From December until now has been a real marathon: 2 workshops, 8 European partners, 150 pages, dozens of meetings (real and online), tons of work and research done...whew!
Before all thought and reflections from this time fade away, I wanted to share some of the experiences here, as a guide for those eyeing the possibility of submitting their own proposal.
So, first of all, Horizon 2020 is a large scale research funding initiative in Europe, and it covers many themes and platforms for research and innovation in different areas of science, technology and business. More info about it can be found here: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/
It is not, as many think, only directed to researchers and research institutions as small and large companies are also encouraged to participate. The more practical the outcomes are for the real world, the better. What the European Commission wants to see are funded projects that change Europe through solving different kinds of problems and advancing knowledge in the areas where there are still gaps.
At the very beginning, a half year ago, we knew very little about this program. We weren’t even sure if it was also directed at NGOs, and if NeuroLandscape was eligible for funding. Various sources on the internet were saying that NGOs can participate only in some very limited number of initiatives of H2020.
However, this was incorrect. NGOs are completely eligible to participate and request 100% funding for research activities the same as other legal institutions (or even individuals!). The only requirement is to submit an extraordinarily great proposal and beat the overwhelming competition.
So here is when we started working on our proposal. (I’ll leave out the nitty gritty details. We can explore those when and if the proposal is finally accepted). This was an intensive and challenging experience to prepare to say the least. No joking around with the European Commission!
This is what we did, and what anyone who starts their adventure with H2020 should probably do to submit the proposal successfully.
1) Conceptualize the ground-breaking idea. This may be self-explanatory, but important not to forget.
2) Go to the workshops. Each of the European countries has an NCP (National Contact Point) to help candidates prepare the proposals correctly through the organization of very helpful meetings and workshops. We went to one organized in Warsaw, Poland and also… in Singapore (Europe is also expanding across the continent to Asia!)
3) Find consortium partners. This is probably the most challenging part, because partners should fit perfectly to your idea, represent at least 3 EU countries, and be great people that you will want to work with after the project starts. For us, it meant a lot of meetings and discussions with many different people.
4) Read tons of materials online about Horizon 2020 rules. Unfortunately, this is a lot of work, so you’ll need several people involved in this. Read, learn, share with your team, discuss, and keep an eye on updates, because not all outdated rules are gone from the web.
5) Get familiar with the participant portal. You will need to know it by heart in case of last minute emergencies or technical problems. (Something we encountered right before the deadline, unfortunately).
6) Write a proposal. There are a lot of tips online and at each NCP about how to write a successful proposal. However, nobody will provide you with an example of a successful proposal. This is a closely guarded secret of the EU, I guess. Nevertheless, we found a helpful document: http://www.health2market.eu/documents/ARIaT_annotated%20template%20H2020_innovation.pdf
7) Plan the budget. Planning a general estimated budget actually requires thinking about the details first. Each little thing can really add up. As they say, the devil’s in the details.
8) Consult about your proposal. We consulted over our proposal with two NCPs from Poland and the Netherlands. And guess what? The feedback we received each time was different, but not conflicting, which was helpful.
9) Submit. Here’s an important tip – Never leave it till the last minute. The European Portal advises submission 48 hours before the deadline. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage this, due to some administration processes still not completed from the coordinator’s side. On the day of deadline, as one could expect, the system was overloaded and we were unable to edit or submit the proposal due to a technical error. Fortunately, the deadline was extended and it was eventually submitted. It would’ve been nice to have avoided that last minute stress though.
Due to all these challenges of proposal preparation, it feels like we’ve won something simply by managing to submit everything successfully. I don’t know if we’ll get the grant, but for sure this experience has enriched us all already!
Experiences like this confirm how important it is to be working with the right people and on ideas that we are all really enthused about!
Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the opportunity to share our awesome project with the world!