The recipe for winning funding under 2020 HORIZON

The RECIPE for winning funding under 2020 Horizon

I have contributed to win more than 53 million euros over the last 3 years. During this period, 2 out of each 3 projects I desgined, wrote or co-wrote became winners in this period of time. This includes a 15 score (maximum possible score) for a couple of them. If you consider that on average, only less than 10% of the total of proposals submitted are getting funding, this is almost 7 (seven) times better than the market average. Not too bad, I guess.


Many people ask me the same question: what is the recipe for being successful under 2020 Horizon?  I think that there is not only one recipe but, believe me, it is not a matter of lottery as many losers say. I can just tell you what is my R.E.C.I.P.E., I guess that it will be similar to the recipe of other chefs, but as usual in the “haute cousine” you can expect a personal touch. The R.E.C.I.P.E. I propose has 6 essential ingredients for the secret sauce and 4 of them are common ingredients for success in business.


The 6 essential ingredients are:


  • Rationale behind the funding opportunity. You must become an expert in understanding what is the background path behind for the the official description of the “call for proposals”. This should be done in slow cooking mode. You have to read under the lines of the official documents, this means, to find out who are the policy makers and officials that are behind the topic description, talk to them, hear their speeches and discover what are the studies, reports and strategic documents that have been taken in account when describing the funding opportunity. You have to put yourself in the mindset of the people who is looking for a winning concept. Don’t forget to check the proposals that have been awarded before, if any, and to carefully assess who are the natural suspects for a winning proposal. You can use CORDIS project’s search for this purpose.


  • Evaluator Mode. You should get your Evaluator gear to cook this R.E.C.I.P.E. Be aware that being succesful means to convince the evaluators that your proposal rocks. They have been hired to interpret the rationale behind and make the choice, so, you have to put yourself all the time in the mindset of an evaluator. Think about how you can make his life easier, to understand your concept, and to decide that your proposal is the best. Read your own description with this mindset, this will help you to find the proper words and build a succesful narrative.  You can learn a bit more on the experts’ role here and there are also annual lists of experts in the “Reference documents” section of the Research & Innovation Participant Portal.


  • Consortium. You need really good partners to “cook” a winning sauce. This is not just a matter of names but of complementarity and commitment during the preparation of the proposal. It is important that you design your winning concept with a holistic view that integrates insights from science, industry, and society; from men and women; from North and South: from private investors and large corporations to SMEs and public agencies. This holistic approach should be well balanced and represented in your consortium, including the natural linkages with the current status quo you found out when you understood the Rationale behind the opportunity. In this section of the “H2020 Online Manual”, there are a number of resources to find partners (in general or in a specific field) and there’s also a partner search functionality in the Participant Portal. You can also get help from your National Contact Points and, of course, you are invited to join FundingBox’s Space for EU Projects Partners’ Search!!


  • Innovation. This is the missing link in many proposals that have failed. We are asking for funding for innovation, so INNOVATION SHOULD BE THE CORE INGREDIENT of our recipe. How you are contributing to go beyond the current status quo? What makes your approach unique and special? How will the effect of your innovation get sustained in time after the project ends? These are critical questions you must answer explictly in a convincing manner. Please, do not answer these just with personal claims, fuzzy words and opinions, you should show a good understanding of the State of the Art, what works and what does not, show the evidences of why your proposal is innovative. You can learn a bit more about disruptive innovation in this post by Harward Business Review, which was already mentioned in a previous post of this blog on SME Instrument.


  • Problem solving approach. Creating a winning proposal is a matter of how you tell the story. Many times good ideas fail just because the owners of the ideas are not good communicators. Competing for funding is also a pitch competition: who tells the best story- You should assume that the original ideas are scarce, also when you have an idea that rocks you should consider that other people in the world had the same idea before or at the same time. What change the world is the ways ideas are implemented, not just the ideas themselves. What allows you to implement your idea is that someone has been seduced by the way you told the story, not just the style, but the logic, simplicity, passion and knowledge that you showed. A good way to create a winning narrative when you look for funding, including 2020 Horizon, is to pivot everything on the problems you will solve with your project. This always contributes to get credibility to your story and to articulate all the pieces of your proposal in the right way.


  • EU dimension. 2020 Horizon is about putting Europe in a leading position in innovation. It is about connecting the talent and capabilities across Europe to achieve this goal. Therefore, you have to include the pan-European dimension in your approach. It should be clear from the very beginning that your proposal is not just good for the partners or the direct beneficiaries, but that it is also good for Europe. This means that you have to find the way to guarantee the right awareness of results. Your project will not be so signficant from a financial perspective, in the best cases you will win something between 5 to 20 Million euros for a 2 to 5 years project. This represents a drop in an ocean, however all the drops in the ocean are able to create waves. You must show how your drop will create a solid wave that can be surfed after by others that will create later their own waves on top of yours.


Last but not least, you have to use also the common ingredients fors success, meaning: a bit of Vision, Hard work, Love in everything you do, and a great Team around.


Xabi Chao




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