Good news for Finnish SMB’s everywhere! If you have new tech you want to patent or an innovative idea that you want to float to the market, you can make it happen. How you ask? Well, you might have heard about the Innovation Voucher scheme by Tekes financial services. We're going to give you some essential details about the venture, so you know the ins and outs of applying for, and receiving this lucrative voucher!
What is the Innovation Voucher?
Numerous SMBs and micro-enterprise owners often struggle to make it in the competitive market. Often, they have great ideas but lack the expertise and resources need to make these ideas into commercial successes. In plain speak, they lack cash. This cash is required to hire consultants, experts, employees, and a lot more. There's not a lot that can be done without the budget to back it up. This is where the Innovation Voucher comes in.
This venture was launched in 2016 by Tekes financial services. It's part of the overall Enterprise Package that the Finnish government announced at the same time to encourage SMBs and micro-enterprises. The whole movement pivots on pushing these small businesses towards innovation and progress, especially if they utilize new tech or acquire patents.
The Innovation Voucher is worth around €5000, and once your company receives it, you can spend it on purchasing external services. For example, suppose you want to elevate your business and establish a digital presence. In that case, you could get in touch with a digital marketing expert and get the advice/tools needed to accomplish your objective.
You might not think that the monetary value on offer here is a lot. However, when you put it into the context of numerous vouchers given to multiple SMBs to push innovation, the picture becomes clearer. These vouchers are publicly funded, which means people have taken a special interest in ensuring that SMBs achieve their true potential. If you win a voucher for your company, you get a lot more than just the monetary value. Access to external service providers and resources is quite lucrative in itself.
Who can Apply for the Innovation Voucher?
The Innovation Voucher is specifically for SMBs who are well-established and have an exciting/innovation new idea for a product or service. This is especially intended for those companies that want to take their business to the international market since they will need a lot of expert help here. Once you receive your voucher, you can spend it on acquiring new knowledge, research opportunities/programs, product patents and a lot more. Read on to see a more detailed breakdown of the eligibility criteria for the voucher.
An SMB can apply for the Innovation Voucher if:
They have an innovative and exciting idea for a product or service with international potential.
They want to test their suitability for expansion and development using methods like consumer testing, prototypes, demos or more.
They need to consult an external expert for testing, assessment or measurements.
They need specific support from technical departments such as science and research.
They require financial support for patents, trademarks, designs, or expert opinion to help them in the application process for the above services.
An SMB is not eligible for the Innovation Voucher if they:
Have ongoing tax liabilities or have made adjusted tax payment arrangements
Have an Asiakastieto rating Alfa that’s below A
Already have expertise inhouse (in which case external expertise becomes superfluous)
Do not plan on taking their company to the international market.
Do not belong to the Prepayment register.
Want to get intel about new export markets to run in. This service can be financed through Business Finland’s Explorer funding.
Have a line of business that isn’t fit for De Minimis funding
The business or group exceeds De Minimis limits.
Have a project that is connected to the funding of a company, product or service, or if they want to acquire new investors and shareholders
Have already won the Innovation Voucher
Are using a previously won Innovation Voucher to run an innovation project or have filed another application with Business Finland
Are not an SMB, but rather a bigger enterprise, a public organization or non-profit, a foundation, private trader, or a company that is registered in Aland
What is De Minimis Aid?
We have just mentioned De Minimis aid and the fact that your company may not apply for the Innovation Voucher if it doesn’t fit the criteria for the above. The Innovation Voucher is subject to the terms and conditions of De Minimis funding.
De Minimis aid the amount of business subsidy that the European Commission outlines for small development projects. A company can be granted a maximum amount of EUR 200,000 for the current and previous two fiscal years through De Minimis aid. For a company to be eligible for the Innovation Voucher, they must assess how much De Minimis funding they have received in previous years.
How to Apply for the Innovation Voucher
The first step here is to outline exactly what you need the Innovation Voucher for. Make a detailed plan of the kinds of expertise and resources you need to take your idea to the next level. This can include your goals and objectives as well as areas that your SMB needs to improve in, in order to take your company to the international market. Once you’ve made this outline, consult a service provider and create a work plan. Business Finland provides a comprehensive and updated list of service providers that you can consult. You may also pick someone who is not on the list, provided certain conditions are fulfilled.
Then, you can submit your application at Business Finland’s Online Service.
Keep in mind that the project leader for the application must be an employee of the company that is applying. Your external service provider cannot apply on behalf of your company. They are simply present in a consulting capacity. Additionally, you may not present your service provider as being linked to your company or as the two entities being associates.
