Receiving a notification from the H2020 project portal stating that you’re a invited to start the negotiation phase is, well how can I say this, rather rare. First thought: another spam from a random consultancy. I nearly dropped it in my trash bin. Luckily, I did not. Because this email did not only congratulate on our success, it also explained the details of the official negotiation process. Without that description we would have been lost in all of the abbreviations and sub portals.
Once we realized what happened, we have felt very proud to be among the chosen few. It has been satisfying to see that at the end of the day, all endeavors paid off and the efforts of our teams have not been in vain. But why were we successful? Due to the intensive competition in H2020 proposals (success rates between 6-11%), there is not one real winning formula. In fact, the only thing we did has been to stick to some rules. At least this yielded another H2020 winning proposal some weeks after the first one…..
- Treat the reader of your proposal as a human being.
I know, the jury always consists of world-leading experts in their field. But do not forget: they do all the assessment work additionally to their actual profession. That means: they might be tired, they might have only 10 min left to assess your proposal. Do not annoy them further in a situation like this! Having typos, a poor layout, a collection of shallow buzz words and a project idea that nobody understands except you is a 100% guarantee to end up on pile B.
- Choose your topic wisely: address the scope of the call as comprehensively as possible. But be specific. Focus on one concrete application or potential product. Especially when you are dealing with a platform technology: do not try to save the world by offering too many potential outcomes. Describe your outcome rather as a process: once you have accomplished the main product, a variety of promising and attractive opportunities becomes reachable. The only thing needed to unlock this marvelous potential is work described in the project proposal.
- Present a concrete solution that needs to be further developed. Usually, H2020 projects do not focus on basic research. This program has a clear application focus. So, do not describe an explorative approach (“we have to test so many things, and after that, we could investigate even more cool questions …”). Again, be specific and describe how a given effect or prior result can be further developed into one concrete application (having the potential to enter several other fields afterwards). The expected TRL scale helps you to determine the degree of maturity you are expected to describe / reach.
- Spend at least one day before submission at optimizing the very first two pages (abstract and introduction). They determine whether someone continues reading (pile A) or puts your proposal away (pile B). These pages shall raise the interest of the reader and shall give them the feeling that the rest of the proposal a) fully complies with the call’s features and b) the guys behind the proposal know what they are doing. These pages are not supposed to elucidate every detail of the technology background.
- Test the submission technique well in advance. Do not rely that the H2020 participant portal is waiting for you to upload your proposal twenty seconds to five. By the way: did you check your time zone?
- Be personal. That does not mean you should present your idea in a too informal, colloquial way. But add some decent photos of the key team members. Explain why your team is experienced enough to deliver the results at a given pint of time and with a limited budget. Do not make things up, in case you haven’t attended any fancy project management seminar before, explain in plain words how you have achieved this in your career so far (doctoral thesis) and why this holds true for the project as well.
- Be unique in an adequately stylish way. You do not need to come up with silly colours and / or even hard-to-pronounce project acronyms. Design your proposal with your own “corporate identity”. Use some unobtrusive colors: grey white and blue are okay. But what about light grey, light brown and light blue? This also looks fine.
These hints have helped us to evaluate our proposals each time before we submit it. Of course, not every application was a success, but those which were successful, were created using these rules.