Croatia ranks above average in terms of investment in new technologies compared to other EU member states, but lags behind other countries in the development of new products. Innovation is a key driver of economic growth and therefore crucial to a country with a high unemployment rate. The aim of the Eurostars programme, to which Switzerland contributes CHF 1 million, is to promote innovation and research among small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The Eurostars programme comes under the auspices of the research initiative EUREKA, which involves over 40 countries, plus the European Commission. The programme promotes transnational cooperation and makes businesses more competitive by facilitating access to new partnerships and funding. Eurostars boosts the development of innovative products, processes and services that are geared to the market and help improve people's day-to-day lives.
Technical and methodological support for Croatian SMEs
Croatian SMEs often face difficulties in submitting Eurostars applications, as they do not have sufficient experience in developing projects and making a persuasive business case for their innovations. The Swiss Agency for Development (SDC), in cooperation with the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI), provides assistance to SMEs to help improve the quality of the applications submitted. Switzerland provides training courses and advice to help up-and-coming Croatian SMEs acquire the necessary skills and expertise. It also helps to establish partnerships between high-potential Croatian and Swiss SMEs. For the period 2017–2022, Switzerland intends to attract five Croatian SMEs, which will receive funding for their projects by satisfying Eurostar eligibility criteria. Three years before the end of this period, four Croatian projects, focusing on biotechnology, energy and ICT, have already received Eurostars funding. This demonstrates the success of the Eurostars project in action with the backing of the Swiss enlargement contribution.
New lighting technology
One of the Croatian companies supported by Eurostars is lighting company, REFLECTA, which is working on cutting-edge lighting technology. This innovative technology deploys contactless control units, instead of standard light switches, which can be mounted behind furniture or entire walls. These hidden panels can be controlled by hand movements. Sophisticated control system technology and considerable research into individual components are required in order to realise the project. Large apartment blocks or buildings, such as banks, would potentially benefit from this enhanced technology. A major advantage of this technology, as well as the innovative design, is that it conserves energy. This project demonstrates how a startup's initial project proposals can be elevated to international level through the advice provided by SERI and its Croatian partner agency, HAMAG-BICRO. Eurostars approved the funding for the lighting company in 2018. The ambitious and committed REFLECTA team is now on track to launch their product successfully on the market by 2020.
Eurostars is one of 12 projects designed to help reduce economic and social disparities in Croatia. An overview of results attained in Croatia up to the end of 2018 has been published on the country website.