Writing a great Impact section is actually one of the key success factors for developing a winning proposal in EU projects under Horizon 2020 (H2020). However, many organizations struggle to understand its inner insights. Beyond general tips suitable to the whole proposal, the objective of this article is to disclose what are project impacts for Horizon 2020 evaluators, and how to structure an outstanding Impact section.
First of all, it is important to clarify what "impact" is, as it is typically mistaken with "result". While project results are the tangible outputs directly arisen from the execution of a project (research conclusions, scientific articles, new or enhanced products, etc.), project impacts can be conceptualised as the longer-term effects of those results (e.g. if your result is an enhanced functionality for a product, then, the fact that 25% of the population could benefit from that functionality is an impact). So, whereas identifying the expected results for a Horizon 2020 project is, in general, straightforward, foreseeing its project impacts demands, however, a broader outlook.
In order to train the ample attitude required for identifying main project impacts within Horizon 2020, I next highlight the 3 key targets where impacts must be focused on.
Project impacts on users and customers. Certainly, your solution will not suit "everyone", so you need to identify and structure your audience. In this sense, Horizon 2020 project impacts must be considered not only for those taking advantage of the project results (i.e. users) but also for customers, that is, those paying for them (e.g. if you develop a novel technique to treat cancer, patients would be your users, and medical centres your customers). Having initially segmented your users/customers and defined their problems and needs, project impacts can be then directly grasped by quantifying how your Horizon 2020 project is going to solve their problems and meet their needs (note that designing a table for this purpose is always helpful).
Project impacts on the market. Horizon 2020 proposals also have to demonstrate that you know the current challenges, drivers, and potential evolution of the markets where your project impacts. This market analysis should provide an overview of both your own industry and the sectors where you intend to distribute your products, including quantitative data to support your claims. A typically successful approach in Horizon 2020 project is to start giving some context and a brief description of the overall sector to then focus on your particular market verticals, including size, growth rate, trends, and outlook. You can find plenty of market data on the Web (e.g. Eurostat data base).
A solid market quantification should, at least, address (1) what is the Total Addressable Market (TAM) for the resulting products, (2) what is the geographical distribution of the target sectors, and (3) an identification of the main market barriers (legal, economic, language, regulations, etc.). As shown next, this market analysis must be in line with your business plan; for instance, a good practice is to consolidate in a single table both market barriers and the proposed solutions to overcome them.
Project impacts on your own business. Finally, impacts on your own company, it is usually addressed depicting its financial projections, that is, the expected growth potential of your solution in terms of turnover, direct costs, profit, employment, and return on investment. However, this information should be complemented with (1) a brief explanation on how the proposed innovation fits the company’s overall business strategy (e.g. is the company fully focused on this innovation or it complements a previous portfolio?) and with (2) a solid business plan (at least addressing the value-chain, the pricing model, and the commercialization plan for your product).
When describing your value-chain it is important to list which stakeholders are key for developing your product (i.e. technical partners) and for commercializing it (i.e. commercial partners like distributors). This list should include specific information explaining current relationships with partners already engaged in your Horizon 2020 project (referencing here any letter of support provided by them) plus the plan for acquiring potential ones.
The commercialization plan should be as much specific as possible, explaining how you plan to exploit your products (directly? indirectly through partners? etc.) and what channels will be used to reach target customers (by sales representatives? online marketing? etc.). If you have problems visualising your business plan, the Business Model Canvas might be a helpful tool to exploit. At first, as a guide to build your own plan, but also including the resulting Canvas’ visual char in the proposal.
Besides these 3 key targets, some complementary activities are convenient to convince evaluators of the feasibility of the previously described project impacts. Then, a winning proposal must also include next, let's say, supporting information within the Impact section.
Competition analysis. The already mentioned market analysis should be complemented with a study on the closest competitors. Here it is important to note that evaluators expect to find a by-company comparison (in size, geographical approach, market position, pricing strategy, etc.; including data from your own expected situation), but not a technical comparison of your solution (that should have been addressed in the Excellence section). Again, a visual table is the best approach to present this information.
Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) plan. A top Impact section must address Intellectual Property from two complementary perspectives. Initially, it has to justify that the participant company has Freedom to Operate (FTO) concerning the innovation project described in the proposal. That is, describing what is currently protected by others and, if so, explaining why your innovation is not affected by that protection. Then, the proposal also has to outline the status of protection of your current know-how and the strategy for the protection of the knowledge derived from Horizon 2020 project. It should be stated (1) what are you going to protect (a complete system or just separate modules, chemicals used in the process, the process itself, etc.), and (2) how you will protect this knowledge (e.g. national or international patents? NDAs? binding licenses?).
Dissemination and communication activities. Finally, it is also key to specify how you will create awareness of the existence of your product, that is, what are your marketing strategies for reaching customers and other stakeholders (relevant industry actors, lobbying groups, potential partners/collaborators, etc.). Be creative and specific, there are lots of media that can be exploited (fairs, events, conferences and congresses, online presence, etc.).
With the highlights above as a basic guide for building your Impact section, I expect you now have a clearer outlook about how structuring a winning Horizon 2020 proposal.
Josué Iglesias, a senior proposal writer with more than 15 years of experience in the ICT industry.