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

The “Seal of Excellence (SoE)” is a quality label that is awarded to submitted Horizon 2020 – SME Instrument project proposals that succeeded in passing the threshold evaluation score of 13 points but could not be funded under the available Call budget. The SoE thus identifies project proposals that deserve 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.

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

Hungary – Similarly, the Hungarian National Research, Development and Innovation Office has launched a call that will support Phase 1 project proposals with the SoE to obtain funding. This is aimed at developing the feasibility studies in order to submit a Phase 2 project proposal of the SME Instrument. The call will remain open until the budget of HUF 60 million has been fully awarded to projects.

Italy – The Region of Lombardy has launched its July 2016 call for SMEs that were positively evaluated (but not funded) under Phase 1 of the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument. The Lombardy Region is currently issuing EUR 30,000 vouchers for developing a business plan and feasibility studies. However, only SMEs from the Lombardy Region that submitted their project proposals between September 2015 and September 2016 and thereafter received the SoE are eligible to apply for the vouchers. Eligible applicants will automatically receive the voucher, without any further evaluation, on 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 – The only country that allows any EU-based company (not only Romanian) that has received the SoE to obtain funding for their innovation project. This is on the condition that the project is implemented on the Romanian market, via a local legal entity (direct subsidiary or partner company). The application and approval process in such a case would be a streamlined one. It does however address only to SME Instrument Phase 2 projects, and it awards a maximum grant of EUR 2.5m per project.

Spain – The Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and Spanish Innovation Agency (CDTI) have launched a funding programme called “HorizontePYME” for Phase 1 project proposals with the SoE. The 2015 call had a budget of EUR 8.6m and targeted project proposals submitted under the SME Instrument in 2014 and in mid-March and mid-June of 2015. Considering that the initial success of the programme in 2015, where 220 applications were submitted within its two weeks and 136 projects were selected a couple of months later, the programme has been maintained for 2016. The 2016 call has a budget EUR 3.7m and targets project proposals submitted in 2015 and 2016. The call closed on May 28 2016 and the applications are currently under evaluation.

Sweden – The VINNOVA agency 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 companies that have scored 13 or above under Phase 1 to apply with simplified application form, since 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 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.

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