Navigating the Horizon Europe program to secure funding for your project requires careful consideration and selection of the appropriate funding channel. With a diverse range of grant types available, it is crucial to identify the grant that aligns best with your project’s objectives and requirements. Making the right choice significantly enhances your chances of obtaining funding, while selecting an incompatible grant can lead to disappointment and failure to meet the grant’s expectations. To assist you in this endeavor, this article serves as a comprehensive guide to understanding the key factors and specific requirements within the Horizon Europe program, enabling you to identify the ideal funding channel for your project.
How to match the right Horizon Europe funding channel to your project?
The Horizon Europe program offers a wide variety of grant types. Each grant has its own unique factors and requirements. When considering applying to the Horizon Europe program, it is incredibly important to choose the grant within the program that matches your project in the best way. While selecting the ‘right’ grant for your project does not guarantee success, it surely increases the chances for funding. Concurrently, experience shows that selecting a ‘wrong’ grant dramatically reduces your chances of successfully securing funding for your project. Many times – applying to the ‘wrong’ grant simply means a failure to meet the grant’s expectations and criteria. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to fully understand the grants requirements, and your project’s components, to find the best match. So, how should you select the ‘right’ grant for your project? This article will walk you through the key factors of the Horizon Europe programme, as well as specific requirements for grants within the program. This is a great starting point when you begin the Horizon Europe application process.
Key factors for selecting the best funding channel in Horizon Europe
Let’s start by understanding the key factors relevant for the process of selecting the best funding channel for your project. For each key factor, we’ll provide a general explanation as well as key aspects to assess. These will help you ensure your research project is in line with the important requirements of the targeted grant. Note – there are many other factors, but the ones listed here are the first ones to refer to during the initial selection process. Later on, you may need to attend to finer, higher-resolution factors, derived from more specific grant requirements.
Key factor #1: Mission statement
What does it mean?
Each grant type has its own unique mission statement. This statement typically refers to issues regarding the driving policy behind this grant, the grant’s funding goals, the grant’s target audience, and so on.
What should you assess?
To ensure your project is in line with the mission statement of the grant, try to understand exactly what the grant aims for, and who it is targeting. The following questions can help:
- Does the grant aim to fund research projects (and their associated activities), or does it aim to fund something that is supplementary/complementary or peripheral to research, such as networking or other supporting activities?
- Does it provide funding for mobility actions?
- Does it expect to fund infrastructures?
- Does the grant aim to fund any combination of the above? Or anything else
- Who is the target audience for the grant? Academia, industry, or entities from other sectors? Any combinations of the above?
Key factor #2: The expected novelty level
What does it mean?
Many grants are expected to fund projects that aim to reach novel targets. In this context, it is important to keep in mind that novelty is a relative scale and not an absolute indication. By this we mean that novelty varies between grants, disciplines and markets. Therefore, it is important to keep this in mind when trying to match a grant to your research project. In addition, it is important to note the risk factor that is closely associated with novelty. Having said all that, know that not all grants include novelty in their selection criteria, so keep an eye out for this factor as you read more about your grant of choice.
What should you assess?
If you see that the grant does call for novelty, you should begin by assessing the expected level of novelty and whether it correlates with your project. Additionally, try to realize whether the expected novelty level is at the level expected in basic research, applicative research, or perhaps a combination of the two. We recommend consulting our article about novelty.
And as mentioned above – keep in mind that not all grants are looking for novelty, so check whether novelty is a requirement at all, and if not, then keep this in mind when presenting your project (novelty should not be an issue in such a case, or at least not be in the spotlight).
Key factor #3: Top-down or Bottom-up funding schemes?
What does it mean?
Essentially, there are two major funding schemes to become familiar with, so you can choose the most fitting option for your project. Before we dive deep into the meaning of this factor – let us gain a better understanding of what “top-down” and “bottom-up” schemes mean.
Top-down scheme: In this scheme, the grant aims to fund a specific and predetermined topic defined in the Horizon Europe work program. This means there is a list of predetermined topics that are defined by the EC which they want to fund. Most of the Horizon Europe programme (about 60%-70%) follows this scheme. It includes the Missions, all the main thematic clusters under Pillar 2, the EIC Challenges grants under Pillar 3, the Research Infrastructures grants under Pillar 1, and parts of the Widening program.
