Gaining access to funding from the European Union is no easy matter, but success can play an essential part in helping a firm to realise its full potential.
The Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which begins on 1 January, is the next instalment of an ongoing, rolling programme of funding for scientific and technical activities that began in the mid-1980s. From January there will be 25 EU member states and a number of associated nations are all looking to attract a share of the €50bn (£34bn) on offer.
There is a substantial amount of money available over the next seven years for collaborative research and development projects, because European co-operation is the cornerstone of the programme.
Among the high-level themes identified as priorities by the EU are health, energy, transport, the environment, security and new production technologies.
Successful applicants are more likely to be those who take into account the underlying EU philosophy, which is to fend off competition from the US, Japan and, more recently, China and India. Europeans collaborating to develop superior technology is deemed the best way forward. This reflects the fact that the ‘knowledge economy’ is essential for Europe’s continued growth.
FP7 funding is available to all — academia, industry, conglomerates, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and individuals. The common denominator is innovation, from the cutting-edge development of new technologies to the previously untried application of existing ones. This broad spectrum is one of the attractions of the FP7 programme. It is not confined to scientists in laboratories, but is open to industry too.
The requirement to collaborate with other European companies may be daunting to some, but this should be seen as an opportunity to establish new partners and exploit new markets. Assistance is offered through national representatives and contact points, which provide support to UK applicants.
Details of help available can be found here. Beta Technology of Doncaster is part of that support network working in the UK. And as one of the current DTI contract holders for FP6 national contact point support it is an expert in matching businesses, technologies and grants, having been involved in the programme since 1992.
The key to any application is to keep it simple while at the same time demonstrating an understanding of the European dimension of the programme. The inclusion of scientific and technical details, costings, and the whys and wherefores of the project’s consortium, including what role each partner has in the project, are also essential.
The window of opportunity to access funding is short. We anticipate the first calls for proposals will come within the next few weeks — the end of 2006 or just into the New Year. Once those calls arrive, most national representatives will hold awareness-raising activities on a regional and national basis.
Within the programme there is a popular, well-established mechanism for SMEs to apply for funding. Small businesses are seen as immensely important to the EU, which is very keen to smooth the way for these companies to access world-class research facilities to develop their own technologies, while retaining the intellectual property rights.
Applications for funding in this seventh tranche are set to be the most competitive yet. Expert guidance is a must when putting together a proposal, which will be evaluated by independent experts appointed by the European Commission.
The proposal is in effect a sales pitch. While it is possible to submit an application without using the national contact points, it should be remembered that these representatives add value through their proven expertise. For newcomers the success rate of proposals made through national contact points is significantly higher than those without.
But this exercise is not just about chasing the cash. There are immeasurable long-term benefits to be gained — the prestige of involvement in a European project, access to European markets and the forging of beneficial business partnerships.
Richard Wrigley is managing director of Beta Technology.
The European Union is offering vast funds for collaborative projects in the fields of science and technology, says Richard Wrigley.