Neues Titelbild ZIM 2020


ZIM – Germany’s largest innovation programme for small and medium-sized enterprises


About ZIM

Boosting Innovation

“ZIM” stands for “Zentrales Innovationsprogramm Mittelstand”, which means “Central Innovation Programme for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)”. It is a funding programme of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action that aims to foster the innovative capacity of SMEs. It launches several thousand new projects every year all around Germany, making it the country’s largest innovation programme for SMEs.

ZIM funds innovative companies with business operations in Germany which want to develop new or significantly improve existing products, processes or technical services. Public and private non-profit research and technology organisations (RTOs) acting as a cooperation partner of an SME are also eligible for ZIM funding. The programme is open to all sectors and fields of technology. Funded projects must be highly innovative, market-oriented and entail a substantial technological risk.

Since ZIM strictly focuses on the needs of SMEs, it offers easy application and quick decision-making processes. Another feature which accommodates the needs of SMEs is that ZIM offers a range of possibilities to structure innovative activities in various project forms. They also include various possibilities for transnational cooperation.

Feasibility Study (including Transnational Activities)

Innovative projects and processes can only be successfully implemented if all the necessary scientific, technical and financial resources are available and used efficiently. Measures that serve to prepare appropriately before the start of the project are often associated with considerable costs and require special know-how.

In advance, services to check the feasibility of an intended R&D individual or cooperation project can therefore also be funded. It is possible to involve up to two external service providers with the relevant specialist knowledge.

Learn more about the feasibility studies

Individual Projects (only National Activities)

Funding of research and development (R&D) projects carried out by one SME. Innovative companies with business operations in Germany and with fewer than 500 employees can receive funding of up to 45% of their costs.

Contact: EURONORM GmbH

Cooperation Projects (including Transnational Activities)

Funding of cooperative R&D projects between SMEs or between SMEs and public and private non-profit research and technology organisations (RTOs).

There are several ways to set up a ZIM cooperation project:

  • R&D cooperation projects between at least two companies
  • R&D cooperation projects between at least one company and at least one RTO

including the possibility for companies within their subproject to award a R&D contract to a research partner (min. 30% and max. 70% of the eligible person-months) and for companies and RTOs to involve a subcontractor for external services (max. 25% of the eligible personnel costs).

Within ZIM there are various ways to cooperate with transnational partners. German companies working with foreign partners in a ZIM project receive a bonus of 10% on top of the regular funding rates, up to a maximum funding rate of 60% .

Participation of transnational partners of eligible German companies:

  • As a subcontractor or by being awarded a R&D contract (but without the bonus for the German companies)
  • As a "non-applying partner" in cooperation projects. Transnational partners need to arrange financing for their subproject through local funding programmes or from their own financial resources.

    Necessary documents from "non-applying partners":

    • Description of the subproject
    • Working plan with person-months
    • Short portrait of business and technical experience of the partner
    • Letter of intent with signature
    • Cooperation agreement including all partners (draft)

Only German SMEs are eligible; foreign companies or partners need to obtain funding within their national innovation programmes or fund their activities on their own.

Contact: AiF Projekt GmbH

Innovation Networks (including Transnational Activities)

Funding of management of innovative company networks and R&D projects generated by them (minimum requirement for national networks: six German SME partners mandating an organisation to manage the network).

To encourage partnerships between German and international companies as well as, optionally, research and technology organisations (RTOs), international networks have now become part of the regular ZIM funding scheme after the completion of a successful pilot project. Eligible international ZIM cooperation networks must involve at least four German SMEs mandating a German organisation to manage the network and at least three partners from other countries (two SMEs and an organisation serving as coordinator providing network management services abroad).

However, the ZIM programme provides financial support only for the German partners involved. International organisations (coordinators, companies, RTOs and others) are responsible for their own funding.

Contact: VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH

International Cooperation

Bilateral Agreements connected to ZIM

As a service for German applicants, several bilateral agreements with other countries facilitate synchronised funding with foreign national programmes, while ZIM finances only the German partners. Currently, bilateral agreements are in effect with Argentina, Canada, Catalonia (Spain), Finland, France, Israel, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, and Viet Nam. Not all calls are open to all countries, and it may be the case that further countries/regions have been added since this page was last updated. A current list can be found on the German page linked below. Calls for proposals for transnational cooperative research projects are published for SMEs and RTOs with the objective of developing innovative products, processes or technical services. Additional bilateral agreements with other countries are planned.

» Further information on bilateral agreements and open calls

Network IraSME for Transnational Projects

The ZIM funding programme participates in IraSME, a network of ministries and funding agencies which provide or manage national and regional funding programmes for cooperative research projects between small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Research and technology organisations (RTOs) are also invited to participate as cooperation partners of a participating SME.

Twice a year IraSME issues joint calls for proposals for transnational cooperative research projects between SMEs and RTOs with the objective of developing innovative products, processes or technical services. Currently, the network connects Austria, Belgium (Regions Flanders and Wallonia), Brazil, Canada (Province Alberta), the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg and Turkey. Russia is currently suspended from any IraSME activities. It is planned to include additional countries and regions in the future.

» Further information on IraSME and open calls


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