promotingenterprise@gopacom.eu

European Commission consults Member States on proposal to expand State aid Temporary Framework

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The original press release is available in the Commission Press Corner.

On Friday 12 June, the European Commission sent Member States for consultation and comment a draft proposal to further extend the scope of the State aid Temporary Framework adopted on 19 March 2020 to support the economy in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The Temporary Framework was first amended on 3 April 2020 to increase possibilities for public support to research, testing and production of products relevant to fight the coronavirus outbreak, to protect jobs and to further support the economy. On 8 May 2020, the Commission adopted a second amendment extending the scope of the Temporary Framework to recapitalisation and subordinated debt measures.

The Commission is now proposing to further extend the scope of the Temporary Framework by enabling Member States to:

  • Support certain micro and small enterprises, including start-ups that were already in difficulty before 31 December 2019, and
  • Provide incentives for private investors to participate in coronavirus-related recapitalisation measures.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said “Micro, small and start-up companies face specific challenges as a result of the coronavirus crisis. They are crucial for the economic recovery of the Union. That’s why we propose to extend the Temporary Framework to enable Member States to give further support to micro and small companies, including start-up companies. Furthermore, we propose to introduce conditions that provide incentives for private investors to participate alongside the State in recapitalisations. This is welcome as it reduces the need for State aid and the risk of distortions to competition. We continue to work closely with Member States to ensure that European businesses have access to urgently needed liquidity, to contribute to the economic revival post-coronavirus.”

Micro and small companies have been particularly affected by the liquidity shortage caused by the economic impact of the current coronavirus outbreak, exacerbating their existing difficulties to access financing compared to medium-sized and large enterprises. If left unaddressed, these difficulties could lead to a large number of bankruptcies of micro and small companies, causing serious disturbances for the entire EU economy. The new proposal would allow Member States to extend aid to SMEs that qualify as being in financial difficulty on 31 December 2019 and increase the possibilities for small and start-up companies to receive support.

The new proposal also includes adaptations that incentivise private investors to contribute alongside the State, and thus limiting the risk of competition distortions and preserving effective competition in the Single Market.

Check out other COVID-19 related news and updates here on the News Portal.

Coronavirus: EU grants €314 million to innovative companies to combat the virus and support recovery

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The original press release is available in the Commission Press Corner.

The European Commission has awarded nearly €166 million, via the European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator Pilot, to 36 companies to combat the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, over €148 million will be granted to another 36 companies to contribute to the recovery plan for Europe, bringing the total investment from Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation programme, to €314 million in this round.

The selected 36 companies will work on pioneering projects, such as on expanding the production of bio-decontamination wipes, developing ventilation monitoring systems that provide first aiders with real-time feedback on the quality of the ventilation given to the patient, developing an antibody platform to treat severe cases of infection, and many more. Furthermore, 139 companies tackling the coronavirus that could not receive funding in this round due to budget limitations have received the newly introduced COVID-19 Seal of Excellence, in recognition of the value of their proposal and in order to help them attract support from other funding sources.

The additional 36 companies, set to support the recovery plan for Europe, will work across a multitude of sectors and projects, which include for example the development of stronger and taller wind turbine towers made from wood modules, with the potential to massively reduce wind energy costs, an organic fertiliser production system, and a blockchain-based solution for sustainable recycling practices of manufacturers. An additional 679 high quality proposals passed the EIC funding criteria and were awarded Seals of Excellence, but unfortunately could not be funded due to limited budget.

A record number of almost 4000 start-ups and small and medium businesses (SMEs) applied to the EIC Accelerator pilot in March, and over 1400 of the proposed innovations were relevant to the coronavirus outbreak. In light of this an extra €150 million was recently allocated to this funding round, bringing the combined total to over €314 million.

Check out other COVID-19 related news and updates here on the News Portal.

European Commission mobilises additional €122 million from H2020 programme

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The original press release is available in the Commission Press Corner.

The Commission has mobilised another €122 million from its research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, for urgently needed research into the coronavirus. This new call falls under the Coronavirus Global Response initiative, launched by President Ursula von der Leyen on 4 May 2020.

The new call will cover five areas with the following indicative budgets:

  1. Repurposing of manufacturing for vital medical supplies and equipment (€23 million)
  2. Medical technologies, Digital tools and Artificial Intelligence analytics to improve surveillance and care at high Technology Readiness Levels (€56 million)
  3. Behavioural, social and economic impacts of the outbreak responses (€20 million)
  4. Pan-European COVID-19 cohorts (€20 million)
  5. Collaboration of existing EU and international cohorts of relevance to COVID-19 (€3 million)

The deadline for submissions is 11 June 2020.

The projects funded under this call should repurpose manufacturing for rapid production of vital medical supplies and equipment needed for testing, treatment and prevention, as well as develop medical technologies and digital tools to improve detection, surveillance and patients care. New research will learn from large groups of patients (cohorts) across Europe and better understanding of the behavioural and socio-economic impacts of the coronavirus epidemic could help improve treatment and prevention strategies.

For more information on Special Horizon 2020 request for expressions of interest look here.

Hungarian agri-food SMEs to receive support under the Commission’s State aid Temporary Framework

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The European Commission has approved a Hungarian scheme to support the agri-food value chain in the context of the coronavirus outbreak, which is expected to mobilise at least approximately €314 million (approx. HUF 111 billion). The scheme will be open to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) active in all sectors, but is aimed at the wider agri-food value chain. The objective of the measure is to provide those companies with financial means to cover their immediate working capital and investment needs, and help them maintain their activities during these difficult times.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “This Hungarian guarantee scheme, expected to mobilise at least €314 million, will support the Hungarian agriculture and food industry, as well as the wider agriculture and bio-economy value chain. This measure will improve the liquidity of businesses and help them continue their activities in these difficult times. We continue working closely with Member States to ensure that national support measures can be put in place quickly and effectively, in line with EU rules.

The scheme was approved under the State aid Temporary Framework adopted by the Commission on 19 March 2020, as amended on 3 April 2020. The Temporary Framework enables Member States to combine support measures, with the exception of loans and guarantees for the same loan and exceeding the thresholds foreseen by the Temporary Framework.

The Framework allows Member States to provide the following types of aid:

  • Direct grants, equity injections, selective tax advantages and advance payments
  • State guarantees for loans taken by companies
  • Subsidised public loans to companies 
  • Safeguards for banks that channel State aid to the real economy 
  • Public short-term export credit insurance 
  • Support for coronavirus related research and development (R&D) 
  • Support for the construction and upscaling of testing facilities 
  • Support for the production of products relevant to tackle the coronavirus outbreak 
  • Targeted support in the form of deferral of tax payments and/or suspensions of social security contributions 
  • Targeted support in the form of wage subsidies for employees 

More detailed information on the Temporary Framework can be found here.

The full original press release can be found here in the Commission Press Corner.

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