The Macedonian government has launched a Fund for Innovation and Technology Development, aimed at boosting R&D activity at small and medium-sized businesses.
The fund is financed by a loan from the World Bank to the tune of €8 million over the next three years. It is expected to fund innovation projects in ICT, agriculture, tourism and renewable energy, preferably with a local collaboration agenda, says Jasmina Popovska, the fund’s director.
“The point is to create jobs through growth of SMEs and through improving their competitiveness,” says Popovska. “We have instruments for start-ups and spin-offs, and for joint innovation projects.”
Violeta Atanasovska, a senior adviser at Macedonia’s science ministry, says that the fund is welcomed, as it is the country’s only finance mechanism for innovation. But she adds that the exclusive focus on companies, also seen in the country’s recent innovation strategy, is not good.
“There should be something for universities within the ministry”, she says, as in the last few years there have been no instruments for supporting technological development in academia.
Popovska says that the innovation fund can go some way to fulfilling this need, as one of its objectives is to strengthen cooperation between business and universities.
“By financing academic spin-offs, we will try to connect the business sector with the researchers, scientists, universities and innovators,” she explains. “They will have to have a common interest in order to jointly offer a product.”
However, Popovska is not sure if the fund will get many applications, so there is a plan B: to use the money to help companies hire consultants or trainers who can write good project proposals for regional and European funding instruments, such as Horizon 2020.
Bojan Jovanovski, a researcher at the National Center for Development of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Learning, says: “We definitely needed something like this”. But he is less convinced of the prospects for the fund’s long-term sustainability in a country where the economic and political situation means that “it’s very hard to find money for maintaining activities”.
“It’s easier to attract funding for the development of new instruments than to continue funding for what is already there,” says Jovanovski.