Creative people often develop promising project ideas, but not so often turn them into good projects, being successfully implemented in real life and being accepted by the market.

This happens due to several reasons: passive attitude or even resistance in the relevant environments – due to lack of persistence from the author of the idea, who did not raise sufficient interest for the idea. Sometimes, being too slow in developing the project, some competitor was more successful in building necessary support before us and simply pushed us aside. Yet, sometimes the proof of concept delivered a negative answer and demonstrated that some of our assumptions and expectations were not feasible or realistic. This means the project idea wasn’t that good after all.

Rather often, however, the proof of concept gives a positive result, but in order to implement the project, we failed to raise the needed financial resources, which finally killed the project.

Many people claim that there is nowadays more money available globally than there are good projects. Actually, the project leaders are not making the necessary effort to find and engage the available sources of funding. And that is really a shame because, in times of the Internet, it takes very little to identify possible sources of funding for our project. In other words, our project has promised to offer a solution to a relevant problem, but we failed to bring it from the laboratory to life.

It is of course the role of the innovation ecosystem that this does not happen too often, but in reality, it still does happen – though much less in advanced innovative societies, than in others.

Sources of project funding and support

Being profit motivated, but nowadays often going also beyond that direct motif, the function of the financial community is recognizing the promising projects. This is also the responsibility of various support agencies/funds for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship – created to support promising research and innovation, and also to help set up new and supporting young SMEs. Generally, there are the following categories of project funding and support facilities:

  • intergovernmental (including IBRD, EIB, AIB, IDB) and other types of banks;
  • national funding facilities for R&D, new and young SMEs – such as specialized funding agencies, national research funds, etc.;
  • science, technology and industrial parks, business incubators, innovation hubs, etc.

What kind of funding and other support instruments is usually being offered by these institutions? They are primarily the following:

  • seed funding (usually as grant, or at least soft loan);
  • research & development funding (normally grants covering 80-100% of the project budget);
  • venture capital to help create a new or upgrade an existing SME;
  • a combination of the above-listed measures.

Where to seek your project support and in what form it should be requested, depends very much on the nature of the project, the profile of your organization (company, research establishment, an NGO), and even on where your entity is located geographically.

One of the critically important distinguishing features of the ranking of countries by their innovative performance is the investment made in R&D, measured as a percentage of their GDP – the GERD. Accordingly, there are 3 categories of countries ranked by the level of their GERD:

  • the leading countries have GERD over 3% of their GDP (these are Switzerland, Israel, Sweden, Denmark, Singapore, S. Korea, USA, Hong Kong, Taiwan);
  • the next, a rather large group of countries, have GERD between 1 and 2.9%;
  • finally, and unfortunately, the largest number of countries does not reach even 1% in GERD (which includes even some EU member states).

The country which has advanced most quickly, and will soon join the first group is China (recently decided to reach 3% by 2025), and lately, India is also doing remarkable progress.

There is no need to emphasize that project support is easier to be obtained in a country belonging to the innovative and research-intensive ones – they often support even projects outside the country.

Increasing the prospects for winning project support

In terms of improved utilization of project funding facilities – there are a couple of recommendations that can make for any interested organization a big difference in terms of expecting a successful submission.

After the thematic domain of the future project has been defined, the hints to take into account are primarily the following.

  • Identifying the most relevant funding facility (for example, among numerous EU programmes, and other sources, like international banks, funds, support programmes and networks). This is not difficult nowadays, as they are all present on the Internet. All that each interested organization has to do is to create a data bank – directory of relevant funding institutions/programmes, and in most cases, the respective organization will invite you to freely subscribe to its news bulletin which keeps bringing all subscribers up to date with all of its funding programmes, and publishes new calls – inviting all interested organisations to submit timely their project proposals.
  • Monitoring the announcements made by listed organisations and from time to time search for new ones – and if they are relevant, put them into your directory. In most cases announcements of future calls are made at least 3-6 months in advance (sometimes even more than a year before the deadline), giving any potential submitter ample time to prepare a good proposal. In most cases, the funding entity provides an opportunity to ask questions by future submitters, and this is an opportunity not to be wasted.
  • Study the text of the call very carefully – this is advice not to be underestimated. Many unsuccessful submissions fail simply because the coordinator did not make the necessary effort to fully understand all the details of the call, or interpreted them the way he wanted it to be, and not the way it is actually formulated. A good submission should fully and consistently reflect the intentions of the call and meet to the full extent all the requirements.
  • Timely prepare the draft-summary submission in order to be able to check whether you have all the critical resources to be successful. This includes the qualifications and experience of the future project team (from your own organization and from consortium partners), and its proposed leader; the international references of the team, including previous projects and publications, other facilities and conditions relevant for successful completion of the project, international reputation of your organization, and other advantages making you a promising competitor in the call.
  • Compose a winning team/consortium – clearly demonstrating that all conditions are met for successful completion of the proposed project, capable of answering all requirements of the call, and perhaps indicating the innovative capacity to deliver even a bit more than requested.
  • Prepare a convincing project submission – meticulously following the call guidelines, using professional (but not excessively sophisticated) language, and documenting all your claims and major statements with solid figures and verifiable proofs.
  • Submission text should be timely (not a few days before the deadline) approved by all partners, and it is advisable to have it verified also by an outside expert - to check it critically before it is submitted.
  • Make a realistic budget – not too close to the maximal amount, all figures need to be convincing and realistic. All documentation should be neat and presentable, particularly since the submissions are now usually to be delivered electronically.
  • Submit your project proposal 2-3 days before the deadline, not a week before, or just on the deadline day (since many people do it on the last day, it happens that your mail will not get through to the designated e-address in Brussels).
  • Possible failure at the first call should be taken as a challenge to succeed next time – by checking objectively what went wrong, correcting the mistakes, and going with fresh determination and energy for the next call.

