Top 10 mistakes companies make when applying for Horizon 2020 funding

In a recent post, we covered the main tips to follow when you write a winning proposal for SME Instrument

In this post, we will address the common mistakes that we saw from evaluating more than 200 proposals.  Are you ready … here we go:

Horizon 2020 Mistakes

  1. No comparison to the state of the art – the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument aims to fund disruptive innovations that are close to the market. It is important that the proposal clearly describes the novelty of the innovation and details the advances that the proposed solution makes vs. existing state-of-the-art solutions.
  2. Not enough customer validation –Proposals often fail to convincingly present that their solution was validated with the target customers: whether through market research, pilot studies or from letters of support from potential customers or partners.
  3. No clear customer segmentation – This is a common mistake, where a proposal does not clearly present the target customers (including those who are early adopters) or the total addressable market size. Always aim at being as specific as possible on the segment that you are targeting rather than using general statements.
  4.  Not quantifying the product benefits from a customer perspective – All the companies applying for Horizon 2020 funding want to create a ‘better’ product that will ‘help customers’. However, the key is to quantify the benefits from a customer perspective for e.g. ‘Save €100,000 a year in maintenance costs’, ‘improve energy efficiency by 25%’. This demonstrates that the project is both ambitious and achievable.
  5. Poor competitor analysis – A lack of competitors will raise red flags for evaluators – perhaps there is no market for the product or perhaps the applying company hasn’t done enough market research to identify potential competitors. Always include a competitor comparison table that quantifies the advantages vs. competitors’ products.
  6. Not having a focused commercialization strategy – The commercialization strategy needs to explain how the company plans to reach the target customers: whether directly through own sales channels, indirectly through distributors or through licensing agreements.
  7. Unrealistic financial projections – Low financial estimates will raise questions on the ROI of the project. High financials estimates (for e.g. expecting to achieve a no 1 position in the market within a couple of years of the product launch) will raise questions about the validity of these estimates. Always explain how you arrived at estimates both from a bottom-up approach (number of contracts/ customers you expect to close) as well as a top-down approach (market share %).
  8. Not presenting the risks related to a successful market introduction of the innovation and a clear mitigation strategy – The proposal should always present the potential risks related to the market entry for the solution and the risks related to the project and show that there are plans in place to deal with such risks.
  9. Not describing the procedure for selecting subcontractors (for SME Instrument Phase 2 applications) – This should be based on best value for money and the proposal needs to make reference to intellectual property arrangements between the contracting parties.
  10. A work plan that lacks a thorough description of the tasks – The work plan needs to include clear deliverables with milestones and specify the ownership for each task. In the case of a consortium, every partner should be involved in a meaningful way and stand to benefit from the project outcomes.
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