Research & Innovation - Participant Portal


TOPIC : European SME innovation Associate - pilot

Topic identifier: INNOSUP-02-2019-2020
Publication date: 27 October 2017

Types of action: CSA Coordination and support action
Opening date:
multiple cut-off
16 October 2018
Cut-off dates: 17 January 2019 17:00:00

Time Zone : (Brussels time)
  Horizon 2020 H2020 website
Pillar: Industrial Leadership
Work Programme Year: H2020-2018-2020
Topic Updates
  • 19 October 2018 17:14


    Dear applicants,

    part A of the submission form includes a field "Fixed keyword 1".

    In this field, you are kindly required identify one single area that best describes the sector of economic activity of your proposed project. If your project stretches over several sectors, please select the predominant one of the one that is most relevant.

    Please be careful to provide correct information in this field and make sure you do not leave it open. The information you are expected to provide there is very important for the evaluation. The available sectors are:

    • Agriculture, rural development, fisheries
    • Biotechnology
    • Construction, civil engineering, infrastructures
    • Consumer products and services
    • Cultural and creative economy
    • Earth and related environmental sciences
    • Energy
    • Engineering and technology
    • Food and beverages
    • Health
    • Information and communication technology (ICT)
    • Security
    •  Space
    • Transport and mobility

    Kind regards and many thanks for your information.

  • 18 October 2018 17:22


    Dear applicants,

    part A of the submission form includes a field "Fixed keyword 1".

    In this field, you are kindly required identify one single area that best describes the sector of economic activity of your proposed project.

    Please be careful to provide correct information in this field and make sure you do not leave it open. The information you are expected to provide there is very important for the evaluation.

    Kind regards and many thanks for your information.

Topic Description
Specific Challenge:

The lack of access to skills, to latest knowledge and capacity to manage innovation processes effectively, have been identified as major barriers for innovation in SMEs. Individual SMEs are at a disadvantage to recruit specialised knowledge as they often lack Europe-wide networking connections and do not tend to have established brands as large enterprises. Enterprise-led mobility programmes, supporting enterprises in recruiting expertise, show a high level of satisfaction and return on investment. This methodology is not currently used at European level and this enterprise-led approach is to be further developed and tested, using the first experiences of this pilot action financed by the work programme 2016-2017. This action complements Marie Skłodowska Curie actions (MSCA) which focus on developing research careers, by providing additional work opportunities for experienced researchers in innovating SMEs.

This action is a continuation of the pilot action which is part of the Innovation in SMEs work programme 2016-2017. The first "innovation associates" supported by the 2016-2017 pilot are expected to start working in SMEs from September 2017 onwards. The detailed provisions and the conditions of the action in 2019-2020 are therefore subject to revision based on the conclusions from the first pilot, including the findings of the accompanying study to INNOSUP-02-2016 that will be conducted in parallel to INNOSUP-02-2016.


This SME-led pilot is an innovation capacity building action to provide a grant at European level to visionary[1] SMEs who can demonstrate that the skills required for a particular innovation idea are not within reach for them at national level (for example because the required skills are not available or not affordable for SMEs). SMEs are supported to employ a highly-skilled experienced researcher (referred to as an 'innovation associate') for a continuous period of one year. The innovation associate's task will be to explore, during the course of his/her contract, the potential of their innovative idea and turn it into an innovation project.

SMEs are highly encouraged to publish a vacancy notice for highly specialised skills before submitting a proposal. SMEs deciding to do so must use the EURAXESS portal for this purpose. Any other relevant platforms and media are optional. This will help them liaise with potentially interested specialists and to assess the attractiveness of the proposed package in order to fine-tune their application to the pilot. SMEs would indicate in the vacancy notice their intention to apply for support under the Innovation Associate action[2] and, if applicable, any conditionality of the job offer on the award of a grant. SMEs are free to sign a contract to recruit immediately interested specialists; this would however prevent them from receiving a grant under the pilot action.

The evaluation of proposals will focus on the demonstrated benefits of recruiting transnationally i.e. the impact for the SME to get access to skills not available on the national labour market; the excellence and impact of the innovative idea, as well as the coherence and effectiveness of the recruitment plan which should offer the same opportunities for male/female candidates.

