Ukrainians are in play! How our innovators got millions from the EU

Ukrainians are in play! How our innovators got millions from the EU

In 2015, it became possible for the innovators and scientists from Ukraine to participate in the European Union grant program Horizon 2020 in full measure, along with Europeans. The Innovation House found out, what projects Europe is ready to give money for, how Ukrainians can get into the program and how to increase their chances of success.

In March 2015, Ukraine signed a political part of the Association Agreement with the European Union. Almost at the same time, our country became an associate member of the EU Horizon 2020 Framework Programme, and Ukrainians have gained the full right to participate in it on the same conditions as people from the EU countries.


Three years have not passed useless for our innovators. According to the results of 457 rounds of the application submission for the competition, 1,333 project proposals from 579 Ukrainian companies and institutions were received. The total expected project financing amounted to more than €357 million. But in the end, only 97 Ukrainian organizations (about 16.75%) and 98 projects received support.

The total funding of €17.88 million allocated to Ukrainians amounted to only 0.06% of the total budget of Horizon 2020 and 0.89% of the funds provided to participants from Associated countries. In this sense, Ukraine is no exception. The Horizon 2020 program involves one hundred and fifty countries, but the lion’s share of the overall budget goes to the representatives of the 15 states that form the backbone of the EU. These are the countries that were part of the European Union on 1 January 1995: Austria, Belgium, United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, France and Sweden. During the program existence innovators from these countries received about 87.5% of its total budget — as much as €27.58 billion of €31.51 billion.

Ukrainians are in play! How our innovators got millions from the EU

Ukraine did not lag behind: our country ranks seventh among all the associate members of the program in terms of the number of participants and the volume of funds received. Ukraine is four times ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina and five times ahead of Moldova.

What does the EU finances?

There are 37 NCPs (national contact points) in Ukraine that accept applications and advise innovators on different areas of the program. The head of one of them, Tayisiya Symochko, told the Innovation House, that one can apply to Horizon 2020 in three categories: “Excellent Science”, “Societal Challenges” and “Industrial Leadership.”

“Excellent Science” covers the works by talented scientists and researchers, engaged in the field of promising technologies (if very briefly). The category “Industrial Leadership” includes business projects in the field of space and nanotechnology, IT and telecommunications, new materials and production processes. Projects that deal with issues of environmental protection, food safety, climate change and are trying to solve other problems of modern society, are in the third category — “Societal Challenges”. The more precisely the project meets the interests of the EU in the field of science and innovation, the more likely it is to get support — Europe likes practicality. The commission also assesses the project team: a “scientific” project without scientists or a project that needs commercialization, but without a marketer in the team, will not pass the expertise.


According to the results of the 457 rounds, among 97 Ukrainian organizations that received funding guarantees, 44 belong to business (they received €9.52 million for their projects), 24 are research institutions (funding amount is €3.92 million), and 19 are higher education institutions (€3.13 million).

Ukrainians are in play! How our innovators got millions from the EU

Record budgets of Ukraine

The SME-company Polyteda Cloud became the Ukrainian record-holder for raising funds — in 2016 it gained €1.22 million under Horizon 2020 for its “cloud” project of physical control for the production of semiconductors.


Among Ukrainian consortia (and Ukrainian projects in general), the largest amount of funding was received by developers of a new generation of aviation engines. A group of domestic institutions engaged in the aerospace industry — Motor Sich JSC, SE “Ivchenko-Progress” and M. Ie. Zhukovsky National Aerospace University “Kharkiv Aviation Institute” — obtained almost €1.7 million for the development of a modeling methodology for a bearing chamber in a hot environment (aircraft engine). The project is currently being implemented by the European Union within the framework of the European Clean Sky 2 initiative aimed at improving the environmental friendliness of civil aviation — through reducing harmful emissions and airborne noise.

Ukrainian science on the “Horizon”

Within the framework of Horizon 2020, Ukrainian organizations are most effective in the SGA-RIA program (Research and Innovation Actions — activity aimed at the achievement of new knowledge), as well as in MSCA-COFUND-DP and MSCA-IF-GF (Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions program, aimed at supporting researchers at all stages of their career, regardless of their age and nationality).


