In 2013, the European Commission launched Bio Base NWE, a three-year and €6,2 million project to support the development of the biobased economy in North West Europe (NWE). The Bio Base NWE consortium brought together biobased economy experts from eight organisations in five different countries. They provided networking opportunities and technological solutions to more than 500 SMEs, identified hurdles SME encounter during their innovation track and translated these into policy recommendations which were discussed with regional, as well as European policy makers. Furthermore web-based training tools (process simulation and e-learnings) were developed to help tackle the shortage of skilled professionals in North West Europe’s biobased industries.
As a project partner, NNFCC acted as the UK contact point ensuring that UK SMEs where familiar with the services on offer, guiding UK SMEs through the funding application process and feeding information on market barriers to bio-based innovation from UK SMEs back to the European Commission.
Bio Base NWE successfully implemented an Innovation Coupon Scheme. A coupon represented a value of maximum €30.000 for feasibility studies and scale-up work undertaken at the Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP), an independent, flexible, state-of–the-art demonstration facility in Ghent, Belgium, to validate innovative biobased technologies and scale them up to an industrial level. Early collaboration with experienced personnel in a flexible facility with a wide range of pilot equipment can substantially reduce costs, risks and development time and reinforces the chance to successful market entry.
This scheme became a very attractive support mechanism for many SMEs. Eventually, 27 SMEs working on sound and ambitious biobased innovations were selected across the NWE region. Evaluation of the progress these SMEs made after the trials show a huge leverage effect. Seventeen SMEs either signed contracts with investors or are negotiating, five signed contracts with customers and four biobased products were already commercialised before the end of the project. Sixteen SMEs reported to have concrete plans to build a dedicated pilot line for further development or a new production line for a total investment of over €71million. Forty-three new jobs were created; an estimated 275 new jobs will be created in the coming years.
In 2017, the project was recognised with a Regiostars award for "Smart Specialisation for SME Innovation".
TeeGene Biotech Ltd. (UK), a Teesside University spin-out venture, received a coupon and comments: “It is an immense help for start-up companies like ours to conduct feasibility studies to prove our technology platform. Experts at Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant brought new insight into our business prospective and uncovered many challenges we had been facing for two years in the process development”, says Dr Pattanathu Rahman, Founder of TeeGene Biotech Ltd, “The biosurfactant scale-up work was very successful, and made us confident that we can manufacture biosurfactants at an industrial level. We are now looking into the possibility to build our own pilot line.”