Research & Innovation - Participant Portal


TOPIC : Supporting experimentation in innovation agencies

Topic identifier: INNOSUP-06-2018
Publication date: 27 October 2017

Types of action: CSA-LS CSA Lump sum
CSA Coordination and support action
Opening date:
07 November 2017
2nd stage Deadline:
27 March 2018 17:00:00
13 November 2018 17:00:00

Time Zone : (Brussels time)
  Horizon 2020 H2020 website
Pillar: Industrial Leadership
Work Programme Year: H2020-2018-2020
Topic Updates
  • 22 October 2018 16:18

    As planned in the Work Programme, applicants invited to submit a 2nd stage proposal were provided with online feedback and information on how RTCs could be organised. The links to the webinars are provided below by ways of feedback to applicants.

    Webinar 1

    Webinar 2

  • 22 October 2018 16:01

    Please note that the deadline for submissions of stage 2 proposals has been postponed to 13 November 2018.

    As planned in the Work Programme, applicants invited to submit a 2nd stage proposal were provided with online feedback and information on how RTCs could be organised. The links to the webinars are provided below by ways of feedback to applicants.

    Webinar 1

    Webinar 2

  • 14 September 2018 11:42

    Please note that the deadline for submissions of stage 2 proposals has been postponed to 13 November 2018.

  • 09 April 2018 17:45

    Please note that the deadline for submissions of stage 2 proposals has been postponed to 11 October 2018. Applicants to stage 1 (27 proposals were received) will be informed about the result of the evaluation of their proposals within the normal timeframe.

  • 28 February 2018 16:51

    Dear Sir/Madam

    We bring to your attention the following notice regarding page limits applicable to proposals.

    Applicants are allowed to remove the page break in the cover page of the template for the technical annex, i.e. the proposal text can start on the cover page.

    We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused by the late notice on this.

    With kind regards,
    European Commission - Participant Portal Submission System team

Topic Description
Specific Challenge:

Innovation support agencies, i.e. the regional and national agencies that design and/or implement innovation support programmes for SMEs are important intermediaries for SME innovation. Focus, design and delivery mechanism of innovation support programmes determine to a large extent the economic impact from the supported actions and the satisfaction of the beneficiaries with the support provided.

With new business models and technologies emerging, it is more important than ever that innovation support agencies constantly adapt and innovate in the way that they provide support. Yet, innovation support agencies rarely engage in policy experimentation - for lack of funds, time pressure to deliver new support, and the fear of a backlash against 'money wasting'.

At the same time, there is a linked problem that evidence on the effectiveness of both existing and proposed new support mechanisms is limited and inconclusive[1]. Schemes are continued or introduced with no adequate way of testing their effectiveness. However, there is evidence that SMEs benefitting from support programmes are often dissatisfied with the services received[2].

These two linked issues need to be addressed: growing pressure on public budgets demands that the support schemes become more innovative, effective, efficient, and evidence-based and that scarce resources are allocated to schemes with the greatest impact.

These two issues can be addressed jointly by combining policy experimentation and innovation with the introduction of a more evidence-based approach to the support schemes provided by innovation support agencies, i.e. rigorously measuring the impact of interventions using randomised control trials (RCTs) - a method successfully used in other fields most notably medicine. This would encourage them to experiment more, reconcile 'trial and error' attitude with existing expertise, to design and pilot innovative support schemes for new challenges, and scale-up the most successful ones.


To incentivise innovation agencies to engage more in policy experimentation and to use RCTs to evaluate the impact of their schemes, and to encourage "innovating the innovation support system" through brand new schemes or significantly improved ones[3], the European Commission proposes two types of grants to innovation agencies which wish to innovate their innovation support schemes addressed at SMEs and start-ups. Both types of grants should include testing using RCTs. Financial support to third parties as a direct support to SMEs is possible if required for RCTs (please refer to the grant conditions for this topic).

