An Introduction to Horizon 2020 | The EU Research & Innovation Framework Program

Horizon 2020 is the framework program that delivers the EU’s 80 Billion euro budget for research and innovation. It is part of the Innovation Union’s flagship initiative which is in turn a part of the EU2020 strategy for growth and jobs. The program is focused on three key areas: ‘industrial leadership’, ‘societal challenges’ and ‘excellent science’. It replaces the current seventh framework program and runs until 2020, hence the name.

The Horizon 2020 program goes a long way to addressing the concerns surrounding its predecessor program. It aims to: streamline grant applications; provide a central point of contact of EU grant funding and roll out key elements of effective programs to ensure further improvement is made across all funding initiatives for which it will acts as an umbrella organisation.

The program states that Research and Innovation is a key driver of employment and that job creation therefore is its key aim.

Horizon 2020 will use the model utilised by the European Research Council which chooses scientific proposals to be funded based on peer review. It is widely agreed upon that ‘excellence’ must be the sole determining factor in allocating grant funding of research and the peer review system used by the ERC is widely regarded as very successful. It is not clear whether this system will be used for the access for risk finance or innovation in SME’s sections of the program budget, although this would offer an interesting alternative to relying on Government to select ‘winners’ rather than ‘losers’.

The challenge is to develop the excellent science that the EU has a reputation for into actual innovation and therefore gain the economic advantage that goes with this. This calls for an exceptionally integrated process that not only produces ‘excellent’ science but then goes on to develop products, services and jobs off the back of this. We must invest in science but we must invest too in applied science and commercialization of this science as well as funding direct innovation projects.

It has been pointed out by Christopher Hull, secretary general of Earto, that the US, China, Korea and others have clearly tipped the balance of public R&D spending towards applied research and deployment (pilots, demonstrators, first applications, etc). with China spending 58% and the US 48% while the EU lags by spending just 20%. The current economic climate, and therefore the primary concern of employment held by all the people of the EU, demands that more thought is put into determining the funding split to drive job creation. H2020 doesn’t seem to redress this balance although within the EIT (European Institute of Innovation and technology), that will receive a large portion of the funding, there seems to be recognition of the fact that many creative ideas do not make it to market partly due to a lack of entrepreneurship.

The advantage of an innovation heavy approach is that job creation is both more certain and substantially faster. Investing in high risk, substantial scientific research now is unlikely to produce any tangible jobs, other than for the scientists employed, during the life of H2020.

There is specific budgetary portions with H2020 allocated for SMEs and rightly so seeing as SME’s create 80% of new jobs through flexibility and strong innovation power. They also produce two thirds of GDP. SME are viewed as conduits to bring research results to market and H2020 seems to address the key requirements for SMEs for a program to provide a one stop shop for the whole innovation cycle. The program must have simple rules and administrative procedures and a short time to grant and in all these aspects H2020 makes significant progress. The other key requirement for SME’s is coaching and mentoring throughout the whole innovation cycle.

It is suggested that H2020 will use the US SBIR program which has been largely successful. It provides a three stage seamless process through feasibility, R&D and commercialization. Commercialisation is focused on by motivating researchers to be entrepreneurs, developing role models and coaching entrepreneurs into investment readiness.

The integration of the societal challenge element should help to provide an overall vision for the development of innovation within the EU. Hopefully this will avoid a shopping list approach that has been suggested simply helps to satisfy various stakeholders. The European commissioner on research innovation and science, Maire Geoghegan Quinn, is adamant that it is crucial the program has less curiosity driven science and more real world impact in short, she says: “We just need to get better at commercializing ideas.”

In summary, this program is a challenge of balancing funding priorities while also developing a clear strategy for ensuring that excellent science translates into superb applied science and finally successful exploitation.There is a fantastic opportunity here to spend a substantial budget for the benefit for all by facilitating a huge increase in employment across the EU. However, to maximize impact, mechanisms must be provided that ensure a joined up process and a split of funding, that allows significant capacity to exploit the available innovation and science.

This speech was given at Brussels Briefing Live 2012 by Phil Staunton of D2M Innovation | Patent, Prototype and Launch an Idea



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