Some questions on the first results of Horizon 2020 calls and 7 good reasons to participate in upcoming calls

Roger Torrenti - September 23, 2015

H2020_blog_SigmaOrionisThe European Commission has released an analysis of the results of the first 100 calls (with a deadline not later than Dec. 1, 2014) of Horizon 2020 (H2020), the current EU’s research and innovation funding programme covering the period 2014-2020.

These results can be synthetised as follows. First, a total of 31 115 proposals have been submitted, out of which 4 315 have been selected for funding (€5,5 billion in total), which gives a success rate of 14% (compared with 20% for FP7, the H2020’s predecessor). Then, 38% of successful applicants are “newcomers” (not involved in FP7 projects), with an increased participation of SMEs (the EU’s 20% budget target for SMEs being reached). Last but not least, most (95%) of “grant agreements” (i.e. funding contracts) were signed within 8 months following the call closing date.

These facts and figures have obviously to be considered as positive as a whole. FP7 yesterday, H2020 today indisputably are key instruments to support the development of high-level research and innovation in Europe and clear improvements in its processes are made year after year. And we can only praise the European Commission for providing such statistics quicker than during the FP7 programme and making now publicly available in real time, through its EU open data portal data, information related to all selected projects.

We can however raise some questions, which answers could probably help further improving H2020 processes and impact:

  • A decreasing success rate is a positive trend since it should lead to higher quality projects. But when the success rate reaches such levels and when considering the efforts needed to prepare a proposal, this can also demotivate many organizations to be involved in proposals and contingency plans (such as extending the proportion of two-stage proposals) have probably to be implemented in the short term.
  • Newcomers are obviously needed in such a programme, including SMEs, and a ratio of 38% of newcomers (out of which 40% are SMEs) is a very good achievement. But more detailed analysis is needed here to answer some important questions: what is the percentage of SMEs involved in research and innovation projects (and not projects directly linked to market uptake). Furthermore, is there a significant increase in the participation of some stakeholders who seem more and more necessary in H2020, namely the civil society, representatives of citizens, doers and makers, social innovators, etc.?
  • Time is more and more critical in research and innovation today: reaching a 8-month target for grant preparation is good. Why not targeting 6 months now, and further simplifying administrative aspects? Does it really make sense to refer to a 656-page annotated model grant agreement and hasn’t time come to switch to result-based projects and forget some bureaucratic issues?

A couple of other questions not directly related to the facts and figures synthetised above:

  • There are also 58,2% newcomers among the 9325 experts who evaluated the first H2020 calls: good but still no process to evaluate these experts… When considering that evaluation processes are of a consensual nature, and at a time when the success rate is decreasing, this should be an urgent issue to solve in order to guarantee the highest quality of the selection process.
  • Regarding international cooperation, the participation of US organizations remains stable in H2020 when compared with FP7 (around 1% of applications) but the one from Chinese organizations (0,2%) has decreased from over 50%. Was it a target and if not, what should be the target? No data on the level of participation of African organisations (except for South Africa)? It would be interesting to track the involvement of this strategic continent!

Given its ‘research-innovation-markets’ positioning and its mission to operate internationally, Sigma Orionis has logically become, over the years, increasingly involved in EU research and innovation funding programmes and remains determined to fully contribute to these EU efforts for the benefit of the EU economy and of the EU society.

We ranked within the top 5 of European SMEs in terms of number of FP7 projects in which the company has been, or still is, involved, and are to date the most successful European SME in terms of number of granted Horizon 2020 projects.

The lessons we have learned from this active participation in EU-funded projects lead us to propose 7 good reasons for an organization to get involved in upcoming calls:

  1. At the forefront: H2020 calls are based on elaborated work programmes and projects, to be selected, have to be proposed by strong partnership and address leading-edge solutions.
  2. Partner network: these projects are definitely a key opportunity to extend its network of partners in Europe and beyond, and get stronger to develop its (non EU-funded) activities.
  3. Realise your dreams: the level of the project objectives and the quality of the consortium make it possible to really realise some projects you have been dreaming of (we can give many examples!).
  4. Reputation and image: the involvement of a company in such a programme and such projects can significantly increase its reputation and image.
  5. Building Europe: when involved in projects funded under H2020 you can really have the feeling that you contribute working for the benefit of a stronger EU economy and a better EU society.
  6. A great challenge to face: it’s a great challenge: the success rate is so low for a submitted proposal (in fact much higher if your take time to build a very good proposal…) but it’s so exciting to face this challenge and so rewarding when your proposal is selected!
  7. Funding: last but not least (and not n°1 reason however): when your proposal is selected you receive quite a substantial funding covering your research activities for 2-3 years, which few other funding agencies can offer.



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