One of the goals of Fit 4 Health 2.0 is to support small and midsize companies (SMEs), which are headquartered in Europe and conduct research in the healthcare area, in their participation in EU funding competitions. With the direction of the FFG, 11 European partners are collaborating for the opportunity to increase the chances for a successful application.
Included in a round of workshops and intensive coaching by Fit 4 Health 2.0 was a business meeting which took place on October 12, 2016. The meeting highlighted the advantages of the individual EU funding opportunities for SMEs. The obstacles, pitfalls, and framework requirements were included in this review along with tips on how to address them.
After the initial greeting by Johannes Sarx and Peter Halwachs, LISAvienna managing directors, along with Ines Haberl, FFG, the keynote presentation was given by Laszlo Helmle. As the representative of the European Commission, Health Directorate, Directorate General (DG) Research & Innovation, he first gave an overview of the goal of the Horizon 2020 €79 million funding program. In Europe, this program is meant to not only boost scientific excellence, but also to contribute to the goal of finding solutions to major societal challenges, and to develop the European Union into the leading economic power in the world.
To achieve this, a complex system of funding tools has been developed, which are meant to support different areas of the innovation process. Helmle used the development of a pharmaceutical drug as an example. Just as in the case of the presentation of the SME funding tool that followed, the highly simplified, linear innovation model created quite some excitement among the viewing public. After all, development projects all happen at a different pace depending upon the topic and specific objectives. The project may be enormously complex, and the timeframe as well as the demands on the financial resources of a company can vary significantly. During the presentation, the impression has been that a certain sequence of grant requests was to be followed that corresponds with this model. However, at the end of the discussion it became clear that there is no need to apply for grants in a certain sequence. The actual grant amounts awarded pursuant to the SME guidelines should be mentioned at this point: In the category “Feasibility Studies”, or Phase 1, 1,219 applications were submitted in 2014-2015, 1,206 were evaluated, 198 applications were found to be eligible for funding – but only 165 applications were selected for actual funding due to budgetary reasons. In the category “Innovation Projects”, Phase 2 of the KMU funding tool, an even larger gap exists between projects eligible for funding and those that were funded: 751 applications were submitted, 736 were evaluated, but of the 354 projects eligible for funding only 31 enjoyed the benefits of EU funding.
Helmle also included the established funding models of Horizon 2020, along with other measures including Eurostars/EUREKA, Fast Track to Innovation Pilot, the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IM)), InnovFin, Horizon Prizes as well as the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trial Partnership (EDCTP) in his presentation. Details can be found in the presentation materials.
Astrid Hoebertz, FFG, moderated the podium discussion which followed. This provided valuable insight into the benefits provided by European funding to small and midsize companies. The fact that company shares do not have to be offered in exchange for approved European funding makes the application for such especially attractive. Representatives on the podium included Eva Prieschl-Grassauer (Marinomed Biotechnologie GmbH), Matthias Hackl (TAmiRNA GmbH), Christian Suojanen (Tech Transfer Summit), Patrik Frei (Venture Valuation), Sebastian Tegethoff (24IP Law Group), and Ines Haberl (FFG). The public also participated enthusiastically in the discussion. The most important topics during the podium discussion were case studies, background information, and tips for KMUs, which included:
- It is recommended that the project be discussed, and a funding path be selected, with the National Contact Point (NCP) well before an application is prepared. The experts of the NCPs not only have a good understanding of the appropriate tools for the content, but can also estimate how many competing project applications will be submitted. This will allow them to estimate your chances for success.
- Over the years, the NCPs have analyzed many successful and unsuccessful applications. It is recommended that applicants make full use of the proposal check offers available from the NCPs. Enough time should be planned for those checks and for corrections.
- As a rule, the actual preparation of an application should only be considered if the contents of the planned project coincide perfectly with the invitation to tender. Project proposals that only match the peripherals of the invitation to tender will not be competitive due to the level of competition for funding.
- If a request for tender has several cutoff dates, and it fits perfectly with the planned project, then every attempt should be made to turn it in by the first cutoff date. The chance of success is much higher at that point because there are no projects that have been reviewed and resubmitted with corrections at that point.
- Applications that have been denied should be corrected, reworked, and resubmitted based on the response from the evaluation phase and the NCP.
- Before committing as a project partner with a third party, a review is recommended to determine whether the content matches your company focus. A review of the expected funding should also be performed to determine whether the ratio of income to expenses is acceptable. Sometimes the value added is not actually in the project itself, but is in the network developed during the joint application process. Trust and confidence developed during the tender and writing process may lead to the opening of new sectors for business.
- Because of the low probability of receiving funding, it is very risky to try to fund central pillars in the business plan with European funding. Careful thought must also be given to how much importance a submitted project has for the company.
- When a high level of financing is required, private equity investors are an alternative. The required background research must also be performed and presented in this case to find the right investor. Analogous to the area of funding, not every private equity investor is willing to invest in every technology sector, every geographical region, or may not currently have any funding available. It may be worth your while to speak with companies already in the portfolio of an investor, or who have already completed the exit.
- Venture capital investors expect that portfolio companies focus specifically on the agreed-upon project. They do not like to see new projects which may detract from that purpose. At the same time, it is expected that the company continue to solicit public funding – which requires new projects. This may create unexpected tensions.
- Companies in the medical field should also actively research whether there are any patient organizations that may be interested in investing in the development process of a specific field.