The EIC Pathfinder Open (known as FET-Open until the Horizon 2020 programme) is a highly-competitive funding scheme under Horizon Europe. It supports the development of radically novel early-stage breakthrough technologies. Proposals for this grant undergo a very meticulous review process, so the proposal preparation must be handled with great attention. Most specifically, the three sections of the core proposal – Excellence, Impact and implementation – should be exceptional. In this article, we will focus specifically on the Excellence section. This is the section which opens the proposal and therefore is the place to create a great first impression. To put together a competitive EIC Pathfinder Open Excellence section, it is vital to understand the different sub-sections which comprise the Excellence section, as well as their respective requirements. As such, we outline below the requirements of each sub-section and include our experience-based tips that can assist in boosting the competitiveness of the Excellence section of your proposal.
The excellence section is composed of four sub-sections:
- Long-term vision
- Science-towards-technology breakthrough
Let’s dive deep into each section below.
Sub-section 1.1 – Long-term vision
In this sub-section, it is required to describe the concept of a radically novel, game-changing technology that shifts from current paradigms. At large, this section should briefly, yet concisely, introduce the challenge, problem, or major bottlenecks that the suggested technology will address. In other words, you should introduce the envisioned groundbreaking technology and its novelty compared to other currently available technologies. It is important to illustrate the technology’s long-term positive transformative effect on society and the economy, and, if relevant, how it will contribute to addressing global challenges in areas such as climate change, health, cybersecurity, etc.
Sub-section 1.2 – Science-towards-technology breakthrough
In this sub-section, you will need to describe the way(s) in which your project targets a novel and ambitious science-towards technology breakthrough that will contribute to achieving its long-term radical vision (in the form of the first proof of concept). This is the place where the novelty claim of the project is presented. As part of the novelty declaration, you should follow with a supporting discussion on the State-of-the-Art that highlights a knowledge gap in the field of your project. This “missing brick” AKA the knowledge gap, materializes from an informed discussion about the knowledge that already exists (the State of the Art) which then showcases how the achievement of your offered project could lead to significant progress in the field. The project’s goal is to minimize this gap. As part of the discussion, describe your intent to significantly narrow or close the gap through the scientific and technological breakthroughs achieved in the project. It is important to explain how the scientific breakthrough(s) will contribute to the realization of the novel technology at stake, and how answers to the scientific questions will enable the realization of the foreseen technology.
Novelty, a key factor in this section, is not a straightforward declaration for these types of grants. It can be elusive and affected by all sorts of factors. That being said, it is a key factor in this grant, so we highly recommend giving it the right attention. To do so, we also recommend reading our article about how to declare the novelty right for your grant application.
Sub-section 1.3 – Objectives
This is the place to present the project’s objectives and approach in line with the unique high-risk/high-gain characteristic of the EIC Pathfinder-Open. This sub-section includes three complementary aspects: (1) objectives, (2) methodology, and (3) the suitability of the methodology to realize the ambitious objectives while dealing with scientific uncertainties.
The first step in this section is to introduce clear, measurable, verifiable and realistically achievable scientific and technological objectives. The next step, based on the listed objectives, is to introduce the methodology, research approaches, models and methods to be implemented in pursuit of these objectives. All these elements should reflect the project’s high-risk, but also the potential high-gain.
The third aspect of this sub-section should discuss the flexibility of the research approach. Here, it is expected to explain the project’s risks, the ways in which the research plan can support such risks, and the uncertainties characterizing your project. This can be achieved by designing a flexible methodology and discussing risk-mitigation measures that can be implemented when encountering unforeseen challenges. Namely – this is the opportunity to discuss the suitability of the chosen methodology to address relatively uncertain scientific and technological research. This should demonstrate the breakthrough nature of the project and reflect to the reviewers the high-risk embodied in the proposal.
The hidden link between ERC and EIC Pathfinder Open
In regards to the above high-risk EIC Pathfinder Open characteristic, it can be helpful to be aware of the ‘hidden link’ between EIC Pathfinder Open and the ERC grant. This is because the ERC also seeks to fund projects that are high-risk and non-incremental in nature. Therefore, if you have previously applied for funding from the ERC, it can be of added value to make use of your ERC experience when applying for an EIC Pathfinder Open grant. We explain this hidden link in detail in this dedicated article.
Finally, sub-section 1.3 is also the place to discuss the project’s gender dimension or alternatively, to justify its absence. Furthermore, if relevant, a proper explanation regarding the compliance with the ‘do no significant harm’ principle should be included.
Sub-section 1.4 Interdisciplinarity
This sub-section needs to describe the interdisciplinary approach necessary for achieving the targeted breakthrough of the project along with the added value from this interdisciplinarity. Presenting a list of the various scientific and technological fields involved is a proper way to showcase the disciplines required for the successful execution of the project. However, a competitive proposal will also describe how distant disciplines will come together and integrate methods, concepts, etc., to achieve the objectives. As such, it is suggested to not only explain the importance of an interdisciplinary approach for your project, but also to explain the extent to which this proposed combination of disciplines supports new scientific collaborations.
The above is a helpful guide as you work towards constructing a competitive Excellence section for your EIC Pathfinder Open proposal. Needless to say, there are additional important aspects that must be taken into account to construct your proposal. To best understand all the unique features and characteristics of EIC Pathfinder Open proposal – we highly advise our dedicated EIC Pathfinder Open course, our EIC Pathfiner Open consulting services, as well as additional articles from our Knowledge Base.