Preparing application documents, especially for centralised European programmes or even for private investors, is challenging and the competition is extremely high. In order to ensure a high quality application, we need to take enough time to find and negotiate with potential consortium partners and to prepare the application documentation.
It is no coincidence that calls for project proposals for centralised European programmes are officially published several months before the application deadline, and that the call plan is known even a year or more in advance. Namely, individual applicants who apply for larger projects start preparing the project documentation and the composition of the consortium even long before the call is officially launched.
WORKING GROUP, CONSORTIUM PARTNERS, ADVISORY BOARD, SUPPORTERS
It is highly recommended to appoint an interdisciplinary working group to assist in the preparation and to provide the formal, financial, professional, scientific and other basis for a high quality application documentation. Even if you outsource the preparation of the application documentation, close cooperation between you and the external contractor, between individuals within your company and the external contractor’s employees is required. The division of roles with the responsibilities of individuals in the working group is determined at the time of the appointment of the working group. Consortium partner collaborators (when needed or requested) are also invited to join the working group, but it is recommended that they are selected and join the working group at a stage when the project’s baseline is already defined and you as a lead partner already know exactly what partners you need, in which countries, with what role and to what extent. Regardless of the fact that you invite consortium partners to participate in the preparation at a later stage, a correct attitude towards all consortium partners is required, including a timely invitation to participate (at least one month before the application deadline, and even earlier for key partners) so that they have sufficient time to familiarise themselves with the project proposal and the proposed role, to still be able to influence the individual elements of the project documentation, to be able reaching an agreement on all relevant elements of the cooperation and to be able to prepare all needed information and documents that are attached to the application by individual consortium partners. Last but not least, as the lead partner, you should have an interest in seeing the project’s R&D results transferred to the market, i.e. after the official end of the project’s development cycle. This will depend to a large extent on the continued involvement of the consortium partners even after the completion of the project, either in further development in new projects and/or in the commercialisation and transfer of the research work to the market from the original joint project. A good, planned and strategic choice of consortium partners, their countries of origin and their roles as well as a correct attitude towards partners during project preparation and implementation is therefore a good investment that can reap rewards in many ways even after the completion of the original project.
The appointment of an advisory board is also recommended, especially for larger, more complex, interdisciplinary and international projects. It should be thoughtfully composed of external, more influential international experts and/or directors of recognizable companies, institutes or other organisations, whose presence on the advisory board will give the project professional validity and visibility on an international scale, and may also help open the door to strategic partners and investors, or otherwise assist in entering foreign markets.
Applicants try to present the significance of their project in other ways as well, e.g. with letters of support from potential prospective users or representatives of user groups (e.g. chambers of commerce, NGOs and other supporters according to the target groups defined in the project) or with letters of intent, which may, for example, be linked to willingness to cooperate in pilot testing of project’s results or solutions.
THE NECESSARY SKILLS IN THE PROCESS OF PREPARING THE APPLICATION DOCUMENTATION
A selection of the collaborators or skills required to a lesser or greater extent in the preparation of the application and project documentation is presented below:
- management of the applicant’s organization in order to define and be in line with the strategic orientations of the organization, and for the formalization of relationships between the consortium partners; at this stage, the involvement of an external strategic consultant and/or a consultant for the development of new business models is also recommended, especially if the applicant does not have this knowledge and insight into global trends within his organization;
- project manager and/or working group leader to prepare the application documentation, coordinate the members of the working group and integrate the individual elements of the application into a coherent whole, in line with the requirements of each European programme and/or other funding source;
- specialists covering scientific-research, content, technical-technological and business-commercial aspects of the proposed project;
- legal and patent advisor(s) involved in the preparation of agreements (or at least drafts) and in the definition of relationships linked to the
memorandum of understanding for the period before the official launch of the project;
consortium and subcontractors agreements for the duration of the project;
letters of intent;
intellectual property such as patents, licenses and related license agreements, trademarks, etc.
business cooperation agreements or letters of intent with consortium partners and/or other potential strategic partners also for the period after the official completion of the project;
In general, it is recommended that all of the above legal areas be identified before the project is formally submitted, at least in the draft agreements and in the form of letters of intent.
- financial advisor(s) and/or accountant for the financial part of the project documentation, which is especially important in the case of searching for private investors;
- marketing and sales consultant(s) for market research, from which the commercial viability of the project should be evident, and for defining a marketing and/or commercialisation strategy that includes the business model, target groups, sales channels, pricing policy, etc.;
- communication and/or public relations expert(s) to prepare a communication strategy;
- quality management expert(s) – almost mandatory for larger projects for the purpose of identifying potential project risks, defining performance indicators and other quality measures, and thus ensuring the quality of project implementation, including the quality of interim and final project results;
- standardisation expert(s) are needed mainly for technically-oriented projects where the expectation is to develop solutions in line with established international standards, or to contribute to the development or improvement of existing standards, or even to propose new standards;
- neutral readers who are the best critics of the project documentation before its finalization;
- translator and/or proofreader;
- graphic and/or video designer for creating a project logo, creating textual, graphic and image-based presentations, PowerPoint and/or video pitch for the needs of presenting the project to investors, etc.;
- IT expert to support the group online collaboration process, project’s website development, etc .;
- administrative support.
Depending on the development stage of the project idea and the amount of requested funds, the above areas of skills in the preparation working team are more or less important.
Depending on the individual programme, the amount of funds requested and/or the financial source (which may be also outside the framework of the European programmes), a relationship with a bank (confirmed bank account details, possible bank guarantee, etc.), an insurance company, an auditing company, a rating agency, etc. may also be required during the preparation phase or before the signing of the project financing agreement.
It is clear from all the above that the preparatory phase of a project already has a very complex structure of those who have to work together in the preparation process. It is therefore not unreasonable to recommend that, in the case of a larger project, the lead partner organises a project office (if it does not already have one) with appropriately qualified project management staff and appropriate tools for team and project work, visualisation tools, etc. This function can of course be partially outsourced (especially in the preparation phase), and in the implementation phase it may be shared with the lead partner, but the lead partner will still have to take at least part of an active role, as it will otherwise be difficult to ensure sovereignty vis-à-vis the consortium partners and future users of the project results.
There is, of course, no single recipe for success. Much depends on the funding programme, the complexity and sophistication of the project idea and strategy of the lead partner, the skills and capacity of the lead partner and/or the consortium as a whole, and other factors. However, the recommendations outlined above are transferable to all development projects for which you may be seeking European and/or private funding.