Grants and loans: How SMEs and the self-employed can access the programs of the European fund Next Generation EU | be where you are

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the self-employed can now access the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR) programs articulated by the Next Generation EU European fund. Through them they can receive direct aid with which to equip themselves with new digital tools that enhance their activity on the Internet, optimize their energy consumption or obtain financing both to continue growing and to make the leap to the international market. This European capital also allows Public Administrations to launch new projects through competitions to which SMEs and the self-employed can apply.

The ways to access European aid and financing and to opt for these tenders are different. Applicants have the option of applying on their own, although organizations such as banks and consultants can accompany them throughout the process to facilitate the procedures. Rubén Heredia, head of public procurement of innovation at Zabala Innovation, believes that both direct aid and public tenders are an opportunity for many SMEs to improve their competitiveness and consolidate after the situation caused by the pandemic and the increase in the price of fuels. But they must dedicate efforts and resources, both to process the grants quickly, since they are awarded in order of application, and to offer proposals that are as adjusted as possible to the requirements of the tenders.

Types of European aid and how to access them

The Spanish PRTR provides for direct aid in the form of non-refundable capital injections so that Business improve your energy efficiency —with clean supply sources and sustainable mobility— and its level of digitization —through instruments and resources that update its processes and its offer—. But it also includes loans under favorable conditions to promote entrepreneurship and the internationalization of Spanish companies, as well as innovational projects that offer sustainable and digital solutions or that strengthen the business fabric in rural areas.

Access to the programs is managed by the ministries, the autonomous communities, the town halls and other public bodies, which publish the calls that correspond to their competences on their own web pages, although they are all collected on the PRTR portal of the Ministry of Finance.

Plans to improve energy efficiency, for example, are carried out by the autonomous regions, while for the Program Digital Kithe, which facilitates the implementation of digital tools, the person responsible for the distribution is the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation. Those interested must be aware of the updating of the information, which is usually done on a daily basis.

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How to access the tenders

Public administrations have opened competitions for the award of contracts for new projects thanks to the injection of the European fund, which can be accessed by SMEs and the self-employed. This year, Heredia points out, several have been launched that revolve around the technological development of the Administration. Especially for the cybersecurity reinforcement and digital identity, the massive analysis of data in the national health system —which improves the identification, diagnosis and treatment of health risk situations—, the development of applications that facilitate administrative procedures for citizens and digitalization of bibliographical and documentary collections from institutions such as the Museo Nacional del Prado.

All the PRTR tenders are collected on the websites of the autonomous communities, municipalities and other public bodies, dedicated to European aid, but also on the Treasury portal and on the Public Sector Contracting Platform (PLACSP) .

The form of presentation, says Heredia, is the same as for the usual public contracts. The company must launch an offer in which it includes the details of the execution of the project and its budget. And it must take into account the factors that the Administration values:

  • Cost. The public body will tend to choose the lowest.
  • Quality. It will prioritize offers that guarantee sufficient quality to satisfy the recipient population, since the good or service will have a direct impact on the well-being of citizens.
  • Solvency. Companies must prove that they have sufficient resources to complete the project.
  • Experience. Having carried out similar projects is an advantage over competitors who do not have experience in this field.

Both SMEs and the self-employed must provide the Single European Procurement Document (DEUC) when the contract is subject to harmonized regulation, this refers to those that reach a certain threshold in their estimated execution value. These figures are updated every year and published in the Official State Gazette (BOE). In 2022 it stands at 140,000 euros for the General State Administration and 215,000 euros for the rest of the public sector entities, for supply or service contracts. And in 5,382,000 euros for those of works or those of concession of services (it refers to when a space is transferred for its exploitation, such as a stall in a food market or a hairdresser in a center for the elderly, for example).

The DEUC is a statement that certifies that the financial situation of the company is favorable and that it has the capacity to bid, since the document incorporates the statements that it is aware of tax and labor obligations and that there are no criminal charges. Its objective is to reduce and simplify the procedures, since it allows knowing the status of the bidding companies in a single document.

Submission deadlines are reduced for programs financed with European funds. If for the usual tenders, explains Gádor Espinosa, executive director of iTenders, a portal that groups public tenders, the interval between the announcement and the maximum date is 15 business days, now it is reduced to 10 calendar days. So, for example, a program announced on May 20 closes on May 30. From that moment, the resolution period opens for which there is no stipulated time, but the Administration wants it to be as short as possible, says Espinosa.

Professional advice: essential in the process

SMEs and freelancers can access aid and tenders on your own, but experts recommend having the advice of professionals such as those of banking entities, since preparing the documentation and managing the process is a challenge for these companies. Business and sector organizations have also launched information and orientation sessions.

The banking entities accompany the person in charge of a company or the self-employed person and their work begins even before they are clear about what grants and tenders they want to request, in such a way that they assist them in identifying their needs and their expectations and can indicate both what grants and ways of financing to choose what may be the most appropriate choice.

To do this, they carry out a risk analysis and help the applicant to formalize the documentation. They can even suggest consortia or suggest alliances with other companies to reach larger competitions. Once the aid, financing or contract has been obtained, the manager of the banking entity accompanies the entrepreneur in the subsequent steps, since the programs require the presentation of economic (such as invoices) and technical (such as the analysis of the performance of the activity) at various moments of the process so that, in the event of any doubt or inconvenience, they can react in time and successfully complete the project.

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