EIC – Opportunities for SMEs

On 9 February, 2022, the new EIC Work Programme 2022 was published. It disposes of 1.7 billion EUR for all three funding schemes: EIC Pathfinder – for multi-disciplinary research teams, worth €350 million, to undertake visionary research with the potential to lead to technology breakthroughs; EIC Transition – funding to turn research results into innovation opportunities, worth €131 million; EIC Accelerator – worth €1,16 billion, for start-ups and SMEs to develop and scale up high impact innovations with the potential to create new markets or disrupt existing ones.

There are some changes with regard to the 2021 work programme. Sadly, the health and digital challenge of the accelerator made place to more specific topics. But there are also laudable novelties: The scale-up 100 initiative, for the 100 most innovative deep tech companies; equity investment above 15 MEUR; and stronger support to women innovators.

Deadlines and cut-off dates: Pathfinder Open: opens 1 March, closes 4 May; Pathfinder Challenges: opens 15 June, closes 19 October; Transition Open and Challenges: opens 1 March, submission any time, cut-off dates: 4 May and 28 September; Accelerator Open and Challenges: submission any time, cut-off dates 23 March, 15 June and 5 October.

EIC Info Day online: Tuesday, 22 February 2022

EIC work programme 2022

The EIC work programme 2022 was delayed due to decisions regarding EIC equity investments and timing of cut-off dates. Now the EIC Work Programme for 2022 is scheduled to be presented by the Commission on 9 February and will contain the full details of all EIC funding opportunities in 2022. An EIC applicants’ day will be organised on 22 February, with detailed presentations of all elements of the EIC 2022 work programme and information on how to apply for potential beneficiaries.

Step 1 proposals can be continuously submitted, cut-off-dates for full proposals are scheduled for 23 March, 15 June and 5 October (subject to confirmation in the final work programme).

Digital Europe Work Programme published

What is worth waiting for…now it is published: the Digital Europe Work Programme 2021-2022.

The Digital Europe Programme plans to reinforce EU critical digital capacities by focusing on the key areas of artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, advanced computing, data infrastructure, governance and processing, the deployment of these technologies and their best use for critical sectors like energy, climate change and environment, manufacturing, agriculture and health.

It is split into 5 large Specific Objectives: SO 1: High Performance Computing SO 2: Cloud, Data and AI

SO 3: Cybersecurity SO 4: Advanced digital skills SO 5: Accelerating best use of technology

Parts of the programme are “successors” to the CEF – Connecting Europe Facility, but many others are new and are geared to create synergies with Horizon 2020 initiatives and other projects and programmes.

Special emphasis is put on European data governance and security which is the reason why third party participation or participation of entities that are controlled by third countries are restricted for some of the strains.

The budget for this Work Programme is EUR 1383 million.

The planned types of action foresee mostly 50% funding, with the exception of (small) CSAs, actions for SME support (75% for SMEs) and “Grants for financial support” (cascading grants) where the beneficiaries receive 100% but the cascading grantees 50%.

More information or contact me

Horizon Europe Work Programmes

Since 22 June 2021, the long expected Horizon Europe Work Programmes are published. While these are good news, the bad news follow: Deadline for the 2021 calls is in many cases in September – that means a working summer season for those that want to grab this opportunity. And opportunities are plenty: Alone the WP – 7 for Digital, Industry and Space covers more than 200 action lines on 512 pages. Others are less voluminous, but many have a clear focus on the Green Deal and the Social Development Goals. Here some links:

WP 4 – Health

WP 5 – Culture, Creativity and inclusive Societies

WP 6 – Civil Security for Society

WP 7 – Digital, Industry and Space

The European Commission organises virtual InfoDays starting on 28 June. No registration is needed, all are accessible from the InfoDays Website.

Digital Europe & the Digital Decade

The last two days (1/2 June 2021) saw the launch of the EU’s strategy “Leading the Digital Decade” with the Digital Europe funding programme (in short DIGITAL) at its core.

The Digital Europe Programme will provide funding for projects in five areas

  1. Supercomputing/HPC (total dedicated budget over the 7 years: 2.26 BEUR)
  2. Artificial intelligence, sectoral data spaces, digital innovation hubs etc. (2 BEUR)
  3. Cybersecurity (1.6 BEUR)
  4. Advanced digital skills (577 MEUR)
  5. Use/deployment of digital technologies across the economy and society (1 BEUR)

The programme is not a mere technology or business programme but encompasses all actors in the digital economy and society. Main emphasis is put on “greener and more digital transformations” for the benefit of citizens and businesses alike, not forgetting the public sector, smart cities and regions, and academia & research on which results from research projects this market-near programme may/will build.

Alas, at the time of the launch, neither Work Programmes nor Calls were ready. But some programme features were provided:

Sectorial priority topics for 2021/2022 “sectorial data spaces”: Health, mobility, agri-food, manufacturing

The AI on demand platform: this one-stop-shop for AI solutions and AI market place will be part of Call 2 end of 2021

Project types: There will be a variety of project types throughout DIGITAL that will be specified in the Calls, amongst them: CSAs (100% funding); SME support (75% for SME, 50% for others); Third party support (cascading funds); simple grant projects (50% funding); and procurement. All between one and several partners, depending on the topic and Call.

Who can participate?
Any legal entity in the EU Member States and countries associated with the programme (not yet final which they are). For topics critical to security and that “strengthen de European strategic autonomy”, legal entities must be controlled by entities based in the EU.

Funding rate: between 50% and 100%, depending on topic/project type.

