The EU and Business in Ireland
European Union (EU) funding for businesses in Ireland is available from a variety of sources. Indirect funding is available through investments made by the European Investment Bank Group and partner banks in Ireland. In addition, indirect funding is possible from structural funding Ireland receives from the EU, which may be available from local and national financing intermediaries. Direct financing is also available through the European Commission, typically in the form of grants.
Businesses in Ireland are eligible for direct EU funding through the European Commission and its executive agencies. Financing is provided as grants for specific projects that help advance the EU's policy objectives as they relate to the environment, competitiveness, research and development, and training. To apply, businesses must respond to calls for proposals issued by the European Commission (http://ec.europa.eu/contracts_grants/grants_en.htm). Calls for proposals are generally open to all eligible EU businesses, not just those located in Ireland.
European Investment Bank Group
The European Investment Bank Group (www.eib.org) includes the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Investment Fund (EIF). Financing, including loans and equity, is available from financial intermediaries in Ireland. EIB and EIF partner banks and financial institutions are responsible for determining whether financing is provided to individual businesses. Typically, EIF and EIB financing is more affordable than other sources and is available for small and medium sized businesses with less than 250 employees.
Owned by the EU's member states, the EIB provides financing for research, development and innovation. Loans and other financing are available for small and medium sized businesses, job seekers, and a variety of financial institutions, including banks, microfinance lenders, corporate investors, venture capital and equity funds. Intermediated loans are offered by partner banks in Ireland, including the Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank, AIB and the Bank of Scotland (Ireland). Applications for EIB financing are made directly with an intermediary financial institution. Financing may be used for tangible and intangible investments made by Irish companies, although generally financing may only be used for new investments.
The EIF targets innovation and high-potential sectors and companies, particularly start-up and expanding businesses. Financing is available from venture capital and private equity funds in Ireland that are backed by the EIF. The EIF generally provides medium to long-term financing for an equity stake. To be eligible for EIF financing, a company must have less than 250 employers and a turnover of under €50 million and/or a balance sheet of under €43 million.
The European Union supports businesses through indirect financing provided by local and national intermediaries that support Irish businesses using EU structural funds and other national sources of funding. Generally, financing for businesses is focused on research, development and innovation. From 2007 to 2013, the Seventh Framework Programme or FP7 (www.fp7ireland.com) provided funding for scientific and technological research.
The EU's new research and innovation programme and FP7's successor is Horizon 2020 (ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020). To simplify access to funding, the new programme combines all research and innovation funding provided through the Framework Programmes for Research and Technical Development, the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. For businesses, the programme serves the dual purpose of supporting activities related to innovation and facilitating access to finance. To be eligible for financing, a business must have less than 250 employees and have a turnover of under €50 million. Of the estimated €79 billion available through the Horizon 2020 research programme, a target of under €1 billion has been set for Ireland. Funding through Horizon 2020 also supports loans, guarantees and other forms of debt financing, as well as equity provided through the EIB, EIF and their partners.
Other indirect financing sources include the Eurostars Joint Programme (www.eurostars-eureka.eu), which provides funding for businesses undertaking research and development projects. Eurostars is open to small businesses that dedicate at least 10 percent of their turnover to research and development activities. Projects may last for up to three years, with a marketable product ready within two years. Projects must also involve a partner from at least two member states.
Launching in 2014, the COMSE programme supports the competitiveness of small and medium sized enterprises. The programme helps facilitate access to financing and markets, as well as support entrepreneurs and create more favourable conditions for business creation and growth. Running for seven years until 2020, COSME funds guarantees and support venture capital and equity financing offered by financial intermediaries in Ireland. It also supports EU programmes related to entrepreneurship education and business networking, including the European Network of Mentors for Women Entrepreneurs and Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs.
How to Find More Information
The Enterprise Europe Network (www.een-ireland.ie) provides information about EU programmes, policies, regulations, financing and other business-related issues. Enterprise Europe Network is a free service that works collaboratively with Enterprise Ireland and local Chambers of Commerce in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Sligo and Waterford.
In Ireland, many programmes supported by the EU are delivered by Enterprise Ireland (www.enterprise-ireland.com). The government organisation is responsible for developing and growing Irish businesses, with a particularly focus on expanding Ireland's presence in world markets. Grants and other funding are available for high-potential businesses in various stages of development, including start-up and expanding companies.
For a list of all local and national financial intermediaries that provide EU-backed financing, including loans and equity, visit http://europa.eu/youreurope/business/funding-grants/access-to-finance/.