How to approach European funding?
To most project initiators accessing EU funding might appear as a very time consuming and difficult task. And sometimes even the most enthusiastic founders would not know where to start and which financing opportunities there are.
European Union funding is a financial contribution the European Commission makes to a public or private organization. It comes either in the form of a payment for supply of goods, implementation of works or provision of services, or in the form of a grant. Depending on the scope of your activity you can choose from various types of funding from EU. The objectives of your project shall as well be a main criteria when looking for a specific type of financing.
Direct financial contribution comes in the form of grants. This means the European Commission financially supports projects and organisations which contribute to the implementation of an EU programme. A great example of an EU funded project is the “Amsterdam Smart City (ASC)” project. ASC’s aim is to test new technologies that save energy and then make them available to people and businesses in the Amsterdam region. ASC acted as a catalyst for new innovations in the field of smart energy technologies. Within the project over 50 private firms (multinationals and SMEs) worked together with TNO (Dutch Knowledge Institute, a public independent research institute), Housing Cooperations and the Municipality (read more here).
If the policies show the EU’s focus areas, the programmes are their translation into actionable plans.”
Besides the grants, the Commission also uses public contracts to buy in goods and services such as studies, technical assistance and training, or consultancy, conference and publicity services to ensure the operations of EU institutions or programmes. Following a contract notice opened in March 2014, a collaboration between nine organisations from across Europe will work over the next two years to animate and grow the Social Innovation Europe (SIE) community. SIX and AEIDL will lead this work and collaborate with Euclid Network, Young Foundation, EMES, Nesta, Groupe SOS, Partners Albania and the Danish Technological Institute to expand the SIE network, facilitate more cross-border collaborations and projects, share knowledge and provide key insights into the sector. An example for this kind of support from European Union is Social Innovation Europe, an initiative funded by the European Commission’s DG Enterprise and Industry that launched in March 2011 as a collaborative hub. It was set up for the purpose of helping organisations across Europe to connect, learn from each other and share best practices of social innovation (read more here).
The flags of EUFrom European Union policies to budgeted projects
The EU funding programmes reflect European Union’s main policy directions and priorities for funding. If the policies show the EU’s focus areas, the programmes are their translation into actionable plans. Each programme has an allocated global budget for a seven years period. Year by year, annual work plans announce main calls for projects to be launched under a specific programme, and their estimated budgets for implementation. Two well know programmes for the current 2014 – 2020 period are Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+.
Provided with about three billion euros in funding, Horizon 2020’s dedicated SME Instrument encourages for-profit SMEs to put forward their most innovative ideas with an EU dimension. The instrument aims to fill gaps in funding for high-risk innovation and close-to-market activities to give a strong boost to breakthrough innovation. It targets highly innovative SMEs with a strong ambition to develop, grow and internationalise. It covers the whole innovation cycle, the focus being on delivery of new products, services or processes on the market. Only SMEs are eligible for funding, and can decide how best to organise a project or with whom to collaborate, including through subcontracting of tasks if they lack in-house capabilities. In order to boost market relevance and foster commercialisation of project results, also single SMEs can apply for support.
Key steps to a successfully EU-funded project
Faced with a wide range of financing opportunities, what are the steps towards building a successfully EU-funded project? Firstly, get familiar with EU’s Policy priorities, identify and understand the most appropriate programmes, but do not conceive projects solely based on a funding opportunity. Better focus on shaping your project first and go back to the identified suitable funding at a later stage.
Do not conceive projects solely based on a funding opportunity. Better focus on shaping your project first.”
Then, if you have come to the point when you have your project idea on the table and are already looking for solutions to respond to one or more of the pressing socio-economic problems in your community, your country or your region make sure you answer to the “Why?”, “What are the objectives?”, “Whom does the project address?”, “How?”, “With whom?”, “Where?”, “What shall be the results?”, “What is the final impact of your project?” questions when drafting the first identity of your project. Large part of the information contained in your answers can already be included in your application form. After that you can work on developing the application further to fine-tune it with specific objectives and priority actions of a specific call for projects – the “Call for Proposal” in the case of a grant, and “Call for Tender” in the case of a public contract. The Commission shall assess your project by its relevance, feasibility and sustainability.
European Union funding is the way in which the European Commission shows its commitment towards the implementation of key policy areas. These are mostly the results of a public dialogue with private and public organizations and individuals. As diverse as the socio-economic fields the EU funding supports as financing mechanism, it also has diverse rules of implementation that can be mastered through a step by step approach.
About the author:
Madalina Serban is a mid-career switcher, an NGO founder and an aspiring social business owner. Born in Romania, she lived, worked and studied in Bucharest, Vienna and Brussels. She left her corporate international career in digital marketing in 2011 in Vienna, started her own individual coursework in social development in Kathmandu, Nepal and back to Europe she completed a master in European Studies in Brussels in 2012. She is currently working as an EU Funding consultant within the social entrepreneurship sector in Vienna.