Bottom-up scheme: This scheme welcomes projects in any field of research and development. That being said, it is important to know that not all projects can qualify under this scheme. Therefore, it is very important to understand the unique attributes of each bottom-up grant and its very specific requirements. The grants which follow this bottom-up approach are the EIC Pathfinder Open (previously known as FET-Open), EIC transition Open, EIC Accelerator Open (previously known as the SME instrument), ERC, the MSCA program and part of the Widening program. We will elaborate on the important factors to consider for each of these grant types further below.
Having a better understanding of the two types of funding schemes, let’s now focus on the key factors that are mostly associated with each scheme, and what you should assess in terms of your specific research project.
Top-down scheme – what should you assess/evaluate?
Topic selection: First, within the work programmes and the definitions of the Clusters or Missions – search for a topic which might be relevant to you and to your project. This requires a thorough read and understanding of the details published within each work programme to find a suitable topic. Here, policy matters! You must make sure that your intended project will answer to the specified policies and expected impact and outcomes of the topic you are after. Granted, it will be difficult to find a “perfect” match between your project and an existing topic.
In many cases, you’ll find a topic that may only partially meet expectations and requirements – but that may be the best match for your project, and a starting point in the project proposal development process. Make sure that you have enough elements to provide an answer to a specific topic. You should rely on your capacity, expertise and resources, but also consider potential partners (see next item). It is probable that you need to make adjustments to your project when addressing a specific topic and its requirements.
Key factor #4: Consortium-based?
Most of the Horizon Europe grants, 60%-70% of them being top-down schemes, and some of the bottom-up schemes, are consortium-based. You must have a consortium that provides all functionalities for a specific topic. To do so – figure out what functionality you already have, and what are the missing functions that you’ll need to add through new consortium partners.
Essentially, you must have at least 1 partner from an EU member state, and additional 2 partners from 2 other different countries, which could be either member states or associated countries (there is also an option of adding partners from other countries, but this requires special attention which exceeds the scope of this article). Also, you’ll need to look at the functionalities needed for the execution of the project and successfully demonstrate that you have the right partners to deliver the functionalities according to the specific requirements of the topics.
Key factor #5: Type of Action
Horizon Europe employs a set of types of actions. These are dictated by the topic description within the work programme, and their goal is to indicate the expected nature of the funded project. The three main types of actions include:
- RIA (Research and Innovation Action) – The project should involve research and innovation (R&I) activities. RIA actions typically target earlier development stages of a specific project/product. Most often, the main target audience for RIA projects is academia, but not limited to that! Corresponding to the inherent risk in such early-stage developments, the funding rate in RIA projects is always a flat-rate of 100% of the budget to all participating partners.
- IA (Innovation Action) – In the case of IA, the project as well should involve R&I activities. But, unlike RIA, the IA target is for projects that are in more mature stages of development. The main target audience for IA projects are commercial entities (but it is not solely limited to them, and partners from academia are welcome to participate here as well). IA projects should typically be closer to the market and involve commercial activities by the commercial partners. Corresponding to the commercial potential of such projects, the funding rate for companies participating in IA projects is set to 70% of the required budget, while all other partners, coming from non-profit organizations, will benefit from 100% funding rate.
- CSA (Coordination and Support Action). This type of action does not involve R&D activities. Rather, they are peripheral to the research itself. This may include network activities or a roadmap for a specific research area. The funding rate is 100% to all types of consortium members.
Key factor #6: Technology Readiness level (TRL)?
This factor refers to the novelty and maturity level of the project. The expected levels can either be at the project’s onset, or completion, and are clearly stated within a topic’s description. Once you have identified the expected readiness level within a topic description that you are after, check that your project meets the required level, as dictated by the topic description.
Key factor #7: Budget & Size
The grant size is dictated by the topic description. You will find this information in the work program. The size of the project, meaning how many partners should be involved and for how long, as well as the planned budget, are all derived from the size of the grant. You’ll need to check that the expected grant size matches your project.
Having thoroughly identified and discussed all the factors relating to the top-down scheme, let’s now switch over to the important factors associated with the bottom-up scheme.
Bottom-up scheme – what should you assess/evaluate?
