Estonia's small enterprises have received innovation vouchers from Enterprise Estonia for implementing 149 innovation projects. The total volume of grants financed from the European Regional Development Fund is now close to 8.75 million kroons.
Director of Enterprise Estonia's Innovation Division Ilmar Pralla says that the Innovation Voucher Grant programme opened last February is the simplest way for enterprises to launch cooperation with research institutions for the purpose of implementing innovative ideas. "A noteworthy number of new cooperation projects between the private sector and universities have emerged," said Pralla. "Enterprises have started to view universities as good partners capable of offering them the services that small and medium-size enterprises truly need".
Innovation vouchers have been used to implement a large variety of innovations, but many of the projects focus on energy efficiency and environmentally friendly behaviour. For instance, the Võru-based AS Kurmik is developing models of houses conforming to the passive house standards in cooperation with the University of Tartu's Institute of Technology, Ecocleaner OÜ in Sillamäe is engaged in preparing the specification for a waste compost product, and Kehtna manor in Rapla County is studying how to use waste for producing biogas in cooperation with the Tallinn University of Technology's Department of Chemistry.
With regard to product development on a smaller scale, the Nõo (Tartu County) based Aluver OÜ is using the innovation voucher grant to develop new construction material - a chemically bonded phosphate ceramic. The advantage of this material compared to ordinary concrete is its greater compressive strength, shorter setting time, extremely high temperature tolerance, low water conducting properties and good setting properties at low temperatures.
The Narva furniture manufacturer Promet Baltic OÜ is developing a collection of Jacquard loom fabrics in cooperation with the Estonian Academy of Arts textile design department. Lasita Aken in Tartu is developing a new kind of window frame with the University of Tartu Institute of Technology. The medical technology company JR Medical is using the innovation voucher support to apply for a patent for its medical equipment, while GrillSymbol, a producer of gas grills and woks, is commissioning trials of its products from a certification organization to receive a CE label.
Innovation vouchers have also been used to improve working conditions. For instance, the Viljandi-based home textile manufacturer Delux, in cooperation with University of Tartu, has been measuring and analyzing physical hazards in the occupational environment in order to reduce the static electricity potential in manufacturing facilities.
Small and medium-size enterprises can use the innovation voucher to buy in services related to development from institutions of higher education, the Estonian Patent Office, the Estonian Patent Library, patent officials and accredited testing laboratories. Starting in January of this year, the innovation voucher can also be used to obtain assistance from institutions of professional higher education and competence centres. The amount of the voucher per enterprise can be up to 50,000 kroons and it can be used to cover up to 100% of eligible costs. In the case of a more costly development project, up to five enterprises can submit a joint application for an innovation voucher of up to 250,000 kroons. The total budget for the Innovation Voucher Grant programme in 2009-2010 is 15 million kroons.
Enterprise Estonia has supported 149 small enterprises in implementing innovation projects