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“We are here today to celebrate the success of Luxembourg players.” With these words, Benjamin Questier, Director R&D and Innovation Support at Luxinnovation, opened the 2023 edition of the Horizon Europe Day that focused on the EU’s main funding programme for research and Benjamin Questier, Luxinnovation, presents key figures on Luxembourg's participation in Horizon Europeinnovation. During the first three years of Horizon Europe, Luxembourg participants have obtained close to €150 million of funding. “We are actually number 1 in Europe in terms of financial contribution per inhabitant,” Mr Questier pointed out. “The success rate of our proposals is also very high, close to 20%.”

We are actually number 1 in Europe in terms of financial contribution per inhabitant.

“One unique characteristic of Luxembourg is that while well over half of the global Horizon Europe funding goes to universities and research centres, 55% of the funding obtained in Luxembourg goes to private companies,” elaborated Stefan Pozzi Mucelli, Head of European R&D and Innovation Support at Luxinnovation. “While our public research organisations are performing very well, we are happy to have several private companies that are also very successful in applying for funding.”

Obtaining funding for breakthrough R&D

Torsten Bohn, LIH, at Horizon Europe Day 2023Horizon Europe funding covers the whole innovation process, from fundamental research and demonstration projects to scaling and bringing solutions to the market. Funding opportunities abound, but the application process is complex and competition for funding fierce. “The first time we tried, we did not know what type of funding would be useful for us,” said Ludivine Martin, researcher in economics at the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER). “Luxinnovation helped us find a relevant call for proposals, and we joined a consortium and tried. Although we were not successful the first time, we found a new call with a very similar project the following year. We applied anew with the same consortium, and this time we were successful.”

Having a strong partnership is crucial. So how do you find the right partners? “It is a process that you have to embrace,” explained Torsten Bohn, Group Leader Nutrition and Health Research at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH). “The best way to start is with people whom you already know, maybe from previous projects. It is important to be active at international events to get recognised so that people will invite you when they are putting together projects. The European Commission also organises brokerage events aimed at helping people find partners from other countries.”

Perseverance: the key to success

While many public research organisations have specialised teams that can help researchers prepare proposal, the application process can seem more daunting for companies. However, several panellists testified to the relevance of making the effort. “The funding helps us address big, important topics that we would otherwise lack the resources to work on,” said Pierre Charles, Product Development Manager at Ceratizit. “It is also very useful for us to build consortia where we work with and learn from other industries and research centres.”

Speakers at the Horizon Europe Day 2023The speakers emphasised the importance of not giving up even if the first proposals fail, and to keep your eyes on the goal. “You have to believe in your idea and be driven by a wish to change the world. This keeps you going when your applications are rejected,” said Gira Szakmar, CEO of eduGamiTec. “If you keep believing that funding bodies will support you once they have understood your idea, you eventually learn how to present it in the best and most convincing way.”

The funding helps us address big, important topics that we would otherwise lack the resources to work on.

Circu Li-ion, a start-up specialised in the upcycling and recycling of batteries, had the audacity to apply for one of the most competitive funding instruments of Horizon Europe: the EIC Accelerator, with a success rate of only 5%. “We knew that it would be tough, but we also knew that we tackle a big problem that is essential to solve if we want the European circular economy to become a reality and reduce our dependence on resources from other parts of the world,” said Xavier Kohll, Circu Li-ion’s co-founder and CTO. “Getting risk-willing VC funding is still a challenge in Europe, so this type of programme that supports companies developing deeptech solutions is really helpful. They say that getting EIC Accelerator funding is harder than getting into Harvard, so I’m very proud that we made it.”

National Contact Point support

Luxinnovation is the National Contact Point (NCP) for Horizon Europe in Luxembourg and is there to increase applicants’ chances of success. The agency offers personalised hands-on support during the application process, legal and financial advice as well as events and training sessions. “When you try to apply for the very first time it is rather messy, but luckily, we have great support in Luxembourg,” said Mr Charles. “The biggest help that we get from Luxinnovation is to find out what calls for proposals will come so that we can anticipate them and start to activate our network. The NCP team also helps us identify the right keywords for each call. This helps us answer the questions in the proposal form in the right way and increases our chances of success.”

Luxinnovation advised us to start by joining a consortium that was already experienced. We did exactly that – and won.

The team has a pragmatic approach and aims to provide concrete solutions. “When we first heard about Horizon Europe and became interested in applying but did not have any previous experience, Luxinnovation advised us to start by joining a consortium that was already experienced – preferably one that had already successfully obtained funds,” explained Ms Szakmar. “We did exactly that – and won.”

Photo credit: Luxinnovation/Sophie Margue

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