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#HorizonEU: European Partnership on Innovative SMEs

The Programme:
Horizon Europe Framework Programme (HORIZON)

The Call:
Partnership on Innovative SMEs (HORIZON-EIE-2021-INNOVSMES-01)

European Partnership on Innovative SMEs

From the EU Official Website

What’s expected?

The projects are expected to show an active contribution to the following outcomes:

  • Improved knowledge transfer in the innovative SMEs ecosystem, through increased and sustained collaboration between SMEs, public research partners and academia;
  • Mitigation of difficulties in access to finance for innovative SMEs and thus contribute to enhanced growth and expansion of innovative SMEs;
  • Improved innovative SME access to new international markets or value chains thus leading to improved market share and sales for innovative SMEs increasing their employment capacity;
  • Increase public research and innovation funding to innovative SMEs, to spur more high quality collaborations and more innovative solutions;
  • Pull together national efforts to spur internationalisation and collaboration in innovative SMEs, avoiding unnecessary duplication leading to a simplified offer to beneficiaries, achieving a more balanced geographic participation, ensuring complementarity and improved innovation ecosystems across Europe.

The Scope (Area of Application)

Proposals must ensure results in collaborative research and innovation activities: faster time to market, de-risking investment, supporting business growth, contributing to EU and global priorities and supporting access to markets and knowledge.

Furthermore they have to ensure the creation of synergies between and synchronisation of national programmes, and a better cooperation and knowledge exchange between national intermediaries through coordination and support activities.

There is a clear added value and ‘selling point’ for the initiative to further address gaps towards a better alignment and increased focus on internationalisation. This reflects the definition of European Partnerships in the Horizon Europe regulation – Article 2(47) of the Horizon Europe Regulation – as initiatives where the union and its partners

“[…] systemic approach ensuring active and early involvement of Member States and achievement of the expected impacts of the European Partnership through the flexible implementation of joint actions of high Union added value also going beyond joint calls for proposals for R&I activities, including those related to market, regulatory or policy uptake.”

Down below, the list of specific activities that can be implemented under the partnership and are anticipated as expected outputs:

  • Support transnational near-market collaborative research and innovation addressing technological and societal challenges;
  • Enhance SME readiness (absorptive capacities in all participating countries),
  • Attract wide range of beneficiaries by country and SME type and age;
  • Create synergies among national programmes by streamlining their execution;
  • Enhance cooperation and knowledge exchange at the level of national intermediaries.

This type of initiative will help innovative SMEs to increase their research and innovation capacities and productivity and to become embedded in global value chains and new markets. It will achieve this by supporting innovative SMEs in developing products, processes and services through funding market-led, cross-border, research and innovation collaborative projects and providing accompanying measures.

This whole process addresses collaboration in Europe and beyond, and the commercialisation of new knowledge, thereby strengthening the overall resilience of the European innovation ecosystem.

The overall objective of the initiative is to implement a Co-funded European Partnership for Innovative SMEs to stimulate economic growth and job creation by enhancing the competitiveness of innovative SMEs while contributing to deliver a positive economic, societal and environmental impact in Europe and beyond.

In order to meet the targeted goal, such initiative should:

  • Enable innovative SMEs to develop all forms of innovation, including breakthrough innovation, and strengthen market deployment of innovative solutions;
  • Foster the internationalisation of innovative SMEs;
  • Connect national programmes to unlock the potential of all partners.

Type and range of activities

A main activity would be to run calls for proposals, organise the evaluation process and enable collaborative cross-border research and innovation projects.

In addition to providing funding to innovative SMEs for cross-border R&I collaboration, they should include further promotion of the programme in underrepresented Member States, including – but not limited to – dissemination events, mutual learning seminars or roadshows.

The initiative should exploit synergies with cohesion policy funds and significantly support the widening aspect where the priority should be set on establishing with regional smart specialisation strategie.

Accompanying measures such as Innowwide should be included in the proposal.

