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Seal of Excellence

In a period of scarce resources, the impact of our investments in Research and Innovation needs to be maximised: creating synergies between Horizon 2020 and other funding sources (such as, but not exclusively, the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF)) is a way to achieve it.

This was also a clear mandate from President Juncker to Commissioners Moedas and Creţu.

«We fully support the 'Seal of Excellence' as an important first step in a longer term process of building synergies between Horizon 2020 and the European Structural and Investment Funds. It will help innovative companies to access and enhance the knowledge economy in their regions, contributing therefore to the implementation of smart specialisation strategies»

 

Why a 'Seal of Excellence' ?

Every year, thousands of organisations in Europe apply to the Horizon 2020 Programme investing precious resources and time. The European Commission runs one of the most complete evaluation systems in the world, using international independent experts. The evaluation screens against three defined criteria (excellence, impact and quality & efficiency of implementation) and identifies those proposals not mature enough to receive funding (below quality threshold) and those that are considered as meriting funding (above threshold). Only some of the above threshold proposals receive funding depending on the available Horizon 2020 budget.

The ‘Seal of Excellence’ certificate will be awarded to the applicants of above threshold not funded proposals: a holder of the certificate can then approach alternative funding sources (regional, national, private or public) and present the certificate as a label of a high-quality project proposal. Thanks to the ‘Seal’, high quality proposals from innovative Small and Medium Enterprises will have additional chances to be funded. The precious time and effort SMEs invested in the proposal and idea development will thus not be wasted.

The ‘Seal of Excellence’ offers at the same time a unique opportunity for regions and Member States (and any other interested actor) to fully exploit the high-quality Horizon 2020 evaluation process: to easily identify and possibly support high-impact proposals coming from promising innovative companies, with an ambition to grow and compete internationally.

 

How the 'Seal of Excellence' works in practice?

The Horizon 2020 'SME instrument' has been selected for the introduction of the 'Seal of Excellence' because of the relevance to regional and national funders, as the project proposals are mostly led by a single SME and address small scale R&I actions close to the market with a clear territorial impact.

The action concerns, for this initial ‘pilot’ phase, only proposals applying for the SME instrument and in particular all those SME instrument proposals evaluated above the quality threshold (13 or more out of 15 in Phase 1, or 12 or more out of 15 in Phase 2) but not receiving Horizon 2020 funding. Later on it could be extended to cover more areas of Horizon 2020.

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A holder of the certificate can then approach alternative funding sources (regional, national, private or public) and presents the certificate as a label of a high-quality project proposal.

What the SMEs should expect?

While the Commission certifies with the seal the quality of the proposals according to Horizon 2020 criteria, it may not always be the case that, at local level, the SME will find funding schemes ready to provide the required support and, where they have been established, funding will not be automatic simply based on the recognition of the seal.

Further information on funding opportunities can be obtained at the local/national level either directly with the Managing Authorities or through Europe Enterprise Network and National Contact Point network.

What should regions/Member State expect?

It is up to each Member State or region to establish supporting funding schemes that are specifically dedicated to these types of proposals and enable the provision of alternative funding, in compliance with national and EU rules. A growing number of Member States and regions are already studying the best options for implementation.

Regions/Member States interested in funding these types of proposals could use ESIF resources (in line with ESIF priorities and in compliance with national and relevant EU rules) or their own national/regional resources to grant funding without additional qualitative evaluation.

They would need to decide on the selection criteria, the timing of implementation of the calls, the type of calls to be issued, to better fit their own needs in terms of smart specialisation priorities for the development of their local knowledge economy and at the same time keep the process as simple as possible to fully seize the opportunities offered by the seal.

The funding institution will be able to check electronically the authenticity and the integrity of the certificate through a digital sealing mechanism. Attempts to change the data in the certificate will invalidate the document. The submitted proposal and the evaluation summary report will also be digitally sealed.

The Horizon 2020 SME Instrument Calls for Proposals are open to small and medium-sized businesses in all EU Member States (and Horizon 2020 Associated countries) and offers support for:

  • Feasibility assessment activities (Phase I)
    EUR 50,000 lump-sum grant per project (covering 70% of total cost of the project)
  • Innovation development & demonstration activities (Phase II)
    grant ranging between about EUR 500,000 and 2.5 million (covering 70% of total cost of the project as a general rule)

 

Interested in implementing the 'Seal' approach?

In order to allow for exchanges of know-how, the European Commission has established a 'Community of Practice' exploring the best ways to implement funding schemes in support of high-quality projects with the 'Seal of Excellence' through ESIF or other sources. The 'Community of Practice' is reserved for National or Regional authorities that have a funding power for Research and Innovation actions. It is also open to other Funding Agencies for Innovating SMEs (including private banks and investors).

National or Regional authorities that can provide funding for Research and Innovation, interested in being part of the Europe-wide 'Community of Practice', can send an Expression of Interest by e-mail.