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The Seal of Excellence – the funding alternative for highly innovative European SMEs. March 2016 update

The “Seal of Excellence (SoE)”, is a quality label that is awarded to project proposals submitted for funding under Horizon 2020 – SME Instrument, which succeeded in passing the threshold evaluation score but could not be funded under the available Call budget. The SoE thus identifies project proposals which merit funding from alternative sources (public or private), such as the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF).

The good news. There are a few countries that have implemented funding schemes to support its innovation champions that could not be funded under the SME Instrument.

Sweden’s agency VINNOVA is in charge of establishing a “runner up” programme for Swedish SMEs that could not be funded under SME Instrument for budgetary constraints. Vinnova invites the companies that have scored 13 or above under Phase 1 to apply under a simplified application form, where applicants are not evaluated for the second time, but instead, Vinnova accepts the outcome of the Horizon 2020 evaluation. After the proposal has been granted with funding, the project will follow the same rules and reporting as all the other projects supported by Vinnova. The programme is funded by national funding.

Finland – Finnish proposals with the Seal of Excellence will receive support from TEKES (the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation), which recognizes the Seal of Excellence as a proof of an innovative business venture with high potential. Tekes actively scrutinizes the Finnish SMEs which have received the Seal. On a case-by-case basis, it seeks to build a tailor-made national funding and service package which can in the best possible manner substitute for the Horizon funding. The funding can take a form of grants, soft loans, market condition loans, venture capital or a combination of those. The challenge of offering alternative national support is mainly relevant for Phase 2 candidates.

Italythe Region of Lombardy issues vouchers with the value of €25 000 for SMEs that were positively evaluated (but not funded) under Phase 1 of the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument. Such SMEs from the Lombardy Region are encouraged to apply under a SME Voucher R&I Call at regional level, the applicants will then automatically receive the voucher, without any further evaluation, under the condition that they commit themselves to work on the feasibility study and present the project in Phase 2 of the Horizon 2020 SME instrument.
Romania – has currently launched in public consultation a funding programme for SoE project proposals, which will allow any EU-based companies (not only Romanian) that have received the SoE to get funding for their innovation project, subject to implementing the project on the Romanian market. The application and approval process in such a case would be a streamlined one. It does address however only SME Instrument Phase 2 projects, with a maximum grant per project would be EUR 750.000

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