Horizon2020 First Results: lessons in applying for European funding


For many, European funding, despite, the many complaints about the amount of paper work involved, remains for most researchers in Europe, the holy grail. It opens up significant opportunities in terms of networking and impact. Thus the recent publication of European Commission’s (EC) First Results of the first 100 applications for the Horizon2020 Programme makes for interesting reading. The Horizon2020 Programme is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020). It aims to take “great ideas from the lab to the market”.

The overall success rate was 14%. The top four applications were from Cyprus, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Malta.

EU - applications per country

The US is the main overseas applicant, with other key countries including China, Canada and Russia. The most successful European countries were France, Belgium, Austria, Estonia, Latvia and the Netherlands.

EU - success rates

As expected, higher education institutions made up the bulk of the applicants. However, what was interesting was that private sector entities were the second highest. In addition, the private sector had a 1% higher relative success rate.

EU - types of applicants

It is noteworthy also that some two thirds of the successful applicants had at some point received Framework 7 (FP7) funding.

EU - newcomers

The types of projects highlighted were without doubt innovative and multidisciplinary. Below are two examples, UTOUCH seeks to develop a novel touch-less sensing system, while BHIVE aims to utilise enzymes and proteins in the development of renewable materials from plant fibres.

EU - examples of projects

Certainly, the findings seem to suggest a few lessons: First, partner with the private sector. Some 155 SMEs received funding, of around €50,000 each to finance feasibility studies (phase one) to develop their innovation strategy, as well as three days of business coaching. Companies from Spain, the UK and Italy were especially successful. Second, be innovative. Europe, like the rest of the world is faced with several socio-economic, and environmental challenges, including rising debt and fiscal deficits, concerns around the movement and migration of peoples, governance, high unemployment levels in some countries, social justice and inequality, climate change and resource security, to name but a few. The solutions to these issues require innovative, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches, involving a range of stakeholders. Projects therefore need to reflect these realities. I have previously written about issues such as resource efficiency and the EU’s (hopefully) soon to be published circular economy package. Third, seek to partner with someone who is experienced. As in anything else in life, nothing can beat experience and know how. Funders are much more confident in giving monies to those that have a track record of delivery. In addition, having previously received funding, these entities would also know their way around the system and know what needs to be done, including the difference between a good application and one that gets funded. The EC’s website has a useful information portal on applying for funding. Good luck.

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