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“Tell a gripping story” - how to apply for the Horizon2020 Small Business Innovation for Transport call

On Monday Louise Mothersole - the UK National contact point for Horizon2020 - presented a webinar for KTN on The SME Instrument. In her 36 minute presentation, Louise laid out the steps companies should take to best demonstrate their credibility and ambition when applying for this Horizon 2020 fund to boost the competitiveness of SMEs in transport.

Over the next few months, in collaboration with the Knowledge Transfer Network, Louise will outline the opportunities available to UK organisations through a series of such webinars on applying for Horizon 2020 funding - with the next scheduled for 6 February 2015 on the larger Mobility for Growth programme.

Horizon2020 is the biggest EU Research and innovation programme with nearly €80BN of funding on offer until to 2020.

As national contact point, Louise Mothersole is available to offer guidance on involvement in Horizon2020 - her contact details are: NCP-SME@InnovateUK.gov.uk and online at H2020UK.org.


Background - Smart, Green and Integrated Transport programme

The €6BN Smart, Green and Integrated Transport programme (part of The HORIZON 2020) aims to boost the competitiveness of European transport industries and achieve a European transport system that is resource-efficient, climate-and-environmentally-friendly, safe and seamless for the benefit of all citizens, the economy and society.

The work programme for which contains three separate ‘calls for proposals’:

  1. Mobility for Growth;
  2. Green Vehicles;
  3. Small Business and Fast Track Innovation for Transport.

Louise’s presentation on Monday covered the third call, that is offering funding of over €25m via a series rolling funding rounds.

The 36 minute presentation can be viewed by clicking the image - and summarised below - with an overall message that, “recognising that SMEs are key players in transport supply chains, the challenge for small business is growth do good stuff on the general transport theme of being smart, green and innovative… with the bottom line of submitting a business plan not a research proposal”.


Mobility for Growth call now open for submissions

Under the Mobility for Growth call for proposals, amounting to €144.5m of support overall, the following opportunities are open for submissions from today (10/11/14):

For the full list of opportunities see the Smart, green and integrated transport Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2014 – 2015.


Back to The SME Instrument

The SME Instrument aims to support projects with a European dimension - by helping implement high-risk and high-potential innovation ideas.

According to Louise, “It's about producing high returns on investment - it's about business growth not technical developments”.

SMEs are defined a shaving fewer than 250 employees and annual turnover of less than €50m.

This particular call is targeted at all types of ‘for profit’ SMEs with ambitions to grow, although ‘not for profit’ entities can be used as sub-contractors.

“This call is looking for the best, market-oriented ideas of Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6 or above. So you need to ask yourself, is this is a business ready idea?”

In response, the EU funding is intended to be provided 150 days from application to funding.


No specific challenge

Despite the underlining in the documentation, there isn't a specific transport challenge to be addressed - further than being Smart, Green and Integrated. As sated by Louise, “in fact it's quite a broad theme”.

As stated in the Participant Portal, “The European transport sector must have the capacity to deliver the best products and services, in a time and cost efficient manner, in order to preserve its leadership and create new jobs, as well as to tackle the environmental and mobility defies (i.e. challenge, presumably)”.

So, most transport ideas could be applicable, said Louise.

“The Small Business Innovation for Transport recognises SMEs are key players in transport supply chains. It also also exists to facilitate emergence of high tech SMEs.”


Phased approach

Louise highlighted that three phases of the call, stating its phased approach is similar to Innovate UK’s Smart programme.


Phase 1 - Feasibility Study

In this feasibility stage up to €50k - at 70% support rate (or ‘intervention rate’) for up to 6 months - with the outcome to be a 10 page proposal made up of a draft business plan and draft feasibility study.

Activities could include: risk assessments, design or marketing studies, user involvement, intellectual property exploration, innovation strategy development, partner research, feasibility of concept etc.

The Outcome of the project at this stage is a feasibility study and business plan - so the funding is paying to development a proposal for Phase 2.


Phase 2 - Innovation project

Phase 1 doesn’t have to be completed but the activities above have to have been carried out.

Support of up to €2.5 million Euros at 70% support rate (or ‘intervention rate’) is available at this stage for projects lasting around 1 to 2 years.

Proposals here should demonstrate high potential in terms of competitiveness and growth, supported by a strategic business plan.

Activities could include, for instance: prototyping, miniaturisation, scaling-up, design, performance verification, testing, demonstration of pilot lines, validation for market replication.

The Outcome would be a new product, process or service ready for the global market.


Phase 3 - Commercialisation

Phase 3 is indirectly funded, as support is provided by activities such as finding customers, networking, and business coaching.


Submission Dates

There is a rolling process of deadlines in progress:

  • 17 December 2014 - at this stage there is “little point in rushing for this unless an application mature already”;
  • 18 March 2015;
  • 17 June 2015;
  • 17 September 2015;
  • 16 December 2015.

Evaluation begins at submission not the closing date: “So, it’s best to submit early before the deadline. Think of the psychology”.


Evaluation Criteria

The criteria for evaluating proposals are Excellence; Impact; and Quality and Efficiency of the implementation. Impact (in this case on the business) is given more weight.

“So you need to think about business impact - Evaluators want to be told a gripping story”.

“You also need to demonstrate that you know your user, have business expertise and know how it's going to make money”.

“Bottom line: it's a business plan not a research proposal.”


Lessons learned so far…

The first call (in September) was “well over-subscribed”, with 2602 applications received - and 6% of those funded. The UK did well with 11% of UK proposals funded”.

The lessons learned so far are from failed applications are, they were:

  • Too focused on technologies not enough on the business opportunity;
  • Not convincing in describing competitors;
  • Not enough information on competing products;
  • Too low level an innovation;
  • No concept for commercialisation;
  • No European dimension.

Help is available from Louise: in addition to advice, can help with templates for Phase 1 and Phase 2 submissions and a self-evaluation form.


For your diaries - webinar on Horizon 2020 Mobility for Growth call on Friday 6 February

Louise will be attending an Information Day on Monday 2 February 2015 from 9am to 6pm (CET) in the Charlemagne building, rue de la Loi 170, Brussels to inform potential participants about the next round of calls under the Smart, Green and Integrated Transport Challenge. 

A KTN webinar for those not able to attend will follow at 14:30 (GMT) on Friday 6 February - register here.

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