What is Horizon Europe? When does Horizon Europe start?
The biggest funding programme in the world that supports innovation and disruptive ideas and that is open to all types of organizations and institutions, from research, academia to industry, SMEs and start-ups or NGOs. It provides very high co-financing rates for different types of actions, which is between 70% and 100% in average.
HE is basically a programme that transforms key European strategic priorities into innovative real-life success stories. The current financial perspective, that stretches between 2021 and 2027, brings focus to digital, green and resilient approaches, which means that concrete opportunities to receive funding have to, at some extent, involve aspects of energy efficiency, environmental impacts, digital transformation and health.
That doesn`t mean, however, that we all need to develop energy-efficient technologies or finding ways to facilitate use of renewable energy sources, but it means that whatever you do, it needs to somehow address one of the key priorities set in the work programmes.
For example, by developing a smart device for early stage dementia detection, you not only provide digital solutions in health, but through early detection you help people dealing with these issues at early stage of disease occurrence, you in general digitalize parts of the health care system, you reduce costs of healthcare and you potentially save the environment if the current practices, you are proposing to improve or replace, present a huge environmental burden.
And this is the impact of your project – and to elaborate the impact, you need to engage in story telling – a story, that not only particularly focuses on what you do in terms of your technological concept, but it focuses on broader societal, economic, environmental and climate impacts. And these need to be worked out, so you need to pay special attention to these issues, as this is how you will convince the evaluators that you are worth to receive EU funding, that means, taxpayers money to develop something that will benefit the society as a whole.
To summarize: your project idea is simply the entry point but the story around it with all its potential benefits and impacts makes your project a European best practice.
And because you cannot leave the interpretation of these impacts to the evaluators, who, and this is an important point, are not necessarily involved in the same professional field as you, and that goes especially for close-to-market projects, where your evaluators might come from the investor side, it is your task to prepare the argumentation of all the elements that you think, related to your project concept, might be of a benefit for Europe. And beyond Europe too.
Horizon Europe is based on the adopted action plans such as on health, circular economy, green deal and digital strategy, to name but a few and it operates in the form of clusters, which means that there are 6 clusters that outline the main objectives within the set priorities in the areas of health, inclusive society, digital, industry, space, climate, energy, mobility, food, bioeconomy, agriculture and so on.
HE has started in January 2021 and will last until 2027. Its predecessor was Horizon 2020, and HE basically builds on the experience and lessons learned of Horizon 2020. Although there are some changes at the operative level of project preparations, the core of the programme has remained the same which is an indication that it was cleverly structured in the first place and that it brings the value and results that were initially anticipated.
In terms of structure, it is built around 3 PILLARS, namely PILLAR 1 Excellent Science, PILLAR 2 Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness, and PILLAR 3 Innovative Europe. Now, to break down all 3 pillars for you in brief:
- The first Pillar deals with research actions to boost the scientific excellence of Europe. For example, MSCA is one of the sub-programmes in this Pillar that allows early-stage researchers or experienced researchers to involve with the industry partners. It is a mobility programme that specifically targets the objective for bridging the gap between academia and industry.
- Next Pillar, Pillar 2, Global Challenges and European Industrial competitiveness with mentioned clusters, is the cumulation of calls for proposals that respond to specific challenges as they were adopted by the EC as a development roadmap for Europe over the next 7 years. This Pillar creates opportunities for all types of institutions and organizations to join forces in larger or smaller collaborative operations, where the number of participants may stretch, in average, between 2 to even 30 partners. These types of operations have a TOP-DOWN approach, which means that the scope of activities, the expected outcome and expected impacts are clearly described and the applicants are to address them in their entirety.
- The third pillar, Innovative Europe, is the one that particularly supports science-based or technological breakthrough innovations, ambitious surprises, as the EC cares to call them. This pillar is also offering BOTTOM-UP opportunities, next to TOP DOWN, which means that the topic of the call is not predetermined so you might submit a proposal to any challenge that the EC has defined as its top priority, so we are talking about any approaches that facilitate digital transformation, accelerated use of renewable energy sources, IoT, AI approaches and alike.
And while the opportunities are out there, the first and the most important thing is to know where to find this information and the EC is working really hard to make this easier for you. And the most relevant is definitely the webpage »Funding & Tender Opportunities« that gives you an overview of the available funding and all related requirements.
