NWE survey concluded: Lack of policies supporting investment and demand remain large barriers to bioeconomy SMEs in North-West Europe

Lack of policies related to investment and demand in the bio-based products remain large barriers to small and medium-sized enterprises working in the bioeconomy in North-West Europe. This is the conclusion of a survey carried out as part of the BioBase4SME project in 2018. The project, co-financed by InterregNWE, aims to support SMEs in the bioeconomy with funded technical and business services, as well as training.

For the survey, bioeconomy SMEs in six countries of North-West Europe were presented with a list of barriers and asked to rate them on how they impact their business development. The SMEs were asked to rate the barrier from 1 to 5, with 5 being a barrier actively preventing business development. The questions were the same as in a survey carried out in 2014 as part of a previous project, Bio Base NWE, also co-financed by InterregNWE, which offers an insight into the progress of bioeconomy policy in NW Europe.

Overall, SMEs reported an improvement in the bioeconomy since 2014, as seen by a decreasing overall barrier score across all the participating countries. As in 2014, Ireland remains the country reporting the highest barriers and the UK remains the country reporting the lowest barriers to business in the bioeconomy.














The Netherlands






United Kingdom




The 43 barriers that SMEs were questioned on fell into 9 categories: demand, stakeholder/public perception, investment, regulations, intellectual property, human resource, national or European policy, efficient collaboration and feedstock.

Barriers relating to feedstock and intellectual property have seen the largest improvements, each scoring at least 0.5 less than in 2014. However, demand-side policy barriers have seen the largest deterioration, followed by stakeholder/public perception barriers and human resource barriers.

The top barriers in 2018 were demand-side policy barriers, poor stakeholder/public perception, and investment barriers.

Demand-side policy barriers

Demand-side policy barriers scored an average of 3.3/5, with over 80% of respondents scoring them as at least a considerable barrier and over 30% scoring them as actively preventing their business development. Over 50% found “lack of market support / commercial frameworks” to be a large barrier, while over 30% found “lack of public procurement policy” to be a large barrier. Several SMEs stated they had difficulty competing with existing products and value chains, with one SME commenting, “[Policy] framework currently supports fossil resources”.

Stakeholder perception barriers

Stakeholder perception barriers scored an average of 3.2/5, with over 80% of respondents rating them as at least a considerable barrier and almost 40% of respondents rating them as actively preventing their business development. Over 50% found “poor stakeholder knowledge of the sector" and “the benefits of biobased products are not well-enough communicated” to be large barriers. Negative media messages were seen as actively preventing business development. Some SMEs also criticised existing labelling schemes, with one SME commenting, “Labels and certifications need to be more efficient”.

Investment barriers

Investment barriers scored 3.1/5, with 73% of respondents viewing investment barriers as at least a considerable barrier and 29% viewing them as actively preventing their business development. Concerns were primarily in relation to the sector being perceived as high risk by investors; more than half of respondents reported a “lack of visible products” and a “long time for return on investment” as large barriers. Overall, SMEs rated public investment as easier to access, although some SMEs mentioned that scale-up was still an issue, with one SME commenting, “Public support for scale up activities very limited, difficult to access and not very flexible”.

In summary, although SMEs in the bioeconomy in North-West Europe felt that barriers to business in the bioeconomy decreased over the last 4 years, demand and investment barriers remained large concerns. In addition, issues related to stakeholder or public perception are now seen as a major barrier.

The barriers are recognised by policy makers and are reflected in the 2018 EU Bioeconomy Strategy, adopted by the European Commission last October. Although the new strategy does not include hard measures to stimulate demand for biobased products (like the USDA BioPreferred scheme), it does aim to scale up Europe’s biobased markets by facilitating access to investment, both from the private and public sector, as well as by identifying regulatory barriers to biobased development, and promoting biobased standards. Better biobased standards could improve stakeholder perception of the bioeconomy, making consumers better informed and allowing them to have confidence in what they are buying. There is also significant focus on promoting the bioeconomy at the local scale, aimed primarily at agriculture and forestry, both of which underpin the bioeconomy through provision of feedstocks. 

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