H2020 SME Innovation Associate – essential tips for your application

H2020 SME Innovation Associate – essential tips for your application

The SME Innovation Associate is a new pilot action under Horizon 2020 – the nearly € 80 billion EU Research and Innovation Framework Programme until the year 2020. The action supports European Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups to recruit post-doctoral research associates from other countries to help them develop creative business ideas into concrete innovations. Here are a few essential tips to find out if the programme is for you and what you can get out of it.

Is the programme really for you?

H2020 SME Innovation Associate is dedicated to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). You should first check if your company fulfils the criteria defined in the SME definition of the European Union. Only SMEs established in EU Member States and Overseas Countries and Territories or countries associated to Horizon 2020 (with the exclusion of Switzerland) can apply. 

How to describe your project?

The programme will support the best and most innovative projects. In your proposal you should focus on the innovative aspects of your business idea and explain the potential impact on society. You must demonstrate that you have a clear understanding of your market and provide details about the commercial potential of your product or service. It's also important to include information about how this new product or service will influence the growth and development of your company. 

How to describe the profile you are looking for?

The programme will help you recruit a researcher holding a PhD or equivalent. Be very specific when you describe the profile you need. You must explain precisely what his/her role will be and how he/she will contribute to the development of your innovation. It is also important that you think about the future of your associate after the end of the project.

How to describe the training package?

Your proposal must include a tailored training programme for the researcher. This is to make sure you maximise the potential of the recruitment and offer the associate a tangible experience in a business environment. You must describe clearly what kind of training you will provide and how (through internal resources or subcontracting). The aim is also to guarantee a smooth integration of the associate in the company. Explain what you plan to do to accelerate the integration of the researcher and how you see his/her status in the company. 

Write to convince evaluators to invest in your business

3 evaluators will look at different aspects of your proposal: the clarity and pertinence of objectives, the quality of the proposed coordination and/or support measures, and the ambition and innovation potential of the SME.

Each of the evaluators will look at 3 criteria: impact, excellence, and implementation. Make sure your proposal is well balanced and covers all aspects of each evaluation criteria:

Excellence: the objectives of your business idea must be clear and pertinent in relation to its innovative potential. Specify the issue/problem/opportunity that your project could tackle and how this will impact your business. Be specific in describing the envisaged profile and the skills/knowledge that you need. Explain the position that this person will have within both the project and your structure and how his/her recruitment will be beneficial for both.

Impact: you must explain how the envisaged profile will contribute in exploring the potential of the innovative idea and turn it into an innovation programme. You should explain how you will advertise your vacancy and foresee communication actions targeted at different target audiences. You must as well explain why SMEs need and European support to the recruitment of PhDs. What are the barriers, obstacles, framework conditions preventing you to autonomously recruitment the appropriate candidate in your country?

Implementation: describe your work with the SME Associate over the next 12 months. Pay a great attention to your work plan, the attribution of resources to the different work packages and their alignment with the objectives and deliverables. Describe tasks and responsibilities of the SME Associate within the project but also within your business structure and the resources that you will allocate to allow their fulfilment. Include a coherent and effective recruitment and personnel development plan.

Form also matters

Take time to think about a catchy title and to craft an attractive abstract. These two elements are very important as they will form the first impression the evaluators get from your project. Take the time to review and polish the language and don't hesitate to ask your colleagues and relatives to read and comment on your proposal.

H2020 SME Innovation Associate FAQs  

If you have questions or remarks you can use the comments module below or get in touch with us via Twitter @H2020SME.

The content of this page is for information purposes only. The relevant legal instruments and the text of the call shall take precedence over the information contained in this page. The European Commission or EASME does not accept responsibility for any use made of the information contained therein.


  • Inês Martins's picture


    I have some questions about the new funding programme "SME Innovation Associate".
    1) The support given by EC covering the salary, this means that the support is 100% for the elegible costs?
    2) We are a Portuguese SME, can we hold a Portuguese PHD? Or it is mandatory that PHD had other nationality?

