The Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) pilot provides funding for bottom-up proposals for close-to-market innovation activities in any area of technology or application. This thematic openness – combined with the possibility for all kinds of innovation actors to work together and deliver innovation onto the market and/or into society – should nurture trans-disciplinary and cross-sectoral cooperation.
The aim is to:
Proposals for funding must be submitted by consortia comprising between three and five legal entities established in at least three different EU Member States or countries associated to Horizon 2020. Actions funded under the pilot are to be ‘business-driven’ because they are intended to give promising innovation ideas the last push before entering the market. Therefore, substantial industry involvement in FTI actions is mandatory to ensure quick market take-up (‘quick’ meaning within a three-year period after the start of the FTI-action). This industry involvement implies:
The FTI Pilot is implemented as a call for proposals running in 2015 and 2016 on a total budget of €200 million (€100 million per year); its budget is derived from the Horizon 2020 priority “Societal Challenges” and the specific objective “Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies (LEITs)”. The call was permanently open until its final cut-off date (25 October 2016), meaning that until then proposals could be submitted at any time. Proposals were evaluated and ranked and funding decisions taken after three cut-off dates each year.
Proposals were built on a business plan, and focus foremost on achieving high impact (corresponding to a score of minimum 4 out of 5 during evaluation). As for proposals for other Horizon 2020 innovation actions, “excellence” and “implementation” was also assessed, yet only if the minimum threshold for “impact” was achieved. Other factors playing a role during the evaluation process were the size of the budget allocated to industry participants (especially SMEs), the number of industry participants and gender balance of the staff representing the consortium in the proposal.
Time-to-grant for participants was targeted to be six months at most; this target was nevertheless reached only in 30.85% of the cases. As for other innovation actions, EU funding levels are fixed at 70% of the eligible costs. The average EU contribution per action was ca. EUR 2.1 million.
The Fast Track to Innovation scheme was open for applications from January 6, 2015 until October 25, 2016. Proposals could be submitted at any time, yet were ranked following three cut-off dates in 2015: April 29, September 1 and December 1 and three cut-off dates in 2016: 15 March, 1 June and 25 October.
On average, there were about 333 proposals per cut-off date. Less than 5% (15-16 proposals) per cut-off date were selected for funding. The majority of the proposals selected for funding at the 2016 cut-off dates were resubmissions. Of the 1994 eligible proposals, a total of 94 got funded in either 2015 or 2016.
The Commission has proposed to continue the FTI under the remit of a European Innovation Council Pilot, which should be launched upon the adoption of the Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2018-2020 at the end of October 2017. In practice, a new FTI call will open around that time, likely until the end of 2020.
The FTI pilot is implemented by the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, which on its website features a specific page on this initiative.