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The Horizon 2020 Project: Funding for the Future

18th September 2016 Posted by: Cristina Radulescu

EVERYTHING Begins with an Idea...

Earl Nightingale

Students have brilliant, innovative ideas more often than we might think. They come up with concepts which, if put into practice, could harness impressive societal, technological and cultural changes that the rest of the world only dream of. Today, we can’t feel anything but gratitude for those students who had the courage to stand behind their ideas, even when nobody else did, and fought tooth and nail to ensure that they accomplished all they set out to do. Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Jerry Yang and David Filo became household names because they had a ground-breaking dream they followed as university students.

Needless to say, it takes more than an innovative thought and sheer willpower to set things in motion. The lack of a structured support system, funding or opportunity is what discourages many students from fructifying their ideas. However, aiming to prevent any further loss of potential, the European Commission initiated Horizon 2020.

The European Commision published a number of videos explaining the project

Horizon 2020 in a Nutshell

Horizon 2020 is an EU Research and Innovation project that disposes of €80 billion over a period of seven years, starting in 2014, for the purpose of financially supporting those with cutting-edge ideas. The overall aim is to fund ventures which are likely to lead to sustainable growth and development in different areas – including medicine, technology or agriculture – while improving the job market worldwide. It’s regarded as a step forward in breaking down knowledge barriers, as applicants are encouraged to share research and know-how.

Overall Framework

Since Horizon 2020 runs over several years, it is split into annual Work Programmes. During these Programmes, applications are vetted by one of the 19 Horizon 2020 Advisory Groups (AGs). The AGs are subject-based and are comprised of industry members, researchers and representatives of civil society whose job is to establish the feasability and the potential of an idea. Because the AGs are part of the greater Horizon 2020 framework, they also work towards making sure that the proposals that come their way fit into one of the following thematic sections:

  • Excellent Science
  • Industrial Leadership
  • Societal Challenges (includes projects on health, climate action and security)
  • Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation
  • Science with and for Society
  • Cross-cutting Activities (split into three areas: Industry 2020 in the Circular Economy, Internet of Things and Smart & Sustainable Cities)
  • Fast Track to Innovation Pilot
  • European Institute of Innovation and Technology
  • Euratom (a complementary research programme for nuclear research and training)
  • Smart Cyber-Physical Systems

As some of these specialised sections contain more than one area of expertise, each AG employs the help of an independent expert. They are usually from an EU Member State or an Associated Country, have a high level of knowledge and experience in their relevant field and are available to guide the AGs through the assignments. Furthermore, when a particular proposal is picked up for development, the applicant also benefits from the independent expert’s mentoring. This is a unique chance to receive pearls of wisdom in innovation from someone who is top in their field.

Stages of Application

The proposals are usually submitted during the first six months of the year. A proposal can be backed-up by either an independent applicant or by a team. In the latter case, the principal member of a multi-partner proposal should make the application. It’s also worth mentioning that an applicant is not limited to a single research proposal, as they can be involved in any number of them.

There are two main stages to the application process: the submission of an outline proposal, followed by a full proposal, if successful.

If the proposal is successful and receives funding, it becomes a project which is implemented by one or more participants. Just like during the initial application stage, any participants may take part in the development of any number of successful projects.

It is important to mention that the overall success rate of full proposals is around 14% so far. This figure only attests the high competitive level of Horizon 2020 and the high quality of projects chosen to be completed.

Who Can Apply?

In broad strokes, the eligibility requirements are very inclusive. They allow the participation of individuals, academic groups, as well as that of registered Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The project is not limited to people from EU States, but also Switzerland and Ukraine, while countries like China, Hong Kong, Russia, Brazil or Australia (among others) benefit from a joint co-funding mechanism between the EU and their own nation.

Bear in mind that projects within certain thematic areas may have their own eligibility restrictions (e.g. Excellent Science subdivision Marie Skladowska-Curie Actions is open to partnerships with PhD students and research institutions or companies). Nevertheless, these still allow ample opportunities for individuals from varied backgrounds.

What Next?

If you feel that the Horizon 2020 project could be your opportunity to take your innovative idea from its blue-print stage to reality, then why not take a look at the detailed description of the areas of expertise on the official website? Study the specific requirements and if you feel that you might make the cut, then head on to the Participant Portal for more information on required documents and begin your application.

Best of Luck!


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