The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has set up the Central Innovation Programme to foster market-driven technology-based R&D work within German SMEs. The programme is designed to enhance companies' capacity to innovate and to strengthen their long-term competitiveness.
Under ZIM, companies and the research institutes they work with can be awarded grants for ambitious R&D projects. Funding is not restricted to any particular field of technology, nor to specific fields of application. Whether or not an application for a grant is approved depends on how innovative the R&D project is and how marketable the results are likely to be.
With a €548 million budget in 2017, ZIM is the largest programme to support innovative SMEs in Germany. Thanks to cooperation with research institutes, SMEs can gain access to the state of the art. Cooperation between companies and research institutes helps to establish networks between industry and science. The effect is a direct transfer of expertise, which translates new technological findings into marketable products, processes, and services.
When it comes to funding under ZIM, there are several options from which companies can choose the one that best suits their needs:
- ZIM cooperation projects - the programme provides funding for R&D work carried out jointly by two or more companies, or by one company and one or more research institutes.
- ZIM individual projects - the programme provides funding for individual companies doing their own in-house R&D work.
- ZIM cooperation networks - the programme provides funding for external network management work carried out by innovative networks that comprise at least six SMEs which jointly develop a common innovation.
Since 1 January 2018, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has opened ZIM to international cooperation networks in order to enable SMEs to better position themselves and network at global level and to tap new markets. In the context of a two-year project, 'ZIM Cooperation Networks International' recognises foreign SMEs as network partners and takes account of the fact that support for international cooperation requires more time and money.