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SME Instruments: out with the old, in with the new

August 23 2018

The SME Instruments funding scheme will undergo significant changes compared to prior years, in the interval 2018-2020. Compared to previous years, for the final part of the Horizon 2020 programme, this call will benefit from a larger budget, it will shed its topic constraints, and will mirror the private investment analysis of the business proposition.

What did the SME Instruments fund in 2016-2017?

In the past couple of years, companies were invited to apply to specific topics, 13 in total, under both Phase I and Phase II calls. These topics covered a wide range of technologies, from nanotechnologies (SMEInst-02), biotechnology (SMEInst-03), space research and development (SMEInst-04), climate action (SMEInst-11), security research and development (SMEInst-13) to open disruptive innovation (SMEInst-01).

The total amount of funding available differed significantly between the various topics, in proportion to the European market activity in the respective domain. In 2016 and 2017 the lion’s share of funding was earmarked for SMEInst-01 (open disruptive innovation), with a total of €126 million, followed closely by SMEInst-10 (transport and smart cities mobility), with €118.8 million and SMEInst-05 (healthcare biotechnology) with €115 million. The opposite is true for SMEInst-08 (innovative and solutions for blue growth) and SMEInst-03 (closing the gap from lab to market for biotechnology SMEs), for which the least amount of funding was reserved: €21.92 million and €15 million respectively. 

What are the changes in the new SME Instruments work programme?

There are four significant changes planned for 2018-2020 compared to before.

1. No set topics

In an attempt to boost the innovation in areas that would have otherwise fallen outside of the 13 topics of the 2016-2017 SME Instruments, there will be no set topics for the 2018-2020 work programme. It is likely that the fields with the most market activity throughout Europe, such as ICT and healthcare, will reflect it in the number of proposals submitted. Having no set topics will likely result in an increase in the number of proposals, thereby increasing the competitiveness of the SME Instruments in general. However, due to the increase in budget (as indicated below), there will be more room for certain business cases that encountered fierce competition in the past, such as the SME Instrument cell technology and ICT call.

2. Bigger programme budget

In line with the expected increase in the number of proposals submitted, the preliminary budget available for the 2018-2020 work programme has also increased, in order to accommodate for more funded projects, as follows:

  2018* 2019* 2020*
Phase I 48,219,000 (+45% compared to 2017) 54,159,000 58,774,000
Phase II 419,505,300 (+10.6% compared to 2017) 471,183,300 511,333,800

* The budget available will be split evenly across the four yearly cut-off dates

3. More emphasis on impact

The lack of specific topics also led to an adjustment in the evaluation procedure, for both Phase I and Phase II proposals. Whereas previously all three sections (Excellence, Impact, Quality and efficiency of implementation) weighed equally in the project’s assessment, for 2018-2020 the impact of the proposal, if granted, will weigh the most (50%), with the remaining 50% split evenly between Excellence and Quality and efficiency of implementation. This emphasises the change of focus from a specific topic to the impact any innovation will have on the European (or global) markets, on Europe or its citizens. Projects that disruptively create new markets or take advantage of existing markets in innovative ways will stand a much better chance of being funded.

4. Two-step evaluation

The increased significance of a project’s impact is accompanied by a change in the evaluation procedure itself. Whereas for Phase I there is no difference compared to previous years, the evaluation of the Phase II projects will be a two-step process. The first step will result in an Evaluation Summary Report (similar to the current situation, including Phase I). The second step will consist of a face-to-face interview in Brussels to assess the team. Step two of the assessment will start with the highest-scoring proposal and in descending, sequential order, proposals will be passed to step 2 until, as a batch, either the total amount of EU funding requested is as close as possible to twice the budget available, or all proposals eligible for funding have been accounted for. In step two, proposals will receive, in addition to the score in step one, an ‘A’ mark or a ‘B’ mark from the final panel review. Only proposals that have passed all quality thresholds and receive an ‘A’ mark are proposed for funding. This exciting change will prepare the entrepreneurs for subsequent financing rounds backed by venture capital or private investors, for which the investment process occurs in a highly similar manner.

What can ttopstart do for your company?

In addition to the strategic vision that we instil in the projects we develop, which translate into higher-than-average success rates, we also use our experience in venture investments in order to prepare Phase II applicants for the face-to-face interviews in Brussels. A competitive proposal (Phase I and Phase II), together with pitch training (development and presentation) for Phase II will ensure that we continue to empower biomedical innovation on their way to market scale-up.

More information about the H2020 2018-2020 work programme

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