Semen Yesylevskyy, a leading researcher of the Department of Physics of Biological Systems of the Institute of Physics of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, told the Innovation House about his experience in obtaining a grant within the Horizon 2020 program. The project of his team became the first international project within the framework of Horizon 2020, in which Ukraine acted as the coordinator.

According to Semen Yesylevskyy, the Staff Exchange project type (the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions program) is one of the most accessible for Ukrainian researchers. In particular, in their international project, France, Latvia, Estonia — from the EU, and partners from the USA and Brazil participate along with Ukraine (which is the coordinator). The team received funding for scientific trips to the partners outside the EU (i.e., to the United States and Brazil) for a period of at least one month. Such projects are not popular in Europe, which reduces competition and increases the chance to get a grant.


How do Ukrainians get funding?

In view of his own experience of participating in Horizon 2020 Semen Yesylevskyy noted that the weak point of Ukrainian projects is not in their scientific part, but in poorly written administrative and organizational sections of the project.

— The style and vocabulary of these sections are very specific and fundamentally different from domestic Ukrainian grants, to which many people are used to. As in any bureaucracy, there may be no logic and there may be completely nontrivial nuances that are nowhere explicitly described and explained.

It should be understood that for evaluation of European projects, the experts have a certain checklist, according to which they put grades for the administrative part, up to the fact that there should be specific phrases and figures of speech in the text for which they put a “plus”.

In Europe, universities and research institutes have special offices where project managers work — people specially trained to write such bureaucratic texts correctly. We have nothing like that, so our scientists have to learn from their own mistakes, until they are able to correctly understand the requirements for the administrative sections of the grant (which is often not easy) and to write them correctly (which is even more complicated).


Repetition is the mother of learning

Semen Yesylevskyy notes that for grants like MSCA, the normal practice is to re-submit an application in case of a refusal by the commission. After the first rejection it is necessary to carefully analyze all the comments of the reviewers (they are provided together with the final grade) and next year to submit a re-application, rewriting all the problem sections.

“In principle, a project of any type can be re-submitted, — says Tayisiya Symochko. — But with thematic projects, this is a bit more complicated than with projects of those types where there is no specific topic. Rewriting a project for another, essentially very close topic, is a common experience in most Western organizations. And we try to familiarize our customers with this experience. We had such a case in our practice, when the project submitted by our colleagues on one of the topics of the Rural Development 2015 competition, got very high marks, but did not get to the top. The consortium of partners decided to make some clarifications to the project, to add more specificity to the expected results — and thus the project was funded within a very similar thematic section of the same competition, but in 2016.”

As a variant of “insurance” Semen Yesylevskyy proposes to find for your project a European partner with a good grant office, which will be able to bring the application to the correct form on the first try.

It is better to entrust also the checking of the application text to experienced partners with appropriate offices, even if you are preparing the application by yourself: the administrative part of the project must be written in correct English office language, understood by the European clerks.

Ukrainians are in play! How our innovators got millions from the EU

Tayisiya Symochko said that basic information on correct project writing, building its structure and recommendations on specific writing techniques can be obtained from NCP representatives, who are constantly studying the experience of Western colleagues and the best practices in writing project applications. But if you are not self-confident, you can apply for help of consulting companies to prepare a grant — this is not forbidden, as well as the exchange of experience with other program participants. External consulting services, according to the sources of the “Innovation House”, cost about several thousand euros for a project.

At the same time, in Ukraine, within individual projects and as part of NCP activities, there are ongoing events where you can be consulted and trained by international experts; also, reference information and conference materials are available on the Ukrainian national portal of the program and on the EU resources, which should help domestic innovators in preparation for participation in Horizon 2020.

What is next?

The prospects for participation in the Horizon 2020 program for Ukrainians are very encouraging: our researchers, start-ups, innovators gain experience and each time can count on more and more success, as practice shows. Horizon Europe, the next seven-year EU grant program with a record budget of €100 billion, is already announced as the successor to Horizon 2020. Participation in it will not only help to obtain financial support for Ukrainian science and R&D, but will also facilitate the establishment of close international ties between Ukrainian innovators and scientists from Europe and the rest of the world.