  1. Strand 1: Grants for small-scale experimental pilot projects which aim to investigate, including small-scale RCTs, either a feasibility of a promising idea for a brand new SME innovation support scheme ('proof of concept'), or test different options of significantly revising an existing support scheme. Funding for grants awarded under this topic will take the form of a fixed lump sum of EUR 60.000[4].
  2. Strand 2: Grants for large-scale experimental pilot projects which aim to test on a larger scale, with RCTs, new SME innovation support schemes. The Commission is looking for proposals to test promising scalable innovative new schemes in support of innovation in SMEs to provide clear evidence of their impact. Proposals requesting a grant of around €300.000 - €500.000 should allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts. Given the budget involved, a pre-condition to get funding under this strand (unlike under strand 1) would be that the schemes to be tested had either been piloted at a small-scale first or a feasibility study had been done (or both).

Since 2014, the action "Peer learning of innovation agencies" ("INNOSUP-5") has supported national and regional innovation agencies to engage in peer learning on all topics relevant for improving design and delivery of innovation support programmes for SMEs using 'Twinning+' methodology. A deliverable is a Design Option Paper (DOP) on the challenge investigated. Beneficiaries of INNOSUP-5 may apply to this call to test the ideas described in DOP.

Only innovation agencies may apply (including applications from single innovation agencies). For the purpose of this call an 'innovation agency' is defined as an entity entrusted by national or regional government to develop/or implement innovation support programmes for SMEs.

For the first stage of the call applicants should provide a concept note (of max. 5 pages), which should include: a clear description of the idea, including a rationale and expected impact of a new/improved SME innovation support scheme, what makes it innovative compared to existing schemes, and information about the applicant(s). In addition, proposals for Strand 2 should include preliminary budget and evidence that the scheme in question had either been piloted at a small-scale or undergone a feasibility study. This may be evidenced by supporting documents for example on the pilot outcomes or feasibility study results.

Only proposals which pass the evaluation threshold for the first stage will be invited to a second stage to submit a full proposal including timeline, CVs of the project and research teams, and full budget. Moreover, all the applicants should include a letter of intent signed by the president of the applicant innovation agency or its governing authority indicating intent to scaling up the scheme to be tested, if proven successful.

Considering that the use of RCTs in innovation support is not a common practice, a background note with information on RCTs will be made available on the call page at the Participant Portal under "Topic conditions & documents". Moreover, an event or webinar will be organised for the applicants invited to submit stage 2 proposals to explain how RTCs could be organised.

The beneficiaries of the action will be assisted from the onset of their projects by a contractor in design and running of RCTs (see Other action 7 'Support to design and running of randomized controlled trials under INNOSUP-06-2018').

Given that one of the objectives of the action is to make new or improved support schemes available to the innovation support, beneficiaries are requested to make the results of the pilot projects publically available.

Expected Impact:
  • The number of innovation agencies engaged in policy experimentation significantly increases.
  • Use of RCTs in design and testing of innovation support schemes significantly increases.
  • A broad range of new or significantly improved SME innovation support schemes are investigated and developed and their impact rigorously tested. Pilot agencies scale up these new schemes.

[1]For example, 2013 "Compendium of Evidence on the Effectiveness of Innovation Policy Intervention Project" by Manchester University; or What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth's analysis of around 1700 innovation support evaluations from the UK and OECD countries discovered that only 3% credibly investigated what would have happened to the beneficiaries without the intervention, for example by using the control group. And only a miniscule number of 0.3% found that the impact of an intervention under evaluation had been positive.

[2]See for example “Making public support for innovation in the EU more effective”, Commission staff working document SEC(2009)1197

[3]A "new scheme" means "new to the world", not just new to the applicant agency; "significantly improved" refers to adapting an existing scheme – either making more effective a scheme already in place in the agency, or adapting to local specificities a scheme successfully used in another country.

[4]Use of Lump Sum authorized by the responsible authorizing officer as the amount does not exceed the amount of a low value grant

Topic conditions and documents

1. Eligible countries: described in Annex A of the Work Programme.
A number of non-EU/non-Associated Countries that are not automatically eligible for funding have made specific provisions for making funding available for their participants in Horizon 2020 projects. See the information in the Online Manual.