    Thanks in advance.
    Inês Martins

  • Alessandro @EASME's picture

    Dear Ines,
    yes, costs are eligible at 100%: salary, relocation and training. The researcher can have any nationality but he/she should have spend less than 1 year in the last 36 months in Portugal. Please consult the FAQ session on the Participant Portal. kind regards

  • ismini's picture

    Is the grant paid in installments and when the first installment starts ?
    kind regards

  • Alessandro @EASME's picture

    After the signature of the grant agreement between the European Commission and the company, a pre-financing equal to 70% of the grant will be issued. As the contract will be signed for a period of 12 months, no interim payments are foreseen. The company will receive a final payment after approval of the final report.

  • Sam's picture


    Is there a restriction on the number of proposals per SME?


  • Alessandro @EASME's picture

    Dear Sam, no, there are no restrictions! This is one of the reasons (n.9) why this programme is so interesting! goo.gl/ChlMqV

  • Simona's picture

    Following previous comments and provided that each SME can submit more than one proposal, should each proposal (ie each new recruited person) refers to the same overall project but covering different roles and objectives? In our case, we have a large corporate project that requires different professional expertises.
    Thank you!

  • Alessandro @EASME's picture

    Dear Simona, it is possible to submit more than one idea and receive support for more than one project. However the general principle: 1 idea, 1 company, 1 researcher shall stand. Consequently it is not possible to receive support for recruiting more than one researcher per business idea.

  • Bruno Leredde's picture

    Dear Sirs,

    I have some questions about the new funding programme "SME Innovation Associate"

    1) Are the supervisor personnel direct costs eligible ?
    2) Are the cost linked to the use of equipment eligible ?
    3) Are the manufacturing cost for a prototype eligible ?

    Many thanks for your answer


  • Alessandro @EASME's picture

    Dear Bruno,
    all these costs are covered by the indirect costs (25% of the direct costs). The programme will cover the personnel costs of the Innovation Associate, the relocation, the organisation of the tailored training and the participation to the core training. For more information, Please consult our FAQ session http://buff.ly/25Nw8LB

  • Fabio's picture

    Dear Sirs,

    for the submission I have to attach a declaration of honour. I founf in FAQ (https://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/portal/desktop/en/support/faq...) that this document can be downloaded form the PP. Where exactly? I cannot find it.
    Thanks and regards

  • Alessandro @EASME's picture

    Dear Fabio,
    you can follow the instructions provided in our guide https://ec.europa.eu/easme/sites/easme-site/files/h2020_innovation_assoc...

  • Gretel's picture

    Dear X
    in the table 3.2b of the template, under "other direct costs" there is a field called "Other goods and services". Could you please specify to what it is referred and if it is an eligible cost for the reimbursement? In the case that it is not eligible can this field be empty?
    Thank a lot

  • Alessandro @EASME's picture

    Dear Gretel,
    this field is commonly provided to allow the inclusion of costs that cannot be indicated under any other previous field. And yes, it can be empty.
    We encourage you to consult our guide related to the budget: https://ec.europa.eu/easme/sites/easme-site/files/h2020-innovation-assoc...

  • Elisavet's picture

    In the EURAXESS platform, vacancy notices for the call have already been published. Do we have to publish the vacancy notices on or before the deadline of June 30th?
    Thank you in advance.

  • Alessandro @EASME's picture

    Dear Elisavet,
    on EURAXESS you currently have 16 calls for expression of interest aiming at creating first connections with suitable candidates. For more information you can consult this document and particularly page 6-7 https://ec.europa.eu/easme/sites/easme-site/files/h2020_sme_innovation_a...

  • Caroline's picture


    I do not know whether you still check this page, but I am wondering when the results will be made available. The deadline of 5 months (30 Nov) is today, but so far I have not yet been notified of the result.

    Thank you.