What’s Innowwide? It’s a Horizon 2020 project that aims to fund at least 120 European innovative SMEs and start-ups to conduct Viability Assessment Projects (VAPs) in markets outside of Europe. Find out more about it HERE.

Expected partner composition and geographical coverage

National administrations and National Funding Bodies (NFBs).

The private sector and research actors would need to be mainly drawn from the activities of the national and/or regional funding organisations. The effort, networks and judgements of these organisations are key to initiate cross-border research collaborations, to help prepare applications and to fund successful participants.

The success of the initiative depends largely on these organisations, therefore, a dedicated implementation structure may notably support them through various activities and services such as to organise calls, manage funding, monitor payments and projects and implement dissemination events, roadshows, matchmaking events, webinars etc.

The initiative should have an extended geographical coverage beyond Member States and Associated Countries, and the potential to evolve towards a global programme under Horizon Europe, including through possible involvement of additional partners during the lifetime of the programme.

Third countries are of course welcome to participate in the Partnership since the initiative should promote the ambition towards more projects involving other partners than those in geographical proximity and the sufficient utilisation of the potential of the extended Eureka network.

Types and levels of contributions from partners

Proposals should mobilise the necessary financial resources from participating national (or regional) research programmes with a view to implementing joint-calls for transnational proposals resulting in grants to third parties.

Member States are invited to maximise the financial support provided to innovative SMEs through increased national funding during the selection process.

International dimension

Proposals should focus on supporting international projects led by innovative SMEs.

They should enable international cooperation, enabling small businesses to learn, combine and share expertise and benefit from working beyond national borders.

In line with the ambitions of the partnership to foster international collaboration and the provisions of the model grant agreement, projects involving one legal entity established in a Member State or Associated Country as beneficiary and one legal entity established in a non-associated third country as partner may be supported in the same manner as under Eurostars 2. A substantial majority of the projects supported must involve at least two beneficiaries from Member States or Associated Countries.


Focussing on helping innovative SMEs to grow and successfully embed in international markets and value chains by developing methodologies and technologies, the partnership is expected to collaborate closely with other relevant European Partnerships, missions and the European Innovation Council in order to ensure coherence and complementarity of activities. Proposals must describe the methodology for their collaboration and the aims the project wants to achieve with this kind of collaboration.

Proposals should include only their commitments for the grant covered by the present work programme.

The Commission envisages to include new actions in its work programmes 2023-2024 and 2025-2027 to award a grant to identified beneficiaries with the aim of continuing to provide support to the partnership for the duration of Horizon Europe.

Specific Topic Conditions:

The total indicative budget for the partnership is up to EUR 250 million.

Cross-cutting Priorities:

International Cooperation

Co-funded European Partnerships

The Destination

NNOVSMES – Partnership on Innovative SMES

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent the backbone of the European economy. They represent 99.8% of all enterprises in the EU non-financial business sector and two thirds of employment. However, SMEs in Europe face obstacles to growth, expansion and scaling up, including lack of skills, administrative burden, and access to finance. Many lack capacity for innovation and struggle to enter international markets.

Greater cooperation with partners in Europe and beyond can help to address many of these issues. However, opportunities for bottom-up, international collaborations are limited. SMEs can struggle to find support for their internationalisation efforts. At national level, support is often limited to collaboration among partners within the same Member State. Levels of investment to support internationalisation in innovative SMEs vary and there is suboptimal coordination of national schemes. Overall, these issues weaken the resilience of the European innovation ecosystem.

The proposal for the topic under this destination should cover a specific niche that other EU, national and regional interventions do not address for the benefit of innovative SMEs in Europe: cooperation among European and/or international partners, with at least one innovative SME as the project leader. The proposed initiative would help innovative SMEs to increase their research and innovation (R&I) capacity and productivity and to become embedded in global value chains and new markets. It would achieve this by supporting innovative SMEs in developing products, processes and services through funding market-led, cross-border, R&I collaborative projects and providing accompanying measures. It would enable global collaboration and the commercialisation of new knowledge. It would thereby strengthen the overall resilience of the European innovation ecosystem.

