EIC Pathfinder Open (formerly known as FET-Open) is the new Horizon Europe program supporting the development of early-stage ground-breaking, game-changing technologies. This highly competitive funding scheme aims to realize radical and ambitious ideas for new technologies and is open to applicants from any discipline. In order to write a competitive proposal, it is important to understand the basic conditions and the evaluation process of the new program, which is exactly why we’ve put together this article below. Keep reading to learn more about the basics of the EIC Pathfinder Open grant.
The “must haves” of EIC Pathfinder Open
The “Open” in EIC Pathfinder Open may imply that any project is suitable for this funding scheme. However, this is a misconception, as explained in this article. Therefore, before applying, it is necessary to ensure that the project is in line with the basic demands of the program. Below is a list of the “must-have features” that should be inherent to a competitive EIC Pathfinder Open proposal.
EIC Pathfinder Open’s general demand for the development of cutting-edge technology may be somewhat unclear and confusing. That being said, there are three characteristics that every competitive proposal must have to be considered in the evaluation process.
- Radical vision:
EIC Pathfinder Open aims to fund projects paving the way to fundamentally new, currently unavailable and unforeseen, lines of technology. The new technology must have the potential to create positive economic and societal transformation and address global challenges. In this context, start by asking yourself if you can clearly elucidate the radical long-term vision of the technology to which your research is the first step.
- Science-towards-technology breakthrough:
Additionally, projects are expected to start at a low TRL level, and strive to advance research into practice. Hence, your project must have clear technological objectives, on top of the research objectives. In this case, see if you can clearly identify the science-to-technology breakthrough which is feasible within the lifetime of your project. Can you show how your breakthrough will contribute to achieving the long-term radical vision? Do you have a plausible and convincing plan for how to get there?
- High-risk/high-gain, objective-oriented approach and methodology:
The EIC Pathfinder Open is interested in supporting high-risk, high-reward projects. Highly risky projects, where the road is unknown, the knowledge is not yet available, and many of the questions have yet to be answered, while having the potential for failure, are the ones that EIC Pathfinder is targeting. Hence, similar to the prestigious ERC grant, only projects that meet this high-risk high-gain criterion will be funded. To make it clear – if the research path of your project is incremental by nature (continuous funding) or known, EIC Pathfinder Open will probably not support you.
Collaboration and Interdisciplinarity
As in other collaborative Horizon Europe projects, EIC Pathfinder Open requires the research to be carried out by a consortium of at least three independent organizations (SMEs, research organisations, academia, etc.), with at least one of them established in an EU member state. With this in mind, your proposal will be evaluated, among other factors, on the ability of the consortium to achieve the desired results in terms of expertise and diversity.
In the specific case of EIC Pathfinder Open, the funding scheme expects you to get out of your comfort zone by collaborating with partners from different disciplines and exploring unknown knowledge fields. It is believed that novelty will stem from untypical, interdisciplinary collaboration, bringing together distant areas of research and practice to create something fundamentally new and unforeseen. These collaborations need to generate a genuine mutual exchange of ideas and knowledge. Hence, you must build a diverse consortium that fits your proposal plan. In this context, assign complementary and essential roles for all partners and choose only the most suitable partners – those having the expertise and capabilities to successfully implement their role in the project.
Evaluation criteria for EIC Pathfinder Open
Being an extremely competitive funding scheme with low success rates, it is of utmost importance to adhere to the criteria based on which your proposal will be evaluated. It is essential to understand what reviewers are looking for while evaluating the proposal and meeting their requirements. Each section of the proposal will be evaluated based on the following criteria:
The excellence criterion refers to the concept and motivations of the project, namely the “what is it that you want to achieve?”. It includes several sub-criteria such as:
- The degree to which the long-term vision of the project is convincing,
- The novelty and ambitiousness of the suggested science-towards-technology breakthrough with respect to the state of the art,
- The objectives of the project,
- The relevance of the diverse research areas involved in the project.
