The question posed six years ago as to how to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who had good ideas but no funds to develop them with, found an answer with RAPID (régime d’appui à l’innovation duale), a tool to subsidise the costs of dual-use innovation. Launched in 2010, it has since subsidised some 350 projects, Hercules, the exoskeleton imagined by RB3D which is always a big hit at any trade show, probably being the best known.
Technical follow-through of RAPID projects is ensured by the French DGA procurement agency (attached to the Ministry of Defence) whilst the DGE (business directorate) of the Finance Ministry handles the financial aspects.
Requests for subsidies can be filed any time and are examined by a joint DGA/DGE committee once a month (except in August). Projects can be in any sector: land, air, sea, health, etc., the imperative being that the innovation must have dual applications, i.e. civilian and military, or that it will be a technological brick useable in both civilian and military equipment. Another imperative is that the SME proposing the project must be financially stable and well-established. “We’re not in the business of financing start-ups” we were told by a RAPID manager.
How does a project proceed through the system? The idea submitted by the SME (and up to two partners : a laboratory or another company) will first be examined by the SME sub-directorate within the DGA. If they like it, they will send it to the experts in the field concerned who will examine it from every aspect and ensure that it is really innovative and meets the eligibility and selection criteria. The project is eligible if it is of interest to the defence sector but has the potential for application in the civilian sector and if the SME has fewer than 2,000 employees and is established in France. At this stage the experts might ask the PME for more specifications and details, or may suggest improvements, before deciding during the joint DGA/DGE committee meeting whether or not to select the project. If it is chosen it will be thanks to its technological and innovative character; its compatibility with the defence ministry’s scientific and technological orientation; its potential in civilian and military sectors, for industrialisation, standardisation and patents; how inciting it is for partners and its economic future; the quality of the partnerships in terms of complementarity, and finally its overall coherence.
And this is when one appreciates the exactitude of the name RAPID. Because the entire process, from the moment the initial project is submitted to the signature of the subsidy agreement generally takes less than four months. And the companies chosen are thrilled at having up to 80% of their R&D funded by RAPID.