SMEs for social innovation – Challenge platform

Specific Challenge

Too many societal challenges remain without solutions while too few SMEs engage into social innovation. The action aims at incentivising more SMEs to seize innovation opportunities arising from social needs or societal challenges, and thereby develop further solutions to those, in partnership with social enterprises.

Synergies between social enterprises and other SMEs remain mostly unexploited. Too often social innovators and entrepreneurs are isolated and encounter difficulties to find support, partners or investors. Too often they do not tap enough into the capacities of all types of businesses which could help with the development or commercialisation of such innovations. Too often their solutions do not translate into larger-scale projects, do not trigger significant changes in public policies, or do not inspire similar projects elsewhere.

This also stems from the fact that, while the great majority of social enterprises are SMEs, traditional support to SME innovation aims at maximising economic returns and therefore hardly captures social enterprises. Social enterprises need more encouragement and incentives to start innovation activities. At the same time, concrete social innovation needs and opportunities must be further communicated to entrepreneurs, SMEs and knowledge institutions beyond the usual circles of social enterprises.


The action provides for a new demand-driven tool for social innovation. The action will allow social enterprises to formulate their own societal challenges on line, to call for solutions and to select themselves the best idea(s) meeting their demand. Concrete challenges arising from real situations could thereby receive answers from any SME willing to engage in the field of social innovation or find a way to diversify its activities. Social innovators and entrepreneurs would tap into the creativity and capacities of the whole business community. The market uptake of the solution would be assessed upfront.

The action requires the creation of an on-line ‘challenge platform’ and its facilitation (i.e. allow the innovation demand and supply to meet). In addition, the action foresees a financial support mechanism that would allow solution seekers and/or providers to receive support to test feasibility and economic potential of the solution and proceed with its implementation (such grants shall not exceed EUR 50,000). The ‘challenge platform’ could be hosted on or combined with the existing Social Innovation Europe hub, so as to minimize development costs, take advantage of the already established community and broaden the mission of Social Innovation Europe, beyond information sharing and mutual learning for which it was created. Synergies should also be sought with initiatives and platforms dedicated to specific societal challenges and of relevance for social innovation and with the Enterprise Europe Network in the dissemination of the needs expressed by the social enterprises.

Likewise social enterprises with innovative solutions could use the platform and the Enterprise Europe Network to promote their solutions and seek partnership with SMEs for their commercialisation. For that dimension, however, no additional grant support will be foreseen.

To address the above-described challenge, proposals should at least specify the following:

  • Developing and maintaining a web facility to allow innovation demand and supply to meet in a user-friendly and dynamic way;
  • Building a mechanism to reach out to a large number of stakeholders dealing with social or societal issues (and in particular social enterprises) about the potential of tapping into SMEs capacities and, on the other hand, towards the whole SME community in order to raise awareness about market opportunities offered by 'social innovation';
  • Assisting stakeholders dealing with social or societal issues (and in particular social enterprises) to formulate the challenges for which they need concrete solutions and to describe them as innovation opportunities, in a form suitable for all SMEs;
  • Describing a detailed mechanism to award and manage financial support to third parties (re-granting) already in their application documents, as foreseen in part K of the General Annexes of the Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2016-2017. At least 70% of the total grant amount should be awarded in the form of small grants to third parties.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of around EUR 3.5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

The action will complement the European Social Innovation Competition for which the challenge is set upfront (see section on Other Actions).

Expected Impact

  1. More SMEs engaged in the field of social innovation thereby finding new markets, creating new jobs and testing new business or growth models
  2. More unmet social needs or societal challenges find solutions.
  3. Concrete connections and further business opportunities are made possible between social enterprises and other SMEs.
  4. More business intermediaries, incubators and investors engage in the field of social innovation, approach/support social enterprises and address their specific challenges.
Application date
Social sciences
Humanities : Anthropology & Ethnology