Thinking Small to Succeed Big

Achievements of the EU SME Centre

The European Union (EU) Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) Centre is an EU-funded project that aims to help European SMEs enter and operate in the Chinese market. The Centre provides four core services: the Knowledge Centre, the Advice Centre, the Training Centre and the SME Advocacy Platform. With Phase II of the project now concluded, the Centre’s Director Peter Pronk looks back at the impact this initiative has had on the business environment in China for European SMEs.

It feels as if it was only yesterday that the then European Commission Vice President for Industry and Entrepreneurship Antonio Tajani hailed the establishment of the EU SME Centre as “an important step in the implementation of the Small Business Act (…) and in the realisation of the ‘think small first’ principle that embodies European SME policy.” Yet, believe it or not, ten years have already passed. A decade, two project phases and three EU leadership changes later, the Centre has not only fully delivered on its initial expectations, it has further evolved to incorporate new ways to support and empower European SMEs in their quest to conquer the Chinese market.

The end of Phase II of the EU SME Centre came on 6th April 2020. As our organisation takes a break in preparation for an upcoming phase, allow me to walk you through our successes and achievements so far.

Our people and partners

At its core, the EU SME Centre is an initiative based on cooperation. This is clearly exemplified in its structure, with six implementing partners—the China-Britain Business Council, the European Union, French, Italian and Benelux chambers of commerce and EUROCHAMBRES—that have seen our activities through to success. However, as we believe in strength in numbers when it comes to reaching out to European SMEs interested in or already doing business in China, we did not stop there. Throughout the years, the EU SME Centre has created synergies with other EU projects, such as the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) SME Helpdesk, the European Network of Research and Innovation Centres and Hubs (ENRICH) and the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN). The Centre has also worked to develop a strong network of more than 270 partners in China and in the EU, with which we have cooperated multiple times on events, training courses and publications, among other projects. Throughout the whole process, we have had the unwavering support of the European Commission, both in Brussels and in China.

Additionally, every organisation relies on the people working behind the scenes, and we have been lucky to have always had a group of knowledgeable, passionate and engaged professionals on our team. The commitment to excellence of our Centre employees, both past and present, has been key to achieving its mandate to support European SME internationalisation in China.

Our services

It is no secret that the Chinese market is a very complex one to navigate, especially for companies with limited resources like SMEs. This is why the EU SME Centre’s services structure was designed to provide hands-on support to these SMEs throughout the journey of exporting to or establishing themselves in China. More often than not, this journey would start in Europe, with small business owners attending our events there, watching our webinars, sending inquiries to our experts or reading some of our reports and guidelines.

Between 2014 and 2020 alone—Phase II of the project—the Centre rolled out more than 100 publications, responded to almost 2,000 enquiries from SMEs from across all member states, organised more than 300 training courses in China and Europe, and developed almost 100 webinars. Additionally, Phase II saw the introduction of the Advocacy Platform, which gave voice to the concerns and recommendations of European SMEs in China, and also established a platform for interaction between European small businesses and institutional stakeholders from the EU, individual member states and China.

Looking ahead

Our past achievements and the feedback from our key business and institutional stakeholders are proof that the EU SME Centre has thoroughly fulfilled its mandate to become an effective and useful tool for European SME internationalisation. According to the EU SME Centre’s 2019 Satisfaction Survey, almost 80 per cent of respondents evaluated our services positively. This is why the European Commission decided to continue to place its trust in our project and opened a call for tenders in February 2020. Although our services and activities are for now on hold pending a final decision on the allocation of the grant by the Commission, our website and our reports are still accessible. We look forward to coming back to you in the near future with a stronger and better EU SME Centre