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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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.
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:
- Repurposing of manufacturing for vital medical supplies and equipment (€23 million)
- Medical technologies, Digital tools and Artificial Intelligence analytics to improve surveillance and care at high Technology Readiness Levels (€56 million)
- Behavioural, social and economic impacts of the outbreak responses (€20 million)
- Pan-European COVID-19 cohorts (€20 million)
- 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.
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.
Welcome to the April edition of the SME Week Newsletter.
This month has certainly been different, and for some in our Promoting Enterprise community it has been particularly challenging. April has seen many policy changes and updates, Commission initiatives, hackathons and further actions. We have seen SMEs pitching in and doing their part, pushes and drives to make funding available to those in need, and a strong commitment to keeping the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit alive.
On behalf of the Promoting Enterprise team we hope that you continue to stay well, healthy and safe, and we are committed to bringing you the latest updates and inspiring stories.
Thank you for continuing to subscribe and do not forget to submit your news, articles and updates to be featured in an upcoming issue.
The European Commission is hosting a Pan-European hackathon taking place on 24, 25 and 26 April 2020, which will bring together the brightest minds to find solutions and spark ideas across different challenge groups in relation to COVID-19.
The different challenge groups the hackathon aims to address include:
- Health & Life:Protective equipment, Ventilators/respirators, Protection of medical personnel, Real time communication & prevention, Cheap rapid tests, Lack of skilled caregivers, Research
- Business Continuity:Efficient team work, New and resilient business models, Value chains & logistics, Protecting employees, Demonstrate purpose, Stay close to your customers
- Social & Political Cohesion:Protection of isolated & risk groups, Mitigating fake news spreading, Support arts & entertainment, Fight against crime, Protection of citizens & democracy, Developing people-driven economies
- Remote Working & Education:E-Learning methods & tools, Efficient remote working, Family life during remote working & education, Primary and secondary school specific challenges, University specific challenges, Students’ challenges
- Digital Finance:Support identification of financial shortfalls, Speed-up access to financial support, Speed-up distribution of financial support, Availability of emergency health insurance, Enable crowd to help financially, Support for digitally excluded
The hackathon also actively encourages ideas and solutions that are not directly included in the challenges mentioned above.
You can get involved in three distinct roles depending on what you would like to bring to the hackathon:
- Problem solver: This category encompasses developers, designers, creative minds and all problem solvers with expertise in Health, Business, Social & Political Cohesion, Education, Digital Finance and other areas. Ideally you also have experience in hackathons.
- Mentor: This category is looking for experts in the areas of Health, Business, Social & Political Cohesion, Education, Digital Finance and other areas to support the problem solvers. These applicants may also play a team coordinator role during the hackathon.
- Partner: This category is for other actors who want to make their unique contribution to the hackathon – companies, universities, public and private organisations, and networks.
Applications are open and close on 19 April 2020, sign up here and do not miss out on this opportunity!
The original article can be found on the EASME website.
The European Cluster Collaboration Platform (ECCP), a COSME project, has just launched the Covid-19 Industrial Clusters Response Portal to respond to and address challenges during the time of COVID-19.
What is available via the new portal?
This new ECCP portal will allow the existing industrial cluster community to come together and exchange quickly and directly. Via the portal, ECCP members will be able to share solutions, connect with others and support each other in response to COVID-19 challenges.
What are the objectives of this new portal?
This new ECCP portal provides a single point of access to information for industry on actions and decisions taken by the European Commission and the EU Member States impacting on the Internal Market. The portal also aims to facilitate an open discussion forum where actors can share their experiences, solutions, requests and questions.
What has been done so far?
- A recent call to increase production of medical supplies resulted in 1 100 offers from companies across Europe.
- Public authority demands have been included on the portal including:
- The public administration of Madrid needs medical material, the Madrid Automotive Cluster responded and is assisting the administration to match-up the offers and demands of the urgently needed medical material.
How can you get involved?
You can join the community right here, and ask for help, advice or browse posted solutions on the reaction webpage. You can also join in order to offer expertise, services or advice to those in need. Join the ECCP community today!
To create an account and/or register for the updates newsletter look here.
Browse through the COVID-19 related content on the News Portal here and leave us a comment or get in touch if there are other topics you would like us to cover.
The original article can be found on the DG GROWTH website.
The European Commission convened a first meeting with Member States as part of the new Single Market Enforcement Task Force (SMET) to discuss the urgent need to allow the free flow of goods such as face masks, medical supplies and food across the EU.
Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, said: “The coronavirus outbreak has made it crystal clear that no country can fight this virus alone. Europe needs to act together with solidarity. Restrictions endanger this solidarity and prevent essential goods from reaching those who need them most. The Single Market is the backbone of our joint response and we need decisive action to lift any restrictions undermining it.”
The creation of SMET was announced in the Commission’s Single Market Enforcement Action Plan on 10 March in the context of the industrial strategy. The Task Force was envisaged as a platform for Member States and the Commission to work together to ensure better compliance with Single Market rules.
This first meeting kick-started the work of the new Task Force in light of the urgency of issues hampering the correct functioning of the Single Market, mainly intra-EU export restrictions of vital protective, medical and medicinal supplies, border controls and the need to increase production of essential equipment. This also aims at implementing the clear guidance of Europe’s leaders given at the European Council of 26 March to remove all internal bans or restrictions to the free movement of goods. The task force will be convened on a regular basis to discuss issues concerning enforcement issues in the Single Market.
SMEs are often said to be the backbone of Europe’s economy, but what measures have been put in place to help them?
This special episode of Business Planet from Euronews, in collobration with the European Commission, looks at the support that is being mobilised to support Europe’s 25 million SMEs. In an interview with Serge Rombi from Euronews President of SME UNITED Alban Maggiar, spoke of the “exceptional measures” being put in place and the need to keep the Single Market at the heart of all action taken and honour its borderless principles.
He mentioned the increased flexibility for Member States to grant loans to struggling SMEs and tools to help governments support companies and guarantee jobs. In addition he stressed the need for large companies to pay suppliers and sub-contractors, to avoid SMEs having to pay the price for unpaid bills.
Mr Maggiar called for entrepreneurs to hold on and stick together, as well as calling on big decision makers to honour commitments to smaller ones.
For more information read the original Euronews article.