Now on to the nitty-gritty. Input €6,200 (€5,000 + VAT) in the ‘Purchased Services’ field in the budget table and leave other lines blank. Then, enter 6,200 in the ‘Funding Applied’ section from Business Finland. If you exceed the value of the voucher, i.e., €5,000 + VAT, your company will have to pay the difference to your service provider. Applications for the voucher are processed within two weeks of their reception.
You may use the Innovation Voucher to acquire services from one service provider, and it will be valid for up to 6 months starting from the date that you receive it. The voucher only covers costs that arise from the specific project it was granted for and not ones that are claimed for before the project has even started.
How to Accept the Innovation Voucher
Congrats! Once you get the Innovation Voucher, you’ll receive an email that will notify you of a new document available in the Online Service. This email will be sent to the predetermined project leader, the contact people for the project and its financials, and to your company’s official email ID.
You may not collect your funding until you accept the decision and all the terms and conditions that come with it. In some cases, the Online Service requires you to accept special terms and conditions. This depends on the decision and the circumstances under which you applied for the voucher.
You can accept the voucher through the Online Service if you are an authorized signatory for the SMB. Alternatively, you can be the Managing or Deputy Director of the company. The Online Service will cross-match your role and authority with the official Trade Register when you log in and try to accept.
If your company’s authorized signatory also has another position in the company, you may accept the decision through a template. You may submit the template through secured email to Business Finland’s record office.
Moreover, you can add any missing information to your company’s Trade Register by reaching out to the Finnish Patent and Registration Office.
Reporting and Invoicing Details
Once your company has exhausted the Innovation Voucher, you must report to Business Finland about the conclusion of the relevant voucher. The final report can be submitted to Business Finland's Online Service. The beneficiary must submit both the Innovation Voucher agreement and their final report to pay their service provider. Additionally, you must prove that you have paid €1,000 + VAT to the service provider.
Your service provider will then send their invoice to Business Finland. Specific instructions on how to go about this may be found on Business Finland’s website.
Key Benefits of the Innovation Voucher
Now that we've covered the process of applying for and using the Innovation Voucher let's discuss how the voucher will benefit your company. Here are the ways you can boost your SMB using this voucher:
You can work extensively on new products and/or services and come up with foolproof strategies to ensure marketability for both.
You can carry out thorough experiments and run market research to test your new product or service.
You can utilize measurement and testing services relating to innovation and expansion.
You can work with certified experts and consultants who will help you get your SMB on the international map.
You can access surveys, consumer tests and product demos/prototypes to get a real idea of your product's marketability.
How SMBs can use the Innovation Voucher with Digital Marketing
Digital is where the business is at now! The novel coronavirus has forced most of the world to take refuge online. Consumers now spend most of their time surfing the net, checking in on their social media networks and trying to pass their time in meaningful ways during quarantine. As a result, savvy businesses have also moved their operations to the digital front.
As an upcoming or growing SMB, you can kickstart your foray into digital marketing with an Innovation Voucher. The voucher can be especially useful if you have an innovative idea for a new digital platform and you want to bring it to life. Alternatively, if your company already has an existing digital platform, the Innovation Voucher can help you take this to the international market!
Let's say you're working on a new social media and/or digital advertising platform. You can hire an expert consultant who will guide you through the ins and outs needed to set this up or expand it. This is especially useful if you don't have the necessary personnel required for this venture in-house.
Additionally, if you already have a digital presence, you can elevate this using the resources provided to you through the Innovation Voucher. Your SMB might be struggling to keep up its social media game. This can range from a generally lackluster performance or a more specific project that needs an upgrade.
For example, Instagram is all the rage with digital marketers right now. Many SMBs use curated feeds and aesthetic stories to engage their audience and get them to purchase their goods and services. You can team up with a service provider or consultant who is an expert in this particular digital marketing platform to elevate your SMB’s Instagram game. This is no mean feat. If you have a product, this would mean extensive product shoots, digital videos, and influencer activity, all of which need proper budgets to execute. You would also need to spend money on placing your ads in strategic and interactive ways.
The Innovation Voucher can prove to be extremely useful for any SMB that wants to expand or establish their digital presence. Not only do you get monetary compensation to buy digital services, but you also receive an additional skillset and resources in the form of a digital-savvy external expert.
Apply for the Innovation Voucher today and bring your company’s vision to life!