“Cirkulárka”: a scheme to provide SMEs with expert services on circular economy.

Testing a new scheme

The Central Bohemian Innovation Center has been offering a consultancy programme to local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on various areas. Under COLOR CIRCLE, the Central Bohemia Region and SIC noticed that the territory suffered from an insufficient awareness among small and medium-sized enterprises about the possibilities of circular economy and its benefits, such as financial savings or environmental protection. Educational and awareness activities indeed often lack practical examples or specific solutions. These activities may not be addressing obstacles within the company's operations or production processes, making the topic difficult for SMEs to grasp. Therefore, since the Central Bohemia Region already provided expert services to SMEs through Central Bohemian Innovation Center (SIC), they chose to widen the portfolio of these services by including a circular economy component.

The "Cirkulárka" programme provides SMEs with the help of experts on their path to sustainability, thereby continuously improving the sustainability of the regional economy in order to protect the environment and help fulfil the goals of the EU Green Deal. Businesses receive help in form of grants for expert services, that cover 40 consultation hours with 100% financial support from the Central Bohemian Innovation Center under de minimis regulation. Starting in 2024, the financial support for the programme will range from 80% to 50% depending on the scope of consultations.

The Central Bohemian Innovation Center acts as managing authority of the action included in the Action plan, by being both the service provider and the matchmaker between SMEs and experts. The Central Bohemia Region provides funding for this action. Therefore, the Region has been continuously informed of the steps taken.

Pilot projects

The Central Bohemian Innovation Center started offering the Cirkulárka programme in mid-2022 and has successfully implemented four pilot projects so far. Two of them focused on the areas of public relations and marketing—how to communicate circular products effectively to target audiences without resorting to greenwashing. In the other two cases, the experts conducted a comprehensive sustainability analysis of the companies. Based on the outputs and recommendations from these consultations, the companies are now working on specific projects, such as changing packaging materials or utilising heat from production for heating office spaces.

Integration in the RIS3 Agenda

The scheme was first intended to be a pilot when it was launched in 2022. This allowed SIC and the Region to review whether businesses really requested and needed the inclusion of CE into the existing programme and if they would seize the opportunity. "Cirkulárka" appeared to be of interest for companies, as they can now optimise the use of resources or rely on newly opened market niches, for example. The good experience also led SIC to develop a similar programme for municipalities. In parallel, the circular economy or sustainability topic was more explicitly included in the “Research and Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialization of Central Bohemia”, known as RIS3 agenda.