EU project funding opportunities

There is hardly an area of research & entrepreneurship development for which there is no possibility to receive some EU financial support – either through the appropriate national institution/programme, or directly through calls of any of the numerous programmes.

The total budget approved for the EU Cohesion funding for 2021-2027 is impressive, and it amounts to 330 bn €.

One needs to distinguish between the “Community Programmes” where the beneficiaries are EU member governments and all others – administered by the Commission – where the submitters and direct beneficiaries are interested organizations. This of course does not mean that an individual organization could not benefit from a Community program – provided it is integrated into the topics of the 2021-2027 programmes, and enjoys the support of the respective government’s action programmes. Such is the case with the Cohesion Program, and now the post-Covid Recovery Plan for Europe – coupled with NextGeneration EU – which should enable investment of some 2 trillion € in EU member states during the 7-year period.

The current EU Framework Programme Horizon Europe (2021-2027) is divided into the following three pillars. Pillar I - comprises funding measures for excellence in science. Pillar II - is divided into six clusters on the following research topics:

  • health;
  • culture, creativity and inclusion;
  • civil security for society;
  • digitalisation, industry and space;
  • climate, energy and mobility;
  • food, bioeconomy, natural resources, agriculture and environment.

Pillar III - encompasses funding instruments for innovative and high-risk developments on their way to market readiness.

There are many specialized consultancies providing expert advice on various EU funding topics and measures. Particularly organisations without proper experience with EU programmes are advised to make use of such professional support. Their chances for success will be much bigger, and they will learn from the experience - enabling themselves to do it next time all by themselves. In principle, everybody may apply for those grants: businesses (SMEs and large companies), universities and other research institutions, and sometimes even physical persons - either alone or in cooperation with partners - depending on the conditions of the call and the funding instrument.

Of particular interest to companies are the thematic calls in Pillar II and other funding instruments in Pillar III, under the umbrella of the European Innovation Council (EIC). The EIC brings together EU instruments for innovation funding: EIC Pathfinder, EIC Transition and EIC Accelerator (EIC open and EIC Challenges). In principle, proposals may only be submitted to published calls.

Closing thoughts

It has been established many times that very few people in charge of interesting projects are properly informed about funding being available at the country and global level for their project. Also, often people think of external project funding and support primarily as improved access to finance. Though this is important, there are other beneficial aspects of external support, which could be even more important.

In the first place there is the benefit of motivating oneself to select, articulate and present a project sufficiently good to win in international competition. Most funding programmes are long-term oriented, which stimulates us as well to think of and develop our projects with a long-term perspective. This implies building and maintaining a competent team, with a well-accepted leader, capable of motivating and coordinating experts from various organisations, and of numerous profiles. With some exceptions in the domain of funding scientific research, most project funding sources are supporting applied research and the introduction of new ideas to real life. This encourages us further to include in our projects this dimension, which means that our results are expected to offer acceptable solutions to practical issues relevant to global society.

Another important benefit of successful international project submission is the creation of productive working relationships with relevant organisations and networks, which brings positive impact even in case a particular project submission has not been successful. Namely, even when a project submission (at least the first attempt) has not been successful, the working relations developed among partners during the preparations may prove to be very valuable in terms of future collaboration, which makes us stronger and more competitive.

Nowadays, nobody can afford not to monitor what are the global trends, and interesting innovations in their business - who are the best, and what they are doing. At the same time, it is very simple to monitor on the web who is offering support to certain research and entrepreneurial activities, and submit a project when suitable. For those who follow the 10 proposals we have listed above, the chances of success are favorable – therefore don’t hesitate.