Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) can be sources of employment and innovation in a national economy, yet conditions are not always favourable when these enterprises compete against larger competitors. The winner of Category 3 (Improving the Business Environment) at the European Enterprise Promotion Awards (EEPA) 2016, strives to create these conditions and an SME supportive environment. The Leader SME programme is a mechanism to qualify enterprises that aims to highlight the merits of the most successful national SMEs by creating conditions to strengthen their market reputation and fast-track access to funding. The goal is to promote growth strategies and consolidate their competitiveness.
How did you first hear about the national competition and why did you decide to enter?
We first heard about the competition through several public and private entities that promote and encourage participation in the competition throughout Portugal, and applied using our public/private partnership. We felt that our project was a good and strong example of what EEPA represents. Our results from previous years were also very successful, so we thought that our project had good replication potential and could serve as a European example.
How did you go about preparing your application?
The preparation of an EEPA application is quite “heavy” in terms of the work involved. We did not prepare something special for EEPA, but instead created a working group for the preparation of the application as soon as the period of application was announced.
What was it like to win the award?
It was a surprise, considering the quality of other applications. However, we felt that we had a very good chance in this competition, since we were strongly convinced of the quality of our application. Just being included in the shortlist gave as a sense of achievement! Winning the competition was very important to us, and it was an extraordinary feeling: a reward for the work done, and concrete proof that we are on the right track.
How did winning the award immediately impact your work and what kind of response did you receive?
Winning the award helped us not only externally, the increased visibility helped with publicity and will also help us in the future, but also internally. Internally the win helped to solidify our relationships with partners and make us a stronger network. It also resulted in overall better general knowledge of the objectives and better understanding of the technicalities of the project. The response was great and made us feel like we have an increased sense of responsibility, now we just have to maintain and increase the impact of the project. Whilst it was fantastic to represent our project, it was also very satisfying to be able to represent Portugal.
Can you already see a long-term impact or do you have any expectations?
Yes. Considering the results of the initiative, and the relevance of the award, we think that the partners will be able to approach companies more easily in order to tighten the network links and increase the impact of the SME Leader initiative.
Why should others enter EEPA 2017? What advice would you give them?
It is important to evaluate whether a project has the following: quality, results, strong partnership, and replicability. Our advice would be that if your project has all of the above, then you should definitely compete! The preparation for EEPA stimulates evaluation, strengthens partnership, and gives visibility, all of which can only help strengthen your project.
What are your plans for the future?
Our project has the potential to increase the level and scope of impact on the companies, through a tightening of the network. We hope to raise awareness and increase knowledge about the companies considered to be SME Leaders, and disseminate their best practices to help others achieve the same leader status. Our whole project is about helping SMEs get access to finance, whether it be through creating the right conditions or helping them comply with requisites, in terms of the future we want to keep doing just that and increase the number of enterprises that we help and who can benefit.