If the first months of Horizon Europe were mainly focused on individual grants such as ERC and EIC Accelerator, the recent publication of the Work Programmes of Pilar 2 (clusters) reminds us that Horizon Europe remains mostly the place for partnership Research & Innovation, with more than 85% of the global budget allocated to collaborative projects.
As a general rule (which suffers only few exceptions), each consortium must include at least three legal entities coming from three different Member States to be eligible. However, in practice, consortia are often (much) bigger – 10 to 20 partners in most cases – and it is not rare to find proposals with more than 30 partners. However, what truly matters is not the quantity but the quality of the consortium as a whole, which depends essentially on the expertise and skills it can mobilize to answer the topic’s objectives, as well as its academia/private sector R&I/end-user organization balance.
In this article, we present different strategies and tools to help you find the right partners for your project. Then, we will describe the different types of partnerships allowed by the programme: from Beneficiary to external stakeholders.
Devise your strategy to find the best partners
Recent studies have highlighted how important it is to build or join experienced networks in order to successfully apply to EU funding. Should you be a proposal coordinator, trying to gather the most adequate expertise and skills to materialize your project idea, or an individual organization trying to join a consortium, you need to devise a strategy to find the best partners, and thus increase your chances to get your collaborative project funded.
Below we describe three approaches that can generally be combined to get a stronger impact. The different components will be balanced according to your own expertise, knowledge of the programme, and needs.
The direct approach
With this approach, you will try to get directly in contact with partners you have identified beforehand. To do this, and unless you already know whom to contact, you need to spend some time in the identification of the best profiles. If you are a coordinator, it means reaching organizations that will perfectly complement your project with skills you are currently missing. On the other hand, if you position yourself as a partner, it means identifying and contacting potential coordinators that you know have good chances of success in a specific area.
The visibility approach
With this approach, you will use communication tools (such as matching platforms, social networks or brokerage events) to put yourself in the position to be contacted by other participants to the programme. It actually means that you will use all opportunities to promote your organization or your project to attract potential partners. It can work very well if you are a coordinator or a partner offering a unique expertise that fits perfectly one of the topics. This approach may also well be less time consuming because it does not oblige you to take a lot of time identifying the right partners. However, the downside is that you have less control on the process.
The notoriety approach
Finally, the notoriety approach is reserved to research teams or organizations that can boast of an outstanding expertise in a specific field of the programme and generally, a long track-record in EU research. Getting there is not easy, but you can speed up the process by becoming visible for the European Commission. As a matter of fact, participating as an evaluator in Horizon Europe or in working groups for the setting up of EU policy in your specific field are often described as invaluable assets to network and gain critical information on how to write proposals. Then, when you’ll manage to become a key player in a specific area of the programme, be sure that demands to get you on board of exciting research projects will flow.
In any case, whatever the approach you choose. Remember that networking is a long-term work, in particular for newcomers. However, the more you create new relationships and maintain them over time, the easier it gets.
Use the right tools to establish partnerships
While we are still suffering from restrictions to travel and physically meet remote colleagues, many people are feeling that networking is harder than ever, making the constitution of competent consortia very difficult. There are nonetheless many tools that can be used to reactivate old collaborations or find new ones.
Use all digital tools for your promotion
First of all, the internet is full of partner search platforms and social networks to promote your organization and highlight your unique skills. The most obvious one can be found on the Funding and Tender portal, which references organizations interested in each specific topic.
But other networks can be used, such as : Research gate and Google scholar for scientists, the EEN platform for companies, thematic platforms (e.g. ECP4 for the plastic industry) private matching platforms (e.g. Crowdhelix), or dedicated groups on LinkedIn or other social networks. National Contact Points can also provide some help in the matter.
However, one important thing to keep in mind is that these platforms are generally saturated with a very high number of profiles. To make the most out of it, it is then crucial to be very specific on your skills, and the added-value you can bring to a consortium. Being excellent is important, but not enough. What matters most is to be in line with the call for proposal’s objectives.
Exploit the data bases
A lot of information on funded projects can be found on Cordis. Whether you are a project coordinator or looking for a partnership, you should use this database to get information on the projects that were funded in a specific area. This will give you an accurate idea of the key players in the field and the organizations that have already gained experience on this specific part of the programme.
Info-days and brokerage events
With the launch of Pilar 2 calls for proposals, the EU and NCP are going to organize dedicated events to promote the calls and foster collaborations. Either virtual or physical, you should take this opportunity to promote your expertise and skills. And to maximize your chances to get noticed, be even bolder and suggest some project ideas that will help you stand out from the crowd.
Consider different types of Horizon Europe partnerships
In this article, we have mainly talked about partners that will become Beneficiaries of the project (they will sign the Grant Agreement with the EC). However, the Model Grant Agreement of Horizon Europe authorizes other types of partnerships:
In some cases, Beneficiaries can collaborate with Affiliated Entities. Affiliated Entities are not signatory of the Grant Agreement but, because they have a close relationship with the Beneficiary, they can participate to a project under the Beneficiary supervision. Affiliated companies obviously fall into this category, but it is also the case of Joint Research Units (e.g. a Research and Technology Organizations pairing with University labs). In H2020, we used the term “Linked Third Party” to refer to what is now called “Affiliated Entity”.
Associated Partners must also prove a close connection with one of the Beneficiaries. However, they cannot claim costs linked to the actions. Associated Partners are generally found in MSCA collaborative projects such as Postdoctoral Fellowships (formerly known as ITN).
Third parties giving in-kind contributions to the action
Other third parties may give in-kind contributions to the action (i.e. personnel, equipment, other goods, works and services, etc. which are free-of-charge) if necessary for the implementation of the project. They do not implement any action tasks but the costs for the in-kind contributions are eligible and may be charged by the beneficiaries which use them.
Subcontractors may of course participate in the action, if necessary for the implementation of the project. Please remember that their participation must be anticipated in the Grant Agreement or approved by the Project Officer when the project is running.
Finally, more and more external stakeholders are involved in projects, even if they do not carry out any research and innovation activity and do not claim costs (their expanses are covered by Beneficiaries). External stakeholders can be involved in advisory boards, fora or expert committees to help steering the project. In fact, projects generally achieve a greater impact when they involve organizations of the quadruple helix (academia, industry, government and civil society).
Paul Bersans, freelance consultant in EU funding, expert in collaborative projects
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