Accessing ERDF and ESF programmes in the Member States
One third of the total EU budget is spent on European Social Fund ESF and European Regional Development Fund ERDF in two main programmes: convergence and competitiveness. The ESF alone is worth €70 billion (70,000,000,000) from 2007-2013. ERDF is worth three times this amount.
This means that there is money for entrepreneurship projects in every one of the 27 Member States. How much there is, which funds it can come from and what it will pay for depends on what your region and country has written into the programme.
Programmes, or operational programmes are divided into priorities. Look out for the one for Entrepreneurship (in ESF) or maybe SMEs in the ERDF programme. Look in other priorities (for example inclusive employment in Romania) to see if entrepreneurship has been mentioned.
In general self employment is not as well supported as other larger enterprise forms. Most migrant entrepreneurs set themselves up in local service sectors such as retail and restaurants that are not priorities for ERDF programmes. Instead these often focus on high tech development, supporting incubators for graduates, or science parks.
The reality is that micro businesses across Europe employing less than ten employees account for over 90% of enterprises, 30% of employment and 20% of output.
How to apply?
The region or nation that you are in will have an operational programme for convergence or competitiveness. You should look for this programme on the internet. It should be available in national languages.
Find out who the managing authority is for the programme. Ask them to do a seminar in your city about how to apply for funds. find out the closing date of any bidding rounds. find out how projects are selected.
Get hold of the application form, start to fill it in.
Find out what the rules for co-financing are (the ceiling is 75% EU funding in convergence and 50% in competitiveness regions). Remember that you cannot use EU funds to match other EU funds.
Think about employing an expert to help you to write your bid.
find out if anyone else from your city has already succeeded in obtaining EU funding and learn from their experience.
Use the logical framework to structure the bid writing. Make sure that your proposal hits all the right buttons in terms of outputs that the programme expects.
Check before submitting your bid that you have not made any eligibility mistakes (for example on access to finance) i.e. that all the expenditure proposed is eligible.
Send it off ahead of the deadline.