How to build a large international consortium for a top research proposal in a few weeks
Building a consortium for the European research and innovation initiatives, like the brand new Horizon Europe, the old Horizon 2020, or so many other programmes like Connecting Europe Facility, the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme or so many others, require a good dose of diplomacy and international partnership building capacities.
Ruling system behind these initiatives usually show a clear orientation towards international collaboration, and funding is bound not only to quality from a technical perspective, but also towards the capacity of building shared efforts among institutions between countries. With the first Horizon Europe open call just round the corner, it is the perfect timing to give some tips which may facilitate the process of building this babel tower in a few weeks.
First goes first, Horizon Europe rules set the minimum requirements for a consortium in three partners from three eligible countries. The notion of eligible is also clear, EU Member States (EU27) and Horizon Europe Associated Member States (check the list here). So first lesson, at least three organisations from this set of eligible countries.
Second, and not less important. Any type of organisation is eligible, including public authorities, associations, SMEs, startups, corporates and even freelancers. On paper, no restrictions, but we will get into the details later.
Then there is the topic or objective. This is the key element. The way you should build the consortium is written or hidden between the lines of the objective the proposal is targeting to. Let’s see an example with HORIZON-CL4-2021-01-09. This topic, related to “the supply of chemicals and materials” counts with a description (on the above link) related to what is expected in the proposals submitted. The description provides not only the technical rationale, but a list of hints for the consortium. Let’s check them out:
- Foster global competitiveness of EU companies. In other words involve EU chemical industries.
- New modular production concepts for the chemical industries. New production concepts, is basicaly research on this topic by Universities or research centers.
- Build on the efforts of earlier projects like F3 Factory, Copiride and Synflow. This is a call to action. Contact the people behind those consortia. Cordis website allows you check the list of partners those projects had, and links to the publications (if any) they did, which are usually signed by the researchers including name and surname. You can use LinkedIn then right?
- TRL from 5 to 7. First check the meaning of the TRLs. The bigger the numbers the closer to the market. TRL7 at the end of a project means you need to build a pilot out of the university, so look for companies where you can test the technologies developed.
- Write a summary of 1 page defining a background (why the project makes sense), what is the main objective (what is the project for), a brief set of main activities (or work packages), overall timeframework (when we submit, when we get the results, project start and end), budget and funding, and the potential partner profiles.
- Build confidence with the partner network. Networking helps a lot to get the contacts. There are organisations which usually collaborate among themselves for certain domains. These historical collaborations are usually the key to suceess. Try to engage with the “popes” in the matter.
- Be ready for more nays than yeas. It takes time to enter a new area of research from scratch. Once you are there, build a solid network of contacts. Good partners are probably in other consortia already (no matter how long you plan ahead).
- Mixing partners with a lot of experience with new-comers is usually a good approach. The EC and the evaluators, like the mixture of new-old faces.
- Don’t coordinate without prior experience. It will not work.
- Avoid unbalancing the consortium to one country. This is Europe guys, not a national R&D programme.
- Match-making events are usually a good source of unexperienced partners (sorry, but someone had to say it). Everyone is willing to collaborate without showing the cards. Good to build initial relations. Full stop.
- Check past related projects. Identify repeating entities in those. Once you’ve found a pattern of repetiton you can use it to contact a potential good candidate.
As you can see, building consortium, is a bit of an art, so be patient and remember, if you need help you can always reach us.