SME WalletA programme of subsidies to support strategic design in small businesses
- Enterprise Flanders
- €39m total | €300,000 design
- 5 years (ongoing)
- Design support
- Design Flanders
The SME Wallet programme enables companies based in Flanders to access subsidies of up to €25,000 for business support.
The scheme is run by Enterprise Flanders, a government-funded agency, with a remit to support businesses and entrepreneurs in the region. One of the principal ways they are doing this is by encouraging companies to incorporate design into their operations, through programmes like SME Wallet. A dedicated team within the agency called Design Flanders was given responsibility for promoting and implementing the design aspect of the programme.
SME Wallet launched in the form of an interactive web application in 2002. It enabled small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Flanders to obtain subsidies of between €100 and €25,000 in training, advice, technological insight, advice on internationalisation, coaching and strategic advice. From 2009 companies became able to claim subsidies for design projects under the programme. Between 2009 and 2014 more than 228 design projects were funded, receiving a total of €504,236 in subsidies.
How design helped
The application process involved a series of steps. First, companies needed to register through the website, including registering as trustee of the enterprise by means of an electronic identity card. They could then search for suppliers and make an agreement with them.
The service provider then confirmed the application and determined whether the service was eligible for subsidy. When the application was confirmed by the service provider, the enterprise paid its contribution in full directly into the electronic wallet.
The SME Wallet programme helped SMEs deal with suppliers directly without going through intermediaries. It focussed on helping SMEs obtain support in six key areas:
Training programmes for managers and employees, with the aim of improving the current or future operation of the enterprise.
Example project: Skills or language training.
Bespoke analysis by a consultant of a specific challenge, including written recommendations and an implementation plan. 34 designers were approved as recognised service suppliers in this field.
Example project: A market research study or design proposal.
A study providing an answer to a specific technological problem relating to a product, process or service provided by the businesses.
Example project: Lab tests or complex modelling.
Advice on internationalisation
Written, specific, efficient, studies, plans and recommendations with regard to internationalisation.
e.g. Studies of international markets or advice on setting up outlets abroad.
Improving the personal effectiveness of the coached entrepreneur in his business processes.
e.g. Business transfer, international growth
Advice related to the transformation of the entire company. The advice provide a long term solution that affects the whole organization.
e.g. A re-launch plan for an enterprise in difficulties or a design management plan.
Manufacturer Linum is good example of a firm that benefitted from the programme. They are a family-owned business with headquarters in Flanders and offices in the Netherlands, Northern France and Germany. Through the SME Wallet programme Linum received a grant of €5,000 to work with award-winning design agency Pilipili to create folding table legs that would complement the countertops they sold to industrial kitchens. The result was not just a new product line, but an innovative new folding mechanism patented by Linum.
Working with Pilipili helped expand our product range and bring out the innovative spirit in our company.
Later that same year, Pilipili returned to give strategic advice to Linum, for which a subsidy of €24,570 was given. This allowed the company to further expand its product range. New high-end products aimed at commercial bakeries, were successfully prototyped and then put into production. This expanded product range is already selling well, and has contributed to the overall growth of the firm.
The programme helped us develop a new high-end offering for bakeries. It now accounts for 30% of our sales in this category.
Following the success of the SME Wallet design projects, design management was increasingly recognised by policymakers as a valuable strategic tool for companies’ growth. As a result, in 2013, design management became an eligible cost in the area of strategic advice. This meant that companies could access up to €25,000 for design management advice through the programme.