SMEs that will receive a grant will be obliged to advertise their vacancy on EURAXESS, unless a contract with an innovation associate has already been signed in line with the provisions above. They are also encouraged to publish the vacancy notice on any other relevant platform or media, with a clear indication that the grant was awarded.

SMEs who are awarded a grant are obliged to employ an "innovation associate" for a continuous period of one year[3]. The innovation associate's tasks shall be to identify the potential of the company's innovation idea with the objective and turn it into an innovation project and - hopefully - a continuation of the employment of the innovation associate.

During these 12 months of employment, every associate is requested to participate in a core training programme on industrial innovation and business management[4]. Also during that period, SMEs get financial support to implement a training and development plan specifically for the associate, tailored to the needs of the associate and the enterprise to make the associate fully operational in the company. Proposals shall outline how the proposed tailored training contributes to this end and why it is necessary within the context of the innovation idea and the tasks of the innovation associate.

In line with the orientation of the action and with the aim to accelerate the integration of the associate in the company's staff, the following costs shall be eligible for reimbursement under the grant:

  • Personnel costs of the associate.
  • Relocation costs of the associate, which may include removal cost, travel cost of the associate and his/her immediate family (if applicable) to the new place of employment, visa cost (if applicable), translation cost of certificates (if applicable), a temporary transition allowance to cover extra cost upon arrival in the place of employment, as well as other clearly justified expenditure directly related to relocation.
  • Travel and subsistence costs of the associate to the core training programme and travel and subsistence for tailored training (as described in the personal development plan). Travel cost and subsistence for the supervisor may be eligible for up to two training sessions.
  • Travel and subsistence cost for the innovation associate and the supervisor in the enterprise to one kick-off meeting in Brussels (one day), organised by the European Commission[5].
  • External cost for the tailored training of the associate (for example course fees or other cost required to implement the training and development plan). Activities that fall under normal induction training[6] for any new employee in a company will not be eligible under this call.

Other costs like recruitment costs or travel costs to action-specific workshops by the supervisor in the enterprise are covered by the flat rate indirect cost.

Any cost not directly related to the employment and training of the innovation associate - for example cost of research, dissemination or promotion activities and other cost relating to the actual implementation of the innovation idea/project - are not eligible under this call.

It is intended to support an indicative total number of 115 assignments from the indicative budget. These will be spread over two cut-offs, one for projects starting in 2019 and one for projects starting in 2020.

The following criteria will have to be met by the associate: i) PhD holder, ii) an expertise in line with the job requirements as outlined in the vacancy notice; iii) compliance with transnational mobility criteria as defined in the mobility rule of the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions (MSCA)[7].

As the purpose of this pilot is to test the concept with a variety and diversity of SMEs, SMEs which have received a grant under the previous pilot action carried out in 2017/2018 (work programme 2016/2017) are not eligible under this call.

The preferred start date of the innovation associates' employment is in September of the year following the call opening in order to align the timing of the action with the academic year. The execution of the action will start on the starting date of the associates' employment (exact date to be determined during the grant preparation phase).

In case of non-execution, the Commission reserves the right to terminate the grant agreement according to the provisions of the General mono-beneficiary grant agreement for the Horizon 2020 programme.

The innovation associates are expected to be offered employment contracts or equivalent by the hosting SMEs. In return, the innovation associates must commit to a full-time position, for the full duration of the grant.

To promote the pilot, innovating SMEs experiencing skills shortages will be contacted by Enterprise Europe Network innovation consultants who are able to provide assistance in formulating a vacancy notice to address the identified skills shortages.

An accompanying study[8] will evaluate the impact of the 2016-2017 pilot action and the satisfaction levels of awarded SMEs and associates as well as of a sample of SMEs who were not awarded a grant. The study will provide outcomes and recommendations for this second phase of the pilot, based on the factual evidence from benefiting SMEs and associates in the first phase.

Expected Impact:

Test that:

  • An idea can be transformed into an innovation strategy and a subsequent research and innovation projects once SMEs have access to the right skills;
  • Public intervention at European level, can support innovating SMEs to overcome challenges in accessing scarce skills through a transnational mobility mechanism, increase their innovation potential;
  • Experienced researchers develop appealing career opportunities in SMEs
Cross-cutting Priorities:


[1]Vision: 'A statement about what the organisation wants to achieve in terms of innovation. The vision should set a direction and a challenge that can inspire persons to commit and work towards, be sufficiently ambitious and not constrained by the organisation's current abilities, provide a target against which progress can be measured.' See Innovation management standard CEN/TS 16555-1 (July 2013)

[2]On EURAXESS, such vacancy notice will be in the form of a ‘call for expression of interest’ and will be made available both at the ‘Jobs & Funding’ section of the EURAXESS portal and its ‘Partnering’ one, which promotes the matching between EURAXESS users’ offer and demand of collaboration (in multiple forms). It will outline clearly the type of contract, and the employment package (salary and conditions, relocation support).