What are the calls, grant applications for ICT consortiums?
ICT is a cross-cutting topic which means that most of the calls within HE are somehow touching upon this issue. As mentioned before, digitalization is the key priority of the next perspective, so the ICT companies have a lot to gain from the programme. We have made our statistics and there are altogether around 800 calls for proposals planned only in the first two years of the programme implementation in the Pillar 2 and Pillar 3, where the potential for an ICT provider can be explored.
There is a joint web page you can access called »Funding & Tender Opportunities« and it entails all the background information, provides access to work programmes and application criteria. It is to be noted, that these pages are to be consulted very much in detail, as they are there for the purpose, namely, to guide the potential applicants through the procedures. And this is not an easy task, as we can easily get lost in this jungle of information therefore it is necessary to understand that the decision to participate in these competitive calls is not one to be taken lightly – this decision requires commitment and engagement of all decision-making levels in order to put resources on the disposal, that such an endeavour requires.
In some cases, the EC recommends to reserve up to 8 months to prepare a project, which doesn`t mean that the assigned team members will be working round the clock on this issue, but it means that in general initial activities, such as preparation of the outline of the project idea, potential partnerships, planned budget etc need to start early in order to bring everyone on board, especially in cases where large partnerships are planned or simply to streamline the project idea with its potential impacts way before the actual project deadline.
What does ICT include? AI, digital, intersection with sustainability, or innovation, or deep tech?
If we look at the clusters of the HE, reaching from health, industry, space, energy, mobility, bioeconomy, to natural resources etc, ICT is basically omnipresent, it is everywhere. It may well be the core of the project idea, let`s say you are developing a new, more efficient and smart way of customer interaction using adaptive technologies or ICT may be an important component of the proposed model, let`s say in the modernisation of the production line, ICT is the so-called enabler of the overall system.
There are also complementary programs to HE that cover the aspect of digitalization, one of the most dominant ones is the Digital Europe Programme that puts on disposal additional 9 billion EUR to facilitate the use of digital technologies.
And while Horizon Europe supports research and development of digital technologies, DEP supports the wide uptake and deployment of these innovative digital solutions. So, the main idea of the Digital Programme is to accelerate the use of digital technologies in the area of supercomputing, AI, cybersecurity, or their use across the economy and society. And besides, the digital programme invests hundreds of millions of Euro into trainings to support advancements in digital skills, be it on the public, business or private level.
And while the DEP is a total novelty of the EU level funding scheme, it will start to announce calls for proposals in the second half of this year, at least as far as I am informed.
How to prepare an ICT call? Consortium, preparation, proposal...
First of all, you need to clarify within your ranks whether you would like to be part of a consortium or whether you dare to apply on your own. There are a lot of factors that influence this decision, but there are three main criteria, which may help you identify the right scenario for you.
- And these are firstly, your own internal setup - that is, do you have all the resources to complete the action or in the minimum requirement, do you have access to those stakeholders you would need in your project to act e.g., as your subcontractors.
- The second criterion is definitely the commitment you need to show if you are e.g. applying as a sole beneficiary – these preparation procedures take time, energy and a lot of interdisciplinary thinking, as not only your project idea is the one that counts but also your ability to find the right argumentation and justification of what you are doing in terms of impacts your solution may have on the broader scale, we have mentioned before the societal, environmental and economic level. On the other hand, if participating in a consortium, the pressure of proposal preparation is more equally distributed among partners, who have their own skills and interdisciplinary knowhow which plays an important part in the proposal setup.
- And the third criterion is definitely the scale of the breakthrough character of your innovation – has the concept, that you are pursuing, potential to disrupt the markets or even to create new markets.
So, profound knowledge of your target market and of your customer is of crucial importance.
How does TIKO PRO support the creation of consortiums and ICT proposals?
We understand the added value of grant funding, while at the same time we have the awareness of the very intense proposal preparation time. The added value of grant funding is definitely the confirmation on the supranational level, which is the EC, that the work you have under development attracts attention.
So not only the funds, that are necessary to pursue your idea, are of particular value, but also the recognition – as with the recognition, you are positioned among the recipients of the EU level funding which creates traction on many levels, either in talks with the investors or the industry, for e.g., if you are an academic or research institution when we talk about scaling up of your innovation.
