The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides SMEs with grants and low-interest loans so that they can finance their research and innovation activities more easily. New scientific findings are to be translated into marketable products as soon as possible. This is why the Ministry provides strong incentives for companies to cooperate with research institutes.

Research and innovation projects that are close to the market

Under the Central Innovation Programme for SMEs (ZIM), grants are provided for market-oriented technology research and development projects undertaken by German SMEs.

The ERP innovation programme provides low-interest loans for SMEs and persons offering professional services. The idea behind this programme, too, is to promote innovation and to quickly bring new practical ideas to market.

Pre-competitive research

In order to hold their own in the international race to innovate, SMEs need to have (access to) research facilities whose R&D efforts are tailored to their needs and whose findings can be quickly and efficiently translated into marketable products and services. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides funding for pre-competitive research under its collective research programme (IGF). The results achieved under this programme benefit all companies in Germany. Under the INNO-KOM programme, funding is provided for non-profit research establishments that undertake applied research projects in structurally disadvantaged areas. Find out more (in German).

Advising companies on innovation

The German government provides SMEs with advice on innovation, helping them to build up expertise in developing new innovations. This means for example that companies receive information on how to manage innovations in an efficient manner and on what funding programmes are available at national, regional and EU level.

  • The Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy’s Innovation Vouchers (go-inno)
    The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides innovation vouchers for SMEs working in the commerce and skilled crafts sector that use the services of external consulting firms. For more information, please visit (in German) – the Ministry for Economic Affair’s official website for the ‘go-inno’ funding programme.
  • German Agency for Materials Efficiency (demea)
    SMEs wishing to identify inefficient elements in their manufacturing process and to take steps towards a more effective use of materials can turn to a consultancy firm certified by demea. The objective here is to lower costs and optimise processes by adopting a smarter approach when it comes to using materials. For further information, please click here (in German).
  • National contact point for SMEs
    The national contact point for SMEs (NCP SMEs) provides information and advice about the funding programmes offered by the European Commission, particularly about SME-specific funding schemes, and about how companies can claim venture capital under the EU’s ‘Horizon 2020’ research and innovation programme. If you want to keep updated about the latest news, please sign up for the newsletter (in German) published by the national contact point for SMEs or visit the (in German) website.
  • Federal advice on funding for research and innovation
    The Federal Government’s information service provides information on all issues surrounding the research and innovation promotion programmes provided by the Federal Government, the German Länder and the European Commission, on important contact persons and on its current funding priorities. In addition to this, the information service provides special assistance for SMEs free of charge.

Agency to promote breakthrough innovations

At the end of August 2018, the Federal Cabinet decided to set up an agency to promote breakthrough innovations. The new agency is to help ensure that path-breaking innovations by German companies and research institutions become the tomorrow’s cutting-edge German products and jobs. The new agency will be based in Leipzig and employ up to 50 staff. It will be open to all subjects, disciplines and technologies, will be agile and flexible and, compared with traditional funding programmes, will be pro-risk and will enjoy a much higher degree of autonomy. The agency will run innovation competitions and will fund multi-year cutting-edge projects which put into practice ideas offering potential for breakthroughs. The first innovation competitions are to be launched in 2019.

Fostering networks and clusters

Many companies and research institutions work together in regionally or industry-specific clusters and networks in order to create the best possible value chains and improve their competitiveness and innovation capabilities.

  • Clusterplattform Deutschland – a website run by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs together with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research – provides a good overview of the cluster-related policy measures undertaken by the Federal Government, the German Länder, and the EU. The website lists all regional and national cluster initiatives in a way that is clear and concise. It also provides a forum where the members and researchers of the different clusters can engage in dialogue.
  • The ‘go-cluster’programme programme offers a large number of services that help support cluster management, foster the development of innovative services, and improve the visibility of innovation clusters.

You can find the model agreement for research and development cooperation here.

Transfer initiative

The sharing of technology and knowledge has a major impact on how marketable innovative products and services are. Despite this, the transfer of knowledge does not go smoothly in many cases – as a result, Germany’s SMEs in particular have a need to innovate. For this reason, the Economic Affairs Ministry launched the transfer initiative on 11 March 2019: it aims to speed up the transfer of research findings into specific products and processes. The initiative, which was included in the coalition agreement, aims to build on and improve the non-sector-specific SME funding programme called “From the idea to the market”. Further to this, the initiative has a tailored innovation programme to support non-technical innovations like digital business models.