2. Eligibility and admissibility conditions: described in Annex B and Annex C of the Work Programme.


Only entities entrusted by national or regional governments to develop/or implement innovation support programmes for SMEs are eligible to apply. Single or multiple partner projects are allowed.

Proposal page limits and layout: please refer to Part B of the proposal template in the submission system below.

Part B of first-stage proposals must not exceed five pages.

For applications to strand 2, the preliminary budget and the evidence that the scheme in question has been piloted or undergone a feasibility study do not count towards the page limit.

The evidence that the scheme in question has been piloted or undergone a feasibility study must be uploaded in the corresponding field in the proposal.


3. Evaluation:

  • Evaluation criteria, scoring and thresholds are described in Annex H of the Work Programme.  
  • Submission and evaluation processes are described in the Online Manual.

The following additional aspects will be taken into account:

Excellence: in how far applicants demonstrate concrete opportunities to transmit the results of the projects into the adaptation of existing and/or design of new support programmes.

4. Indicative time for evaluation and grant agreements:

Information on the outcome of evaluation (two-stage call):
For stage 1: maximum 3 months from the deadline for submission.
For stage 2: maximum 5 months from the deadline for submission of stage 2.

Signature of grant agreements: maximum 8 months from the deadline for submission of stage 2.

5. Proposal templates, evaluation forms and model grant agreements (MGA):

Coordination and Support Action:

Specific provisions and funding rates
Standard proposal template
Standard evaluation form
General MGA - Multi-Beneficiary
Annotated Grant Agreement

6. Additional provisions:

Horizon 2020 budget flexibility
Classified information
Technology readiness levels (TRL) – where a topic description refers to TRL, these definitions apply

For grants awarded under this topic beneficiaries may provide support to third parties (i.e. SMEs taking part in RCT) as described in General Annex K of the work programme. The support to third parties can only be provided in the form of grants. The respective options of Article 15.1 and Article 15.3 of the Model Grant Agreement will be applied.

7. Open access must be granted to all scientific publications resulting from Horizon 2020 actions.

Where relevant, proposals should also provide information on how the participants will manage the research data generated and/or collected during the project, such as details on what types of data the project will generate, whether and how this data will be exploited or made accessible for verification and re-use, and how it will be curated and preserved.

Open access to research data
The Open Research Data Pilot has been extended to cover all Horizon 2020 topics for which the submission is opened on 26 July 2016 or later. Projects funded under this topic will therefore by default provide open access to the research data they generate, except if they decide to opt-out under the conditions described in Annex L of the Work Programme. Projects can opt-out at any stage, that is both before and after the grant signature.

Note that the evaluation phase proposals will not be evaluated more favourably because they plan to open or share their data, and will not be penalised for opting out.

Open research data sharing applies to the data needed to validate the results presented in scientific publications. Additionally, projects can choose to make other data available open access and need to describe their approach in a Data Management Plan.

Projects need to create a Data Management Plan (DMP), except if they opt-out of making their research data open access. A first version of the DMP must be provided as an early deliverable within six months of the project and should be updated during the project as appropriate. The Commission already provides guidance documents, including a template for DMPs. See the Online Manual.

Eligibility of costs: costs related to data management and data sharing are eligible for reimbursement during the project duration.

The legal requirements for projects participating in this pilot are in the article 29.3 of the Model Grant Agreement.


8. Additional documents:

Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2018-20 - Introduction
Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2018-20 - Chaper 7. Innovation in SMEs

Horizon 2020 work Programme 2018 - 20 - Dissemination, Exploitation and Evaluation

General annexes to the Work Programme 2018-2020

Legal basis: Horizon 2020 Regulation of Establishment
Legal basis: Horizon 2020 Rules for Participation
Legal basis: Horizon 2020 Specific Programme

Background note with more information on randomised control trials (RCTs)

Additional documents

  • Flash call info (stage 1) en

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