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Horizon 2020 and a commercialization of exceptionally innovative products

by Irena Rezec

The new programme period (2014-2020) of Horizon 2020, the European research and development programme, has given companies new opportunities, which were not included in the previous programme periods. Among the changes, I would like to point out the introduction of two new programmes, i.e. the SME Instrument and the Fast Track Innovation (FTI) Pilot. Both programmes promote the commercialization of products and/or services on the European or global market; more specifically of exceptionally innovative products and services that are in the final stage of development, i.e. the stage of testing and preparation for entry to the market. Additionally, the SME Instrument programme opens up possibilities for the individual application of a company, i.e. without consortium partners, which was only possible as an exception in the previous programme periods. A large number of applications point to the fact that the two programmes are very topical and adapted to the needs of companies, but at the same time they are unfortunately also underfunded considering the interest expressed by companies to obtain funds from these two programmes. This means that the funds are intended only for those who are best from all angles.

Due to the inability to finance all the good projects received in response to the calls for project proposals as part of the H2020 programme, the European Commission has introduced the so-called Seal of Excellence, which will enable good, yet rejected projects to become recognized in terms of the quality of the projects that have received such a seal and with it an easier way to obtain strategic partners and funds from other sources.

Operationally, the implementation of the above-mentioned programmes is led by the Executive Agency for SMEs (EASME). Both programmes are presented in detail on the EASME website where a list of the previously co-financed projects is presented. Below is a recap of some of the main features of both programmes and the recommendations from the perspective of the project proposal evaluator for both programmes at the European Commission with an emphasis on the projects or solutions that are based on information communication technologies.

The main differences between the programmes:


SME Instrument FTI Pilot
13 topic fields – digital innovation is usually ranked in the so-called Open Disruptive Innovation Scheme; however, given that digitalization is carried out in all aspects of our life and work; individual projects in the area of IT solutions are also ranked in other topic areas topics are not limited
support is provided in three phases; applicants apply for each individual phase separately, and they can also skip individual phases one-phase projects
the amount of co-funding for an individual project and an individual phase:

  • amount of co-funding for phase 1: a maximum of €50,000 or 70% of the phase 1 project value
  • amount of co-funding for phase 2: €0.5-2.5 million or a maximum of 70% of the phase 2 project value
  • phase 3: non-financial support is offered in the form of support in obtaining private funds

a company can skip an individual phase and apply directly to phase 2 or 3, if it has prepared all the starting points for phase 2 and 3

amount of co-funding: €1-3 million or a maximum of 70% of the project value for companies or 100% for non-profit organizations
the applicants must come from EU member states or countries associated with H2020*
only SMEs can apply** there is no limitation as to the legal form or status of the applicants
TRL – Technology Readiness Level must be TRL6*** or more
a company can apply independently, without any consortium partners a consortium of a minimum of three partners is mandatory
the time until when a product or service should be launched onto the market has not been determined a product and/or service must be launched onto the market no later than within 36 months after the start of the project
special rules apply for all potential subcontractors the general rules of the H2020 apply for all potential subcontractors
the deadlines for the submission of project proposals are announced four times a year the programme is in its pilot phase; the final deadline for the submission of project proposals as part of the pilot phase is 25th October 2016; all subsequent deadlines for the submission of project proposals depend on the decision of the European Commission about the continuation of the programme

In addition to meeting the basic conditions, a project must convince the evaluators with:

  • arguments about the technological readiness level of a product or service (TRL6 or more), meaning it must be clearly described what, how and where a product or service was tested, what were the results of the testing, and what else needs to be done to ensure that a product or service can be offered to the broader European or global market;
  • arguments about the exceptional innovativeness in relation to the solutions already available on the European or global market, and which must be supported with a comparative analysis of your solution with competitive market solutions, both from the technological, functional as well as the commercial point of view;
  • a big market potential on the European or global market supported with statistical data, data from marketing research and trends in the sector or for a product or service the project refers to;
  • a good marketing strategy for penetrating foreign target markets;
  • a team of internal and, if necessary, external experts and partners who are experienced in launching a product and/or service to the European or global market both from the technical, business and commercial viewpoint; and with
  • other arguments.

There is an abundance of details related to the applications for calls of the mentioned programmes, which is why I recommend applicants to start preparing their application files in due time, i.e. two to three months before the application deadline. This applies particularly for first-time applicants as well as for those who in order to apply successfully need other, i.e. consortium partners who must be carefully selected and whose co-operation and their role in the project must be agreed upon in advance.


How to Write a Winning H2020 Proposal - SME Instrument Phase 1: Manual for Applicants and Consultants

How to Write a Winning H2020 Proposal - SME Instrument Phase 2: Manual for Applicants and Consultants

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Irena Rezec, M.Sc., MBA
Irena Rezec is an experienced expert with more than 30 years of experience both in the public as well as in the private sector in Slovenia and abroad. She has gained experience and knowledge in the field of information solutions development, entrepreneurship, European and global business ecosystems, business collaboration and partnership approaches as well as in internationalisation of companies, all by obtaining the University (information systems) and Master's (international management) degree, by managing the Euro Info Cenre in Ljubljana (currently titled Enterprise Europe Network), by cooperating in various working groups in Slovenia and abroad, and within the last 16 years in the role of the Managing Director of the company WOTRA also by implementing a big number of consulting projects and seminars in Slovenia and other countries in the world. For the past 16 years, she has also regularly evaluated EU project proposals (EU H2020, URBACT, and other EU funds) in the fields of ICT and industrial clusters development, and occassionally in the field of urban and rural economic development.

In addition, she was in-depth training in:
  • collaborative relationships and partnership management (Rhythm of Business, OECD, Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Flanders);
  • open and systematic innovation (CREAX, ECSB);
  • digital marketing and online sales channels (Amazing);
  • regional economic development (Flemish Government, OECD, InWEnt Germany, Assembly of European regions);
  • quantum techniques (Tadej Pretner);
  • systemic dynamics in organisations - systemic constellations in business (a licensed faciliator certified by the Institute for Systemic Constellations Slovenia in cooperation with Bert Hellinger Institute of the Netherlands).
Among others, she is a member of:
  • Advisory Board of the Cluster House – an umbrella organization of the Balkan and Black Sea Cluster Network;
  • TCI Network– The Competitiveness Institute Network;
  • Association of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Slovenia which is a member of the ICIE Congress – International Congress of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs;
  • ERENET – Entrepreneurhsip Research and Education Network of Central European Universities.

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