HORIZON 2020 – does it provide a grant opportunity for Polish companies?

Where did the idea for Horizon 2020 start?

In June 2010, EU leaders endorsed the Europe 2020 strategy – a plan for the development of the European Union, aiming to place the economy on the right track. The basic thesis of the Europe 2020 strategy is the following: you cannot build long-term sustainable economic growth without improving the results of research and innovation carried out in Europe.

In order to improve the implementation of this thesis it was decided to link research and innovation funds in one program. Horizon 2020 is the flagship program of the European Commission, which is to help strengthen the Union in the field of competitive advantage through research and innovation. With the aim to bridge the gap between European Union and innovation leaders in the world, EU aims are very challenging. European spending on R&D on the level of 1.9 % of gross domestic income is worrying if you compare it to more than 4% of Israel, nearly 4% of South Korea and Japan, or almost 3% of the U.S. Even China, which until recently were considered as a reproductive economy, shows off indicators on R&D spending on a level equal to Europe, which is 1.9%, but with an index growth close to 40%.

What is it, in practice, the Horizon 2020?

By creating Horizon 2020 one maintains balance between supporting science, increasing the competitiveness of industry and solving social problems. This program is divided into three distinct, but mutually supportive pillars :

– Perfection of the science base

– Industry leadership

– Social challenges

The perfection of the science base will operate on the edge of basic research, growth and prosperity of our society. It will include four aspects carried out by researchers regardless of whether they operate in universities, research centres or in the framework of R & D resources of the industry. The first of these aspects is to support scientific basic research. The second focuses on the transformation of basic research results in unique and competitive technologies. its task will be to stimulate the creation of synergistic links between scientists and engineers. Another, called Maria Sklodowska –Curie Actions, is to stimulate and support the development of researchers, in particular in terms of supporting science for innovation. The last aspect concerns the further development of infrastructure for learning and creating the circumstances to enable best use of this infrastructure.

Pillar Industry Leadership is responsible for accelerating the development of technology and innovation, which will form the basis for innovative European SMEs to achieve the rank of leading global companies. This pillar includes three issues. The first is to promote innovationfrom the research phase to the demonstration phase , in particular in key technologies (ICT, nanotechnology , polymers , biotechnology , advanced manufacturing technologies and space). The second issue is dedicated to accelerate the way of raising capital for enterprises on research and development activities, which are often risky. Last, the third issue concerns the promotion of innovative SMEs particularly in the field of development managerial competences of innovation from idea to a competitive product range internationally. This pillar is to increase funding, in comparison with the framework programs, on test phase , prototyping, demonstration and pilot . This pillar is responsible for the promotion of entrepreneurship and risk-taking in the field of innovation.

Social challenges; this pillar, by combining different fields of science, not only technical but also human and social, is involved in supporting the search for a response to social concerns in a highly competitive and commercial world. Social challenges that are particularly covered by this pillar include: health, demographic change and well-being, food security, also in the context of biotechnology, sustainable agriculture, energy safe, clean and economically consumed, smart, green and integrated transport; efficient use of resources and activities climate , modern and inclusive society and security. And even though the social problems in the third pillar are an important policy objective in itself, this pillar is to maintain a strong emphasis on co- exploration business solutions overcoming the problems that affect people in Europe.

How does Horizon 2020 run?

Horizon 2020 offers, compared to previously known programs, a large simplification. The rules of the program are guided by the principle that scientists and innovators are to spend as much as possible time on research for business, and as little as possible on filling out bureaucratic forms. One of the most important solutions in Horizon 2020 is a uniform and consistent funding of innovation at every step: from early concept to commercialisation phase. In this way, companies will be able to much more easily implement their technological breakthroughs into viable products with commercial potential. Additionally, compared to the previous framework programs (eg. FP7), Horizon 2020 has a simpler structure and greatly simplified guidelines. Companies will be able to rely on pre-financing grants to 80 % of the granted subsidies, which within Brussels grants is new. Main target is to reduce the average evaluation time by 100 days. All is geared to simplify and accelerate the use of subsidies. And what is important for Polish companies: these changes mean that subsidies on R&D from Horizon 2020 are becoming more accessible to Polish entities compared to it’s precursor: 7th Framework Programme.

Horizon 2020 has also revised and increased level of support for projects covered by the grants. The direct costs of the early research phase, where the risk of obtaining their objective is the greatest, may be reimbursed up to 100 %. The direct costs of the development phase, closer to implementation will be able to get a return of 75%. In addition, the company will obtain refund of 25% of expenditures on reasonable indirect costs of the project.

Companies from the SME sector receive special consideration. A special instrument, inspired by the SBIR program in the U.S., will be implemented for them and adapted to their needs. Horizon 2020 is also designed to fill a perceived gap in the financing of R & D in SMEs, in particular, potentially leading to breakthrough innovation.

Horizon 2020, in order to intensify innovation in Europe will support potential we already have. These activities certainly will include the creation of close links between existing and newly established research centres, supporting the idea of smart specialization and the increasing importance of the international network of individuals and bodies working in the field of innovation.

In addition, the Commission intends to ensure fully harmonized measures to stimulate the development of research programs at the level of subsidies from Brussels and cohesion funds. The harmonization of financial rules allows combining funding from Horizon 2020 and the Cohesion Fund in the framework of the same project.

And what about the budget?

In terms of budget, politicians also proved that the issue of innovation is a EU priority. 70 Billion euros for the period 2014-20 is significantly higher compared to previous framework programs. The Horizon 2020 budget is similar to that of Poland won for the entire financial perspective in the framework of the Cohesion Funds (2014-2020??). The fact that the stimulation of research leading to the competitiveness of enterprises is a critical factor to decision-makers is indicated by the launch of the first calls for proposals already mid- December 2013, before budgets were formally released. This call is open till 11th March 2014.

Do Polish companies have a chance to receive a subsidy from this fund?

Polish companies have relatively little experience in using grants directly from Brussels. As the opinions of those who got Brussels grants shows, these subsidies in terms of formal requirements are even easier than those distributed in Poland. Probably so far companies have not been interested in Brussels grants because the local ones were available almost without limits. On the other hand for projects submitted to the European Commission an important aspect is the required high level of innovativeness, not only on regional or national but on European or global scale. Those that are successful are groundbreaking projects often on a world scale, often through simple innovation, but with the potential of multi-national outcome and impact. Let’s not forget one of the requirements is skill to cooperate in an international consortium with other companies and research centres, for the European Commission now more important than before. Are there companies acting in Poland that can combine these three areas? I am convinced of that, yes!

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