Today more than ever, the development of organizational and IT structures in the company and the further training of employees are supporting pillars of corporate success. However, as change or implementation projects, they often incur high costs and tie up valuable human resources.

For small and medium-sized companies with their limited budgets, there are various support programs offered by the federal government, the states and institutions, which, in cooperation with specialist consultants, make it possible to achieve goals quickly and reliably. The Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics in Dortmund helps as a research and development partner in the selection and implementation of such funding projects.

In the following, the approach is described in five points and five funding proramms for the federal state of NRW are presented as examples. Many programs apply with similar framework conditions throughout the Federal Republic.

1. identifying the current challenges or need for change in the company

Company processes or IT systems in planning, in the supply chain and in the operational environment often do not run “smoothly”; however, in the daily work routine the capacity for a detailed analysis or optimization is missing. Concrete measures or visions, currently for example the integration of home office workplaces into the company’s productive systems, can be specifically worked out and implemented in a funded project, supported by the expertise of an experienced specialist consultant.

2. Finding a suitable funding program

The available funding instruments focus on different companies, project contents and project phases. They offer support ranging from potential analysis and the formulation of action strategies to concrete digitization projects and the development of methodological expertise in the company.

3.reviewing the framework conditions

Funding programs have restrictions in terms of company size, regional jurisdiction, industry affiliation and thematic focus. Also important for the project design are the grant share and the maximum permissible funding.

4. selecting a consulting partner for joint project processing

The funding under the individual programs is earmarked and usually covers the costs of an external consulting service on a pro-rata basis. It is important for the company to get an overview of thematically and methodologically suitable consultants and to clarify in a personal preliminary discussion whether a trusting cooperation between consultant and company is also guaranteed until the project is completed. Experienced consultants also provide support in the integration and handling of a funding measure.

5. coordinating a funding project with the responsible organization

Federal funding portals, chambers of industry and commerce, chambers of trade and regional business development agencies can help identify suitable funding programs. Initial points of contact can also be the competence centers for digitization, Industry 4.0 and AI. It should be noted that before concluding a consulting contract, contact must generally be sought with an initial consulting office that will provide a specific funding commitment.

Five exemplary support programs for SMEs

1.potential analysis of the SME 4.0 competence centers such as Digital in NRW – Competence for SMEs.

The SME competence centers of the state of NRW offer half-day, free company visits to identify specific digitization potential.

2. design workshop of the Mittelstand 4.0 competence centers such as Digital in NRW.

Based on a potential analysis, a half-day design workshop for drafting a digitization roadmap can be requested, which is also free of charge for the company.

3. potential consulting NRW

Potential consulting to develop specific solutions in the areas of work organization, skills development, demographic change, digitization or health can be requested from the NRW initial consulting centers. With the involvement of company employees, an action plan is developed based on an analysis of existing strengths and weaknesses in collaboration with a specialist consultant. Funding is provided for 50% of the expenses for the consulting service (a maximum of 10 consulting days and a maximum of € 10,000 in consulting costs) for business premises in NRW without any restriction on the size of the company.

4. unternehmensWert:Mensch (uWM)

Here, an employee-oriented personnel policy can be developed with regard to personnel management, equal opportunities, health and knowledge & competence. In NRW, this funding can only be applied for by companies with a maximum of 10 employees and an annual turnover of up to 2 million euros. Here, 80% of the consulting costs incurred (maximum 10 consulting days) are funded. In other federal states, 50% of the consulting costs are subsidized for companies with less than 250 employees.

5. uWMplus (“digitization”) program branch

With the goal of establishing a corporate learning and experimentation space for shaping digital transformation, 12 consulting days (maximum €1,000 per day’s work) can be subsidized with 80% of the consulting costs, provided companies meet SME characteristics (at least approx. 6 employees up to 250 employees, up to €50 million in sales).

Do you have questions about the funding programs and funding requirements? Please contact us:

Ralf Erdmann
Fraunhofer-Institut für Materialfluss und Logistik, Dortmund