[3]Subject to agreement between the SME and the innovation associate, the employment contract may exceed 12 months. However, the grant awarded under this action will only cover the first 12 months of the employment, starting from the entry into force of the grant agreement.

[4]See in 'Other actions'

[5]The organisation of such a meeting is subject to confirmation by the European Commission at a later stage.

[6]For example, team building, introduction to the company's IT tools, structures, personnel cost of existing SME staff acting as mentor, etc.

[7]Reference to the MSCA mobility rule will be provided at call opening.

[8]As part of the 2016-2017 workprogramme;

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. 


Applicants must be single SMEs[[By the nature of the action itself, this action is limited to individual SMEs as it aims to enhance the innovation

capacity of individual SMEs lacking skills to turn an innovative idea into an innovation project. For the EU definition, please see:]].

Any beneficiary may not get more than one grant within this call topic. In case an applicant submits more than one proposal, only the last submitted proposal will be considered for evaluation.

SMEs which have received a grant under the previous pilot action carried out in 2017/2018 (work programme 2016/2017) are not eligible under this call.

Only applications from SMEs established in the EU Member States or countries associated to Horizon 2020 are eligible[[This action's objective is to enhance the innovation capacity of SMEs within the European Union and associated countries by giving them access to the right skills through a transnational mobility mechanism.]].

The applications must include a recruitment plan, the draft job description, the vacancy notice text for the associate as well as an advertisement plan (Euraxess, other media). The vacancy notice must also give a clear indication of the type of contract and of the remuneration package. The application must contain a declaration of honour that the vacancy has not been filled upon submission of the application.

The application should include a clear description of the associate's position in the organisation of the company.

Proposals are not required to provide a draft plan for exploitation and dissemination.

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

Part B of submitted proposala must not exceed 10 pages.


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: Ambition and innovation potential for the SME from the filled vacancy, eventually leading to radical innovations in the SME

Impact: Demonstrated inability to recruit the required skills on the national labour market.

Quality and efficiency of implementation: Coherence and effectiveness of the recruitment and personal development plan.

The following aspects will not be considered:

Excellence: "Soundness of the concept, and credibility of the proposed methodology".

Impact: "Quality of the proposed measures to exploit and disseminate the project results (including management of IPR), and to manage research data where relevant".

Quality and efficiency of implementation: "Appropriateness of the management structures and procedures" and "Complementarity of the participants and extent to which the consortium as whole brings together the necessary expertise".

4. Indicative time for evaluation and grant agreements:

Information on the outcome of evaluation (single-stage call): maximum 5 months from the deadline for submission.
Signature of grant agreements: maximum 8 months from the deadline for submission.


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

Members of the consortium are required to conclude a consortium agreement in principle prior to the signature of the grant agreement, except for actions under the following topics: INNOSUP-02-2019-2020 European SME innovation Associate - pilot (as the action supports single beneficiaries) and INNOSUP-05-2018-2017-2020: Peer learning of innovation agencies (as the actions provides very small grants for activities implemented in a given format, with a result in the public domain).

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

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To access the Electronic Sumission Service, please click on the submission-button next to the type of action that corresponds to your proposal. You will then be asked to confirm your choice of the type of action and topic, as these cannot be changed in the submission system. Upon confirmation, you will be linked to the correct entry point.

To access existing draft proposals for this topic, please login to the Participant Portal and select the My Proposals page of the My Area section.

Type of Action Coordination & support action [CSA]
Topic European SME innovation Associate - pilot - INNOSUP-02-2019-2020
Guidance on proposal submission: H2020 online manual
IT Guidance: IT help

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H2020 Online Manual is your guide on the procedures from proposal submission to managing your grant.

Participant Portal FAQ – Submission of proposals. (For specific FAQs relating to the INNOSUP-02 call, please search for the tag "INNOSUP-02")

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