Presenting a credible path to deliver the innovation to the market and contributing to company scale-up(s) is crucial for the EU's new Horizon Europe funding programme (as well as the former Horizon 2020). The experience in applying for EU grants has shown that each submitted proposal needs to carefully address multiple aspects; from the technical development and innovation, to market impact and implementation strategy. Nevertheless, the market impact (Impact Section) quite often has a higher value than the technology and the innovation itself (Excellence Section) when it comes to the evaluation and scoring of the proposals. For example, in the former SME Instrument Phase 2, the score of the ImpactSection was weighted double compared to Excellence and Implementation. This demonstrates how important is for the EC the projects to have a solid commercialization strategy.
The Impact Section is usually split into three sub-categories: exploitation of the results (including dissemination and communication tasks), market penetration strategy (including the business plan, pricing scheme, supply chain) and the intellectual property and regulatory assessment. In the current article, we will focus and give insight on the first segment.
Why is the promotion of project’s results so important?
Before start talking about promotion, marketing, and the awareness, it might be helpful to give the official definition of the project results of an EU project. According to the official glossary of the EC, the results of an EU project are any tangible or intangible output of the action, such as data, knowledge and information whatever their form or nature, whether or not they can be protected. They are the outputs generated during the project, which can create impact during and/or after the EU funding procedure.
The promotion of these results of a proposal is the key for its commercialization. As mentioned above, no matter how technologically innovative a project is, if there is not a comprehensive plan to spread the word in the national, European, and potentially global market, its commercial success is at stake. Commercialization (e.g. stakeholder engagement) is the step to follow and lead to the market penetration.
Common barriers to an effective Communication, Dissemination and Exploitation plan
However, applicants quite often underestimate the importance of demonstrating a clear, even preliminary, plan for the above concepts when they submit an EU proposal. The main reasons are:
- Not clear perception of the difference between communication, dissemination, and exploitation.
- Focusing on implementing and validating technical objectives, as they often wrongly consider that working on these concepts (especially exploitation) is still too early (this is a common practise for programmes with lower starting Technological Readiness Level (TRL).
- Limited considerations of what can be valuable key results of the project and/or lack of interest from the partners to consider the value and potential unique selling points (USPs) of the key results outside their own (commercial, academic) communities.
- Lack of reflection and joint discussions within the consortia in collaborative projects.
Below, we will define and clarify the three main concepts (communication, dissemination, exploitation) and break down the goals of each one the evaluators expect to see in an EU proposal.
Communication in EU funded projects
The communication plan shall be based on taking strategic and targeted measures for promoting the project itself and its results to multiple audiences, including both the media and the public.
Same as the other two concepts, the communication plan highly depends on the nature of the final output(s) of the EU project. Nevertheless, it is crucial to have a strategically plan, holistic approach, on top of any necessary ad-hoc efforts and define clear communicative objectives (e.g. raise awareness with online/offline tools and try to define these tools, establish synergies with external bodies such as national/international associations, achieve high visibility through the scientific community, via strong messages). Key goals that can apply to every proposal are:
- Reach out to society as a whole and in particular to specific audiences.
- Demonstrate how EU funding contributes to tackling societal challenges (also from a socio-economical point of view), highlighting the environmental approach where applicable.
- In our current Covid-19 era, any (in)direct relevance of the project with the pandemic can be highly valued.
Common tools that can serve this purpose are: (i) Visual identity and brand (e.g. work on a preliminary project logo); (ii) project website and blog; (iii) informative material (both printable – banners, posters, flyers - and multimedia – videos, digital flyers); (iv) newsletters and extensive use of the social media, especially Twitter (create campaigns for targeted audience); (v) participation in industry events (it will add value to make a first research of potential events that the applicant may be interested in attending/participating and mention the list in the proposal. Tip: Target events in the primary geographical target markets); and (vi) achieve commercial publications in online/offline magazines and blogs.
Practical tip: relating each potential tool with a target date within the project timeline (e.g. website to be launched by month 3) and with a target value (e.g. attend at least four conferences during the project’s duration) will show to the evaluators that you have at least conduct a preliminary communication plan for your project.
Dissemination in EU funded projects
Dissemination activities are any action related with the public disclosure of the project results by any appropriate means, including scientific publications. Separating the concept and the goal of dissemination and communication plan is something that applicants quite often find hard to understand. The main difference is that the communication plan is about the project and its results, whilst the dissemination one is only about the results. For a comprehensive dissemination plan, it is important to: (i) make a clear selection of the dissemination objectives (e.g. promoting agreements with investors or commercial partners, raise awareness in specific market segments and stakeholders); and (ii) designate partners’ responsibility on dissemination. The main goals of the dissemination strategy are:
- Wisely identify the results to disseminate and transfer the knowledge and results to these stakeholders that can best make use of it.
- Identify the appropriate dissemination channels.
- Maximize the impact of research. As such, you enable the value of results to be potentially wider than the original focus.
- Monitor and evaluate the effects of the dissemination activities.
By reaching these goals, the applicants will not only strengthen and raise the awareness of their profile in the market, but they will also prevent the results become sticky and effectively lost.
As said, the communication plan works towards raising the awareness of the project and its results. At the same time, the dissemination activities intend to make the results available for use, enabling their use and uptake by specific audiences, which they may use the results in their own work (e.g. scientific community, industrial or other commercial actors, policymakers, professional organizations).
The main tools, among others, to achieve that are (i) scientific publications in relevant journals (Tip: Having academic entities in a collaborative project can constitute a key asset in this regard); (ii) share results on online media (research data, software, reports) and (iii) organize training and workshop sessions, as well as (iv) a final project event to demonstrate to customers.
Exploitation in EU funded projects
Exploitation activities have a broader scope compared to dissemination and communication. They can include actions such as utilizing the project results in further research activities other than those covered by the concerned project, developing, creating and marketing a product or process, creating and providing a service, or even in standardisation activities. The main difference of the aforementioned concepts is that the main goal of the exploitation plan is to make use of the results for societal, scientific, financial or even political purposes (e.g. concretise the value and impact of the R&I activity for societal challenges).
The project partners are the first to exploit the project results themselves, by their own efforts or facilitate exploitation by others (e.g. through making results available under open licenses). This can take place via innovation management actions, copyright management, data management plan and stakeholder/users engagement, among others. Common tools towards these directions are (i) patent publications; (ii) establishment of spin-off or start-up companies; (iii) license practices (open, copyleft); and (iv) use of the results for academic purposes (PhD, post-PhD).
The submitted Communication, Dissemination and Exploitation plan is not the final one!
This is an importance point that all applicants shall be aware. The plan to be presented in the proposal, as well as other aspects (e.g. the financial projections, the pricing strategy, even the business plan) is not necessarily the final ones. EU projects are very dynamic, especially taking into account the development and the progress that can take place between the time of the application’s submission for the EU grant until the actual implementation of the project and its completion. As such, EU project shall:
- Update the plans according to the progress and emerging results of the project.
- Consider changes in the stakeholders, work context and potential use of results during the project lifetime.
- Report on the updates periodically.
Final tip: Have separate deliverables for communication, dissemination and exploitation plan is a highly recommended good practice.
Panos Antonopoulos, Innovation Consultant