The Seal of Excellence – the funding alternative for highly innovative European SMEs. September 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.

Czech Republic – The Brno City Municipality has set up the SME Instrument Brno programme that will assist SoE holders from Phase 1 that are located in the South Moravian region. A grant of up to EUR 50,000 is being offered, together with business coaching in order to prepare feasibility studies and create a market validation plan. In order to eligible, the SoE must be less than a year old, the SME must be based in Brno or in South Moravian Region, and the SME will be obligated to apply for phase 2 of the SME Instrument programme, if the feasibility study enables it. The call will be open until 30 April 2017, and will apply to Seal of Excellence holders from the cut-offs 1 September 2015 until 15 February 2017.

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. Furthermore, Seal of Excellence holders also receive maximum points for the ‘innovation and scientific-technological quality’ criteria in the project selection procedure of the national call for enterprise Research, Development and Innovation projects, launched in May 2016.

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 Applicant’s Guide has been approved for a soon-to-be launched funding programme targeting SoE holders. This will allow Romanian-based SMEs that have received the SoE to get funding for the implementation of their innovation project on the Romanian market. Due to the SoE, the application and approval process in such a case would be a streamlined one. It does however address only to SME Instrument Phase 2 project proposals that have obtained the SoE. Under the programme, the project duration would be up to 24 months and the maximum grant would be 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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