Unlike the top-down scheme, the bottom-up scheme does not have a list of pre-determined topics to fund. Rather, the bottom-up scheme welcomes any field of research and innovation. However, it does not mean that any project can be funded under this scheme. The opposite is true – the bottom-up scheme is targeting very specific types of projects, and experience shows that many fail in this scheme due to a lack of understanding of the unique characteristics of these grants and their associated special criteria.
Within Horizon Europe, there are several bottom-up funding schemes available. Each has its own set of requirements and expectations. Below, we’ll provide a short introduction to the main bottom-up schemes, and a list of the requirements that will help you assess if this is the relevant funding avenue for you and your project.
EIC Pathfinder Open (previously FET-Open) – what should you assess/evaluate?
Ensure that your research project:
- Addresses the grant’s “3 Gatekeepers”.
- Corresponds to an early stage of future technology development (TRL 1-4).
- Exhibits significant scientific breakthroughs.
- Follows interdisciplinary research.
- Is consortium-based and follows the specific instructions for that (as detailed above).
- Answers to the expected high level of novelty and conceptual risk.
The typical budget for an EIC Pathfinder Open project is 3 million Euro. For a more thorough overview of this funding scheme – refer to our dedicated article.
EIC Transition Open – what should you assess/evaluate?
Ensure that your research project:
- Is based on the results of a prior EIC Pathfinder Open (FET-Open) or ERC Proof of Concept grant. Anything else cannot be used as the grounds for applying to this grant. Note that this is a mandatory requirement as part of this funding scheme.
- Corresponds to a technology development stage that is ready for maturation and validation (TRL 5-6).
- Is beyond experimental Proof of Concept (PoC) in the lab.
- Aims at developing and increasing market readiness.
As for having a consortium – it is not a must in this grant (but strongly recommended). If you plan on having one – it is limited to no more than 5 members. Note that some specific additional restrictions on the consortium composition may be applied.
The typical budget for this grant is 2.5 million Euro. For a more thorough overview of this funding scheme – refer to our dedicated article.
EIC Accelerator Open (previously SME instrument) – what should you assess/evaluate?
This research grant directly supports companies. The overall aim of this grant is to close a financial gap and help them get to market. As such, you will need to ensure your research project:
- Is led by an SME’s or Small-mid caps?
- Exhibits high-impact innovation with the potential to create new markets or disrupt existing ones (TRL 6-9)?
The grant per project varies between 0.5 and 17.5 million Euro through two possible funding channels – grant and/or investment. For a more thorough overview of the EIC Accelerator Open scheme – refer to our dedicated article.
MSCA – (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions)
Briefly, the MSCA programme is a sub-program under Horizon Europe and includes 4 different grants – Doctoral Network, Postdoctoral Fellowship, Co-Fund and Staff Exchange.
What should you assess/evaluate for all 4 MSCA grant types:
- These are mobility-driven grants that encourage researchers to work in other countries.
- Relevant mostly for individuals, but also for consortium.
- May include career development programmes.
- These grants target mostly researchers in academia.
ERC – European Research Council – What you should assess/evaluate?
- Targets mostly excellent researchers from academia.
- Focused on high-risk/high-gain basic research type of projects
- This grant does not follow the requirement for consortium. Instead it empowers individual researchers via its individual grants schemes. There is an additional ERC scheme, named “ERC Synergy”, which allows for a group of excellent researchers to work together on specific projects. However, this synergy is unique and cannot be compared to regular consortia.
- Most importantly – this grant is all about scientific excellence. – The bar is very high compared to all other grants mentioned above.
The correct funding channel for applicants from Academia
In case you are coming from the academia – the below flow chart will greatly assist you find the most relevant funding channel for your project:
The correct funding channel for applicants coming from an Industry or Commercial entity
Continuing on with the same flow chart from above, below we have indicated the grants that are much less/not at all relevant in the case of applicants from Industry/Commercial backgrounds. If this is you – see below that best matches for your case:
Taking in all the information above, it is highly important that you find the most fitting grant for your research project. Applying to the wrong grant highly decreases your chances to successfully win funding. Your aim should be to follow the assessment factors for each grant above, and find the grant that is the best match for your research project. Doing so, by definition, will highly increase your chances for success.