By Zohar Ben-Asher
In the last twenty years or so, R&D funding has become much more difficult to obtain. For once, governmental subsidies to universities and other research institutions have shrunk significantly, in a continuous manner. Also various philanthropist sources have become scarce. Industrial sources are by their very nature are narrower in scope and are normally dedicated to particular R&D agenda of specific industrial entities. However, there are still quite a few public sources for funding R&D endeavours, e.g., The EU Horizon 2020, US governmental funds and other international and national agencies. In most of these granting authorities, the system requires the applicants to respond to calls which indicate the eligible topics for which funding can be requested. In some, there are also “bottom-to-top” calls where the applicants can propose their own topics. Securing funding is subject to fierce competition with general success rate of circa 20% to 25%. These figures, naturally, consider all of the applications which have been submitted, including such which fail also for technical reasons or unacceptable language and presentation. This means that the odds for success would grow significantly if proposals were prepared meticulously, not only answering the formal requirements of calls but also – maybe even more importantly – answering as best as can be the expectation of the review process that would determine granting of the sought R&D funding.
It is extremely important to know well the ins and outs of the various funding programmes, including the rationale of the review process and other considerations that might influence the decision of the granting authorities. This means also that while preparing proposals it is important to ensure that the proposed project should match perfectly the topic and that the structure of the proposal and the composition of the partnership engaged in the application answers the expectations of the granting authorities. Intimate, in-depth knowledge of international R&D supporting funds is needed, therefore, coupled with knowing how to approach them successfully.
This will be of most valuable help in various steps needed to prepare and implement supported R&D projects. In a nutshell, it would help in tackling the following issues:
In the realm of the preparation of projects & proposals, the points covered should include: identification of funding sources and calls, so as to match in the best manner the project idea with the most suitable call for proposal; partner search – particularly where grants are awarded to consortia; proposal drafting and budgeting, to ensure that the proposal responds to both the formal requirements and the informal expectations; and finally, grant writing methodology.
Where it comes to project implementation, issues that need to be address include project coordination & implementation programme; financial and IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) management; monitoring, evaluation & reporting; and dissemination & commercialisation of project’s results. In many cases, the funding agencies would expect that along with the scientific work proposed by the project there shall be a reference to the socio-economic impact & implications of the project.
A good case in point can be seen in the European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020. This huge programme of some € 80 bn. avails funding for a period of seven years (2014 to 2020). It is the financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union, a flagship initiative set in the Europe 2020 Strategy, aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness investing in innovative initiatives in all sectors, from research to industry and social issues.
Horizon 2020 basic structure:
HORIZON 2020 will finance initiatives in three main areas, or “pillars”: (a) Excellent Science, referring to activities aimed to reinforce and extend the excellence of scientific research in Europe and to onsolidate the European Research Area (ERA) so as to make the Union’s research & innovation system more competitive on a global scale; (b) Industrial Leadership which includes activities to accelerate development of technologies and innovations to maximise the growth potential of EU companies and SMEs competitiveness; (c) Societal Challenges, which is a challenge-based approach for innovative and market-oriented activities aimed to tackle the main political and social priorities in Europe. The pillars are further divided as follows:
Horizon 2020 offers a large variety of funding opportunities for research and innovation activities through calls for proposals that are set out in the Horizon 2020 work programme.
Graphically, the process leading to securing funding of R&D projects can be described as follows:
And in the next stage:
In practical terms, the work to be done should begin in scanning of the various funding opportunities so as to optimally fit the project idea to the potential funding sources. Once the related call for proposals has been identified, the next step is to plan and draft the project according to the specific requirements as defined in the official documents of the call, the Guidelines and Annexes.
European projects generally require the participation of different organisations from different Member States or associated countries in order to ensure the “European dimension” of the project. It is not always easy to find the suitable partner to work with, especially for small entities like SMEs; to this end it is important to become part of an international network of potential stakeholders which share the same project ideas. This also might require the help of experts that can help in creating the required partnerships and consortia, particularly as the structure and distribution of the partners in consortia are looked at carefully and considered by the evaluation process that would determine the funding.
In addition, selection criteria also include the financial and operational capacity of the participants, along with the operational capacity, competence and the relevant experience of the individual participants. These elements are assessed both at consortium level and individual participants’ level so as to ensure that they answer the demand for excellence, impact and quality & efficiency of the implementation of the proposed project.
In the case of Horizon 2020, there are four main instruments used for funding:
Research and Innovation Actions should aim at establishing new knowledge and to explore the feasibility of a new or improved technology, product, process, service or solution. These actions are funded at the rate of 100%.
Innovation Actions should aim at producing plans and designs for new, altered or improved products, processes or services. For this purpose they may include prototyping, testing, demonstrating, piloting, large-scale product validation and market-replication. They are funded at the rate of 70%, except for non-profitable organisation which are funded at the rate of 100%.
Coordination & Support Actions consist primarily of accompanying measures, such as standardisation, dissemination, awareness-raising and communication, networking, coordination or support services. They are funded at the rate of 100%.
Also, there is SME Instrument. This instrument offers business innovation support within the Societal Challenges Pillar, specifically in the area of Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies (LEITs). It aims to help SMEs to develop their innovative capacity, growth and internationalisation. It refers to the entire innovation cycle in three phases, complemented by a mentoring and coaching service. Phase 1 covers feasibility assessment, aiming at exploring and assessing the technical feasibility and commercial potential of breakthrough innovations that SMEs want to exploit and commercialise. Here the funding is made in from of lump sum of € 50,000 per project with projects duration of 6 months.
Phase 2, Innovation projects, caters for projects underpinned by sound and strategic business plan. The funding rate here is 70% but exceptionally it can reach 100% where the research component is strongly present. The duration of projects here may be between one and two years.
Phase 3, Commercialisation, aims at facilitating the commercial exploitation of the innovation activities resulting from phase 1 and/or phase 2. No direct funding is offered, but support actions provided by the EEN- Enterprise Europe Network are available.
ERA-NET Cofund is and instrument designed to support partnerships, including joint programming initiatives, such as preparation and implementation of such initiatives based on co-funded calls leading to funding transnational research and innovation projects. The funding rate for such projects cannot exceed 33% of the total eligible costs of the action.
There is also the instrument of Pre-Commercial Procurement (PCP). It covers cofund actions aiming at encouraging public procurement of research, development and validation of new solutions that can bring significant quality and efficiency improvements in areas of public interest. The funding of this type of instrument is up to 70% of the total eligible costs.
Finally, there is the instrument of Public Procurement of Innovative Solutions which refers to cofund actions aiming at enabling public procurers to adopt innovative solutions and opening market opportunities for industry. The funding rate here can be up to 20% at most.