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What is involved in applying for Horizon 2020 funding?


The aims and objectives of Horizon 2020 are presented in the programme document, which sets the agenda, its ambitions, the underlying philosophy and the programme structure.

Each major area of activity within Horizon 2020 has a ‘Work Programme’, which sets out the detail of the areas of interest of the Commission, the tools to be used in its delivery and a breakdown of the industrial R&D activity to be supported – the indicative programme.

The Work Programme may be updated from time to time, so this is to a degree a dynamic document.

Calls are issued at intervals by the Commission; these relate to specific action lines in the programme. Some action lines are broad and the call can cover several technology areas and use several Commission instruments (funding mechanisms), others very specifically relate to a single technology and use one funding tool.

Potential applicants for R&D funding respond to the Official Call which is published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJ). However, the rules of the game are set by the Horizon 2020 programme and the Work Programme, so that aspects of bid preparation can be anticipated.

Calls are issues approximately 3 months before the submission deadline. The call calendar is issued 18-24 months in advance, but the final legal form is that issued in the OJ.

The Commission operate an electronic submission system for which those submitting projects and their partners must register.

Once registered on the Commission system participants can access project submission templates to prepare their bid.

The bid documents require data on all participants, in particular, SME status. A top-level financial breakdown of project costs is also required.

The project description addresses three key areas: the impact, excellence and implementation. These can be broadly translated as:

  • what the intended outcome will be and how this will affect the marketplace commercially, competitively, in terms of intellectual property and the wider public;
  • the science and technology background upon which the idea is built, the demonstration of novelty and the technical methods to be used to deliver the outcome, and;
  • the management approaches to be taken in project management, risk management, the roles of the partners and specific human capital, the overall management of resources, IP management and commercialisation processes including communications.


Bids are submitted electronically before the published deadline.

Submissions are subject to a page limit; pages in excess of the limit will be watermarked on submission and the excluded pages will not be considered in the assessment process.

Bids have now reached the evaluation stage, which is made up of a basic eligibility check, a review and ranking by independent experts, and the creation of a ranked priority list of bids. From the top, successful proposals are subtracted from the nominal budget until this runs out. A proposed list is agreed. The list is ratified by the Council of Ministers and funds are released to the successful projects.

The Commission issue project contracts which include as a key annex the submitted proposal. A project once established is subject to periodic independent expert review, usually annually.

All projects must produce a final report and successfully pass a final review before the last tranche of Commission funding is released.

What is involved in applying for Horizon 2020 funding?

The Process

Given the large sums of money involved, it is not surprising that applying for a Horizon 2020 grant is not a quick process. It requires a significant amount of preparation time, followed by a lengthy evaluation and approval process, taking up to one year in some cases.

The following Process Map provides an overview of the main stages in the process and the indicative time frames relevant to the different schemes.

Process table

Allowing sufficient time for preparation is critical!

How can MSC R&D help?

Members of the MSC R&D team have been involved in EU R&D funding in a number of ways for over 15 years, i.e.:

  • Involvement in project reviews over a wide range of technical areas.
  • Contributing to work programme development with the Commission.
  • Involvement in bid evaluation over a wide range of technical areas.
  • Working with the Commission on the development of evaluation processes.


Our inside knowledge can prove invaluable when submitting an application.

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