How alumni of Kyiv Polytechnic Institute won €1.2 mln grant: raising EU Horizon funds for breakthrough innovations

 

It has been two years since Ukraine joined the biggest research-funding programme in Europe. Under the Horizon 2020 programme, Ukrainian institutions and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) have raised almost €12 million for research and innovation.

The Ukrainian information and communications technology company, Polyteda Cloud, was selected as one of ten companies out of 259 applicants to receive Horizon funding. In 2016, Polyteda Cloud won a grant of €1.2 million to develop innovative software for circuit verification and the company is now leveraging its breakthrough technology in the semiconductor microelectronics industry.

The Horizon grant will allow Polyteda Cloud to further develop its product, increase revenues, generate jobs and break into the international PV market (physical verification of semiconductor design), which is currently estimated at $1.6 billion.

What successes has Ukraine enjoyed so far as part of Horizon 2020? Can it do even better? Gorazd Weiss, the head of the department for research policy and development at the Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI) in Austria provides some insight. He is currently responsible for coordinating the LINKS2UA project, aimed at highlighting H2020 opportunities for Ukrainian researchers and innovators.

In short, what is Horizon 2020?

Horizon 2020 is the largest EU programme for research and innovation with a budget of around €79 billion. It consists of three pillars: research and innovation, coordination and support, and the SME programme.

Ukraine has participated as an associated country in H2020 since March 2015.  As an associated country, Ukraine can benefit from all of the programme components on equal terms with EU member states.

Who benefits from it?

There is a wide range of beneficiaries: individual researchers, industries and Smes focusing on innovation, civil society organisations addressing societal challenges, higher education institutions dealing with research, and national contact points (NCPs) that provide advice to H2020 applicants.

The important thing about Horizon 2020 is that it is not just about research, but bringing the results of research projects to the market. It’s about cooperation between researchers and SMEs to create more jobs and get the economy growing. Overall, Horizon 2020 is about improving the lives of citizens in participating countries.

The programme seems quite competitive. Are there any tips to succeed in H2020?

First, find EU partners with a good profile. To win a grant, applicants should form a consortium with relevant European organisations with top expertise.

There are many preparatory meetings, and scientific and brokerage events in the EU that are good opportunities to find project partners. There are travel grants or project preparatory grants available to cover part of travel expenditures. Under the LINKS2UA project, we provide project preparatory grants for the best Ukrainian Horizon applicants.

Second, applicants must have an innovative idea. One of the most common mistakes applicants make is lacking innovation in their projects. They may have a good research idea, but that doesn’t always mean it is an innovative one. Projects need to involve something new. A novel approach and added value are very important for Horizon 2020.

The NCPs network also can help applicants by providing information and assisting with technical requirements (legal advice, budget preparations, etc.).

We also organise regular training sessions on Horizon 2020 in Kyiv, Lviv, and Kharkiv. Participation in these events is open to everyone and we provide detailed information on how to apply for Horizon funding.

How many Ukrainian applicants have received Horizon grants?

Between 2014 and March 2017, Ukrainian organisations submitted 715 projects proposals to Horizon (before 2015, Ukraine participated in H2020 as a third country).

Under the programme, 69 Ukrainian institutions have received 11.99 million, which is already a lot of success. At the same time, this number is quite modest when compared to EU member states like UK, Germany, and Spain, whose grants amount to hundreds of millions of euro.

We are monitoring Ukraine’s participation and there was an increase in number of proposals submitted. We have conducted a number of promotional activities and training sessions in Ukraine, but it is a big country so not everyone may be aware yet of the H2020 opportunities. Ukraine’s potential is actually much higher.

We analysed these indicators in relation to the country’s potential (GDP, population, and number of researchers), and the results show that Ukraine is falling short of its potential. The country requires further reforms to create more favourable conditions for cooperation between science and industry and with European and worldwide partners.

What types of Ukrainian organisations are most active in applying for H2020?

The majority of Ukrainian participants selected for funding are from the private sector, research organisations, and higher education institutions.

Could you provide some examples of Ukrainian H2020 projects? What is the added value of these projects?

A recent example is a project involving the pharmaceutical company, Farmak, and the Institute of Organic Chemistry of the National Academy of Sciences. They joined a project consortium with a grant of €990,000 to develop smart drug-vector nanostructures to fight cancer or protozoan parasite-infected cells. This research is expected to boost the European pharmaceutical industry and contribute to advances in health care.

The Ukrainian Agribusiness Club is a part of another Horizon-winning consortium with a total budget of €5.9 million. The consortium works on developing integrated biomass logistics centres for the agro-industry. Eventually, this project will help to contribute to employment stability, decreasing reliance on seasonal jobs, and rural development.

The Truskavets-based International Clinic of Rehabilitation joined its research with a Horizon grant to create therapeutic games for children suffering from cerebral palsy. The project is also planning to develop a business plan to bring these games to the market.

As you can see, these are examples of diverse market-oriented research, but they all have the common goal of improving peoples’ lives.

Could you explain a specific part of H2020, the European Research Council?

The European Research Council (ERC) provides funding for top researchers of any nationality, age or gender, to conduct research in Europe. ERC grants are a separate component under Horizon 2020 to encourage high quality research. This is also a good opportunity for Ukraine, but Ukrainian scientists are not currently very active in applying for ERC funding.

With an ERC Starting Grant, a researcher can get up to 1.5 million for five years of research. There are no limitations or required themes to apply for this grant; the only criterion is the scientific excellence of the researcher and his/her proposal.

To apply to the ERC, Ukrainian scientists should have equivalent of a European PhD, which is a doctor of science. More information on ERC in Ukraine is available at the NCP of the Ministry of Education and Science.

 

Background information on ERC:

Since 2007, 5,000 researchers from 626 host institutions in 32 countries across Europe received ERC grants totalling around €9 billion. Beyond Europe, ERC grant holders are mainly nationals of the US (171), Canada (41), Russia (33), Australia (29), India (25), and Japan (18).

ERC funding contributes to job creation, as 40,000 researchers and other professionals are employed in ERC teams, including 9,000 PhD and 14,000 post-doc researchers.

 

Useful links

Horizon 2020 – General overview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CimJI88c4fE

List of Horizon 2020 projects: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-sections-projects

European Research Council official webpage: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-section/european-research-council

ERC general overview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ss3t54qrt6A

National Contact Points in Ukraine official webpage:  http://h2020.com.ua/uk/