Some of the EC programmes (like Accelerator) come with an extensive offer of business acceleration services, which means that if successful, you are given a strong support in form of coaches, mentors, programme managers who are there to push you and your idea further.
Because this is what it is all about – namely, to translate innovative ideas into marketable products and in this way boost your business or in the case of an academic partner, to facilitate the transition from research into successful market innovation.
In general, there is a lot of information out there, if not sometimes too many. But there is also no way around it – because if we talk about almost 100 bn euro only to be spent in the framework of Horizon Europe in the next 7 years, this machinery needs a strong foothold in terms of strategic objectives. And together with the temporary facility programme that has been put in place to combat the consequences of the corona crisis, the EU has put together a true money power train that in total amounts to €1 800 billion. Now, with all these funds available, one might feel overwhelmed, and I absolutely get that. But there are consultants, like Tiko Pro on the market, that can help you find your way through this jungle.
When working with us, the first challenge is to find the right call for your project idea. The absolute incorrect approach here would be to try to squeeze your project into a call that is simply just not the right fit. The Commission spends a lot of resources to put together these programmes so to expect that the evaluators will show mercy if they realize you are presenting something that is not in line with the project call, you are simply mistaken. Therefore, a critical view of the project idea in terms of eligibility criteria is absolutely crucial. And as we are experts in these programmes, this might make your life much easier as we are here to secure the consistency of your idea with the call requirements. Now, as far as the streamlining of your project idea goes, brainstorming about what to include and what not, we are here to help you in finding the convincing argumentation and justification for project elements, such as if your project particularly focuses on societal and health benefits, let`s say you are involved in development of a covid related solution, we help you create a story around the model that you are presenting, and support you in quantifying your impacts.
However, we do not write your project per se as you are the experts and you are knowledgeable in your target area, instead, we make sure that your project presentation is aligned with the expectations of the call. We also support you in the sometimes quite complex application procedure, which in the Accelerator programme means the interpretation of the programme requirements and guidance through the AI-based application procedure.
Moreover, this aspect becomes especially evident if you are applying in a consortium. The management and coordination of several partners, that is up to 10 or 20 is quite a big challenge, making sure that all partners are aligned and equally involved in all of the preparation procedures.
And then when it comes to finances, one hurdle to overcome is the right interpretation of the budget positions, knowing which costs are eligible and which are not. This aspect may come in handy especially as the funding body may cut some costs before the Grant Agreement is signed if budgets are being prepared without paying enough attention to the cost eligibility criteria.
In terms of partnerships, that are required in most of the HE calls and also other R&D programmes, there are ways to reach out to partners either through your existing networks or through partner search options available on the websites as complementary service of the EU level funded programmes. And we support you in initiating these processes.
Some programmes consider it an added value if there are partners in the consortia, that have experience with the EU level funding. And in order to start, the best way is to join a partnership where you potentially have a minor role at the beginning but with the experience that you gathered in this partnership, you might in the next step dare to apply on your own or with a more visible role to play.
In general, we at Tiko Pro aim at long-term cooperation with our partners. That means, the better we get to know you the more efficient is our screening process of available funding. And normally, when the project is being prepared and submitted but unfortunately not awarded funding, there are e.g. programmes that allow resubmissions of the same projects or there is an alternative funding available, either on the national or the EU level, where the same project inputs might be re-worked and submitted under another call for proposals.
We also often receive very positive feedback from our clients, even if they might not have succeeded in securing the EU level funding, they usually say that the preparation process has helped them immensely in sharpening their focus of their R&D or market-related activities while reaching out to other means of financing.
And just to conclude, working with us also means that we act as your pre-evaluator, as not always are the evaluators the experts in your particular fields so the language you use and the descriptions you give are of crucial importance for the evaluation process. And that goes for academic or research projects as well as for close-to-market projects.
In terms of opportunities, there are calls within HE available throughout the year and I am sure that there is something out there for everybody if the key requirements for an application are fulfilled, namely if you go beyond the global competition if your project is coherent with the strategic objectives of the European Union and if your project has broader societal, environmental, climate and economic impacts.