The impact criterion refers to the value of the project, and the impact section is evaluated based on two main sub-criteria:
- First, projects are evaluated for their “Innovation Potential” to empower actors to translate the research into technology and create a substantial social and economic effect.
- Second, the projects’ communication and dissemination aspects are assessed. The focus here is namely on the plausibility of the measures and work plan to stimulate public and stakeholder engagement in addition to awareness of the potential to create a new market or tackle a global challenge.
The implementation criterion refers to the quality and efficiency of the execution plan, and it includes the assessment of several sub-criteria:
- The consortium composition is evaluated to ensure that members have all the expertise to execute the project plan.
- The work plan itself is assessed for its coherence, effectiveness, and risk mitigation measures.
- The efficiency of resources allocation to both task and consortium members is rated.
Proposal evaluation process
In addition to understanding the programme’s “must-haves” and evaluation criteria, it is important to become familiar with the evaluation process. Knowing the process your proposal will go through can help understand how it will be evaluated, but more importantly, the places where you can be involved and possibly influence the final decision.
Step 1: EIC expert evaluation
As a first step, and based on descriptors (keywords) provided by the applicants in the application forms, the proposal will be assigned to a thematic review panel. The full list of panels and their respective descriptiors can be found here. Next, EIC expert evaluators (hired by the EIC, yet external to and independent from the EIC) will assess and score the proposal, according to this grant’s “gatekeepers” and in line with the excellence, impact and implementation evaluation criteria. Each criterion receives a final score that is the median of all evaluators’ scores for the specific criterion. An overall score will then be calculated based on the scores of the three criteria.
Step 2: NEW – Rebuttal procedure
This new procedure enables submitters to reply to the evaluators’ comments within seven days of receiving the feedback. The response cannot be longer than two A4 pages, and must focus on any errors or misunderstandings that came up from the evaluation process. Keep in mind, the rebuttal can not add any new information or change existing content in the proposal. Should the submitter choose to add a rebuttal, it will be taken into consideration when the evaluation committee discusses the final score of the proposal.
Step 3: Consensus discussions
At the final stage, the evaluation committee will grant a final score to the proposal, based on evaluators’ scores and its consensus discussions concerning qualified proposals. As stated above, during this stage the submitters’ comment from the rebuttal procedure will be taken into account. The final evaluation summary report will contain the final score and the comments from throughout the evaluation process.
From FET Open to EIC Pathfinder Open: what changed?
Those who are familiar and experienced with FET-Open may notice that the new EIC Pathfinder Open is almost identical. However, there are a few, yet meaningful changes to note:
- The high-risk/high-gain criterion has become an official “gatekeeper” in EIC Pathfinder Open, taking the place of the interdisciplinarity criterion. The motivation here is to make it clearer that the focus should be on funding high-risk/high gain projects in order to reach substantial and significant breakthroughs. Projects with lower risk and/or lower gain might not reach such breakthroughs, and can be funded in many other funding agencies, who seek to fund projects with higher feasibility. Though it may seem like a meaningful change, high-risk high-gain factors were covert features in FET-Open, taking inspiration from the ERC.
- The addition of the rebuttal procedure is a significant change. The ability to provide clarification following the evaluators’ comments carry the potential to positively contribute to the final decision of whether the project will be funded.
- While the FET-Open program was part of the Excellence science pillar in Horizon 2020, in Horizon Europe the EIC Pathfinder Open is under the Innovative Europe pillar. This by no means implies that the new EIC Pathfinder Open is not about excellent science. However, it may indicate an increase in the focus on the innovative and market-driven nature of the program.
The EIC Pathfinder Open is a highly competitive funding scheme and is definitely not as open as its name suggests. However, if your proposal meets all the above-mentioned requirements, you should consider applying. If you want to know more about the EIC Pathfinder, do not hesitate to contact us.