In line with the Horizon Europe objectives [HE Regulation, Article.3.2.(b), (c).] It aims to generate knowledge, support the access to and uptake of innovative solutions by SMEs (including to address global challenges), facilitate technological development, demonstration, knowledge and technology transfer, and strengthen deployment and exploitation of innovative solutions.

In line with Horizon Europe Strategic Planning, the partnership aims to contribute to global and European policies. In particular the strategic priorities of the European Commission with a special focus on the ‘European Green Deal’ and ‘An economy that works for people’ including the SME Strategy for a sustainable and digital Europe, as well actions towards tackling the COVID-19 crisis and the post-COVID era.

Expected impact

The proposal for the topic under this destination should set out a credible pathway to contributing to the following expected impact:

To help innovative SMEs to grow and successfully access European and international markets and to embed in global value chains by:

  • Strengthening the resilience of the European innovation ecosystem;
  • Addressing the productivity and internationalisation gap between innovative SMEs and large companies and aiming to improve SMEs’ global scale-up potential leading to increased employment and turnover;
  • Leveraging investment for innovative SMEs.

Conditions & Documents (as reported in the website)

General conditions

1. Admissibility conditions: described in Annex A and Annex E of the Horizon Europe Work Programme General Annexes

Proposal page limits and layout: described in Part B of the Application Form available in the Submission System

2. Eligible countries: described in Annex B of the Work Programme General Annexes

A number of non-EU/non-Associated Countries that are not automatically eligible for funding have made specific provisions for making funding available for their participants in Horizon Europe projects. See the information in the Horizon Europe Programme Guide.

3. Other eligibility conditions: described in Annex B of the Work Programme General Annexes

4. Financial and operational capacity and exclusion: described in Annex C of the Work Programme General Annexes

Evaluation and award:

  • Award criteria, scoring and thresholds are described in Annex D of the Work Programme General Annexes
  • Submission and evaluation processes are described in Annex F of the Work Programme General Annexes and the Online Manual

The granting authority can fund a maximum of one project.

  • Indicative timeline for evaluation and grant agreement: described in Annex F of the Work Programme General Annexes

5. Legal and financial set-up of the grants: described in Annex G of the Work Programme General Annexes


The starting date of grants awarded under this topic may be as of the submission date of the application. Applicants must justify the need for a retroactive starting date in their application. Costs incurred from the starting date of the action may be considered eligible.

Beneficiaries may provide financial support to third parties.

The support to third parties can only be provided in the form of grants.

Financial support provided by the participants to third parties is one of the primary activities of this action in order to be able to achieve its objectives. The EUR 60 000 threshold provided for in Article 204(a) of the Financial Regulation No 2018/1046 does not apply.

The funding rate is 30 % of the eligible costs.

Specific condition

6. Specific conditions: described in the specific topic of the Work Programme


Call documents:

Standard application form — call-specific application form is available in the Submission System

Standard application form (HE COFUND)

Standard evaluation form — will be used with the necessary adaptations

Standard evaluation form (HE COFUND)


HE General MGA v1.0

Additional documents:

HE Main Work Programme 2021–2022 – 1. General Introduction

HE Main Work Programme 2021–2022 – 10. European Innovation Ecosystems (EIE)

HE Main Work Programme 2021–2022 – 13. General Annexes

HE Programme Guide

HE Framework Programme and Rules for Participation Regulation 2021/695

HE Specific Programme Decision 2021/764

EU Financial Regulation

Rules for Legal Entity Validation, LEAR Appointment and Financial Capacity Assessment

EU Grants AGA — Annotated Model Grant Agreement

Funding & Tenders Portal Online Manual

Funding & Tenders Portal Terms and Conditions

Funding & Tenders Portal Privacy Statement


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