What is the Seal of Excellence

The idea of creating a ‘Seal of Excellence Certificate' is to award the proposals rated above quality threshold but not funded with a European high-quality label to allow them to see their effort and the value of their proposal recognised

What is the Seal of Excellence?

The Seal of Excellence is the high-quality label awarded to projects submitted to Horizon 2020 which were deemed to deserve funding but did not receive it due to budget limits. It recognises the value of the proposal and supports the search for alternative funding.

Every year, thousands of organisations and individual researchers in Europe invest costly resources and time applying to the Horizon 2020 Programme. The evaluation is based on three criteria: excellence, impact and quality, efficiency of implementation. The European Commission has a first-class evaluation system engaging independent, international experts.

The experts identify proposals which are above the quality threshold necessary for funding. But, depending on the available Horizon 2020 budget, only some of the above-quality threshold proposals will receive funding.

The Seal of Excellence Certificate rewards unfunded proposals which were above this quality threshold with a high-quality label and the Seal of Excellence holder can then approach alternative regional, national, private or public funding sources. In addition, it helps interested funding bodies willing to invest in promising proposals (including national & regional authorities through European Structural & Investment Funds) to identify these projects more easily.

Quality threshold pyramid

The project proposers receive the Seal of Excellence Certificate as soon as the evaluation results are available. It is designed to satisfy multiple purposes:

Specimen of the Seal of Excellence
  • Informing: indicates basic info on the proposal, the call and the proposer
  • Building reputation: highlights the competitive and highly professional selection process
  • Explaining: refers to the evaluation criteria used in Horizon 2020
  • Showing the political commitment: displays the signatures of the Commissioners
  • Unique and safe: Digitally sealed against fraud, as is the related proposal and Evaluation Summary Report (ESR)

The Seal of Excellence is currently awarded to above-quality threshold, unfunded proposals who applied to the SME Instrument, Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) Individual Fellowships or Teaming under the Horizon 2020 programme.


"After three attempts to be selected for the SME Instrument Phase 1 we were awarded the Seal of Excellence. This opened doors as our high mark and the Certificate gave us access to national funding to carry out the feasibility study. We started preparing for Phase 2 but faced the same problem twice. High marks over the threshold but without funding due to intense competition. Thanks to our second Seal of Excellence we managed to attract the attention of new investors, consolidate the company and found a new partner in the cosmetic sector. Together we applied again for SME Instrument Phase 2 and won."
Fidel Delgado, Director of Neoalgae Micro Seaweeds Products

How is the Seal of Excellence authenticated?

The Seal of Excellence is digitally sealed. Any attempt to change its data automatically invalidates the document. The submitted proposal and the evaluation summary report are also digitally sealed.

The funding institution can electronically check the authenticity and integrity of the document.


Philosophy behind the Seal of Excellence

The initiative was launched by Commissioner Moedas and Commissioner Creţu on 12 October 2015, in the context of the mandate received from President Juncker to maximise synergies between Horizon 2020 and Structural Funds.

The SME Instrument under Horizon 2020 was selected as the ideal candidate to begin implementation of the Seal of Excellence due to its high popularity, high competitiveness and limited funding capacity compared to demand. It supports breakthrough innovations in close-to-market activities by SMEs.

In addition, supporting proposals from the SME instrument fits with the intervention logic of European Structural and Investment Funds, as they target small scale R&I projects, high impact potential at local level and are mainly single-company led.

An SME whose SME Instrument proposal received the Seal of Excellence will be looking for financial support for two types of activities:

  • Feasibility assessment activities (Phase 1) – which would have (if successful) received €50 000 lump-sum grant, covering 70% of total cost of the project
  • Innovation development & demonstration activities (Phase 2) – which would have (if successful) received a grant ranging between €500 000 and €2.5 million, covering 70% of total cost of the project

The proposals are usually led by a single SME and deal with small-scale research and innovation actions with clear territorial impact. So, the selection logic for the SME Instrument is in-line with the logic of structural funds.

International panels of independent experts conduct the evaluation process under supervision of the Commission following transparent, well-known evaluation criteria.

Between 60% and 85% of the proposals are normally rejected as they are not ready for funding. The rest deserve funding.

But, 45-84% of proposals which deserve funding are NOT funded. This is due to the popularity of the scheme (in two years around 20 000 proposals were submitted) and limited resources compared to this demand.

These high-quality proposals receive the Seal of Excellence. They passed an extremely competitive evaluation process and deserve recognition.

First two years of operation of SME instrument (results including all cut-offs in 2014 and 2015)

The Seal of Excellence is now awarded to eligible proposals every time proposers receive evaluation results related to the cut-off to which they have submitted their proposal (cut-offs are four times a year).



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Seal of Excellence

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