How will proposals be submitted?
All via the “Funding & Tender Opportunities Portal

How will proposals be evaluated?
As for R&D&I proposals, by 3 independent experts. Criteria are:

RELEVANCE: How does the proposal contribute to objectives (as set forth in the Call), EU strategies, supply chain reinforcement, and how to overcome potential financial obstacles.

IMPLEMENTATION: How mature is the proposed solution? Are the partners capable of carrying it out? Work planning.

IMPACT: What will be the achievements? How is communication and dissemination planned? What are the contributions to society? How is environmental sustainability addressed?

It was emphasised that the programme is for all, bringing together digital providers and digital users.

More information: https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/activities/digital-programme

Horizon Europe General Rules

Horizon Europe published some preliminary work programmes, most of them related to COVID. They, like all other future work programmes, can be found on the Funding & Tenders Portal. Furthermore, the first version of general rules “WP13” were published that follow the rules of Horizon 2020 – with some “small print” changes:

Gender Equality takes a specific, important role in Horizon Europe. Public institutions, Higher Education as well as research institutions must show a “gender equality plan” as eligibility criterion. Furthermore, when evaluated proposals have a tied score, they may be prioritized according to H2020 rules: 1. coverage of all (sub)topics, 2. higher score in sub-criteria excellence and impact (impact first for Innovation Actions). But at the third place for prioritization, there is gender equality among the staff of the beneficiaries, as described in the application. This raises some questions to the author: Does it mean real and true gender equality (50:50) that would propel a tied scored proposal higher, or should it be read as “gender bias”: the more women, the better? And what about the not yet documented cases of transgender staff? As often, such well meant rules raise a lot more questions than they solve…

Another new issue refers to the redress procedure, if an applicant is unhappy with the evaluation of the proposal: “Only the procedural aspects of an evaluation may be the subject of a request for an evaluation review. The evaluation of the merits of a proposal will not be the subject of an evaluation review”. So, no more fear that a wrong formulation of the Evaluation Summary Report (ESR) can lead to unwelcome complaints.

The first version of the Model Grant Agreement shows also an interesting new aspect: The financing institution (in most cases, probably the European Commission) can carry out an “impact evaluation” during but also after the project, depending on the Grant Agreement, to check how far impact promises were implemented in reality.

Last but not least: Application forms (Part B) are limited to 45 pages, 30 pages for CSAs. Only the new “Programme Co-fund action” is allowed 70 pages. So train yourself in clear & concise drafting before the first Calls are published!

EIC Work Programme available

As one of the first Horizon Europe programmes, the EIC – European Innovation Council’s Work Programme is now available. The European Innovation Council (EIC) is a key novelty of Horizon Europe and represents the most ambitious innovation initiative that Europe has taken, with a budget of €10 billion for the period 2021-2027. The EIC has a mission to identify, develop and scale-up breakthrough technologies and disruptive innovations. It will support startups, SMEs and research teams developing high-risk, high-impact breakthrough innovation, with a particular focus on scaling up game-changing solutions that contribute to the objectives of the European Green Deal and the Recovery Plan for Europe.

The tripartite programme – EIC pathfinder, EIC transition and EIC accelerator – has open calls and challenge-driven calls. “Pathfinder” is geared mainly at consortia in R&D&I, covering TRL 1-4 with 3-4 MEUR single project budget financed at 100%. The transition type of project is geared at single applicants or small (2) consortia, with a budget of 2.5 MEUR and dealing with TRL 4-5/6. Finally, “Accelerator” projects are market near (TRL 5/6 – 8), for single start-ups, SMEs or individuals that plan to create a start-up, with blended financing. Focus is on Green Deal, medical innovations, all with a gender balance in mind.

Horizon Europe et al.

On 29 September, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, twitted happily that “habemos consensus”: The Council agreed on the Horizon Europe Regulation text and budget.

It increased the overall budget in comparison to its July suggestion. In current prices, it is €90.9 billion, of which €85.5 billion will come from the 2021 – 2027 long term budget. The rest is from the new pandemic recovery fund, a temporary scheme running from 2021 – 2024 to fund top-down projects that tackle the pandemic and the economic crisis.

One issue is worth noting: While all parts of Horizon Europe were cut, one sub-programme enjoyed an increase of 200MEUR: The Marie Curie action. One argument in favour of the increase seems rather precarious in times of COVID: “With the additional budget, MSCA could fund more than 1,000 stays abroad for EU researchers”. But this is not all. The suggestion to finance these 200 MEUR in taking bits and pieces from all other sub-programmes, an option Commissioner for research, Mariya Gabriel would have favoured, ministers decided to take it from the – new – EIC, the European Innovation Council. So much for fostering innovation…

But it’s not all done yet. The European Parliament, insatiable when it concerns budget distribution, will still have a word to say. Main Committee is ITRE, the Parliamentary Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. It is also in charge of all other programmes, with some other associated Committees. Our MEPs will have to work hard to finish all before the end of the year so that they can start in time on 1 January 2021.

Here are two other funding programmes relevant for the digital economy that will have to pass through the European Parliament before the end of the year:

Digital Europe, that will deal with the EU’s  Digital Agenda, comprising topics like: Supercomputing, Artificial Intelligence, cyber security, digital skills and the digital transformation in the public sector.

CEF2 – the successor of the Connecting Europe Facility, the large infrastructure programme with a special “digital envelope”. The new proposal foresees funding percentages between 30% (“works”) to 50% (“studies”) which makes it not realistic for the private sector, in particular SMEs.