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Guide to writing winning grants: Essential tips from NETO Innovation experts

Updated: Jan 27

At NETO Innovation, we are advancing the world of science and technology. Founded and led by professionals experienced in the fields of materials science, chemistry, health, electronics, and beyond, we excel at designing innovation. Our journey in the context of grant writing is marked by a rich history of success. We've navigated the complexities of various funding schemes, developing grants that stand out. Our team members’ track record speaks for itself, with a portfolio of successful proposals across a diverse range of prestigious programs. From the highly competitive Horizon 2020 (H2020) to the SME Instrument Phase 2 (the former EIC accelerator), our expertise in securing funding is well-established. Our expertise extends to national and regional funding bodies, with notable achievements in securing grants from ADEME, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, and ANR, the French National Research Agency. Additionally, our involvement in Plan de Relance and i-Nov initiatives funded by Bpifrance highlights our commitment to contributing to the broader economic and technological landscape.

At NETO Innovation, we believe that the art of grant writing is about forging pathways for groundbreaking research and development.

In our blog series, we offer insights and practical tips to help you navigate the complex and rewarding world of grant writing. Join us to explore the essentials of crafting winning grant proposals, a journey illuminated by our years of experience and success in this challenging field.



Section 1: Understanding the grant writing landscape

To write a successful grant you need to deeply understand the various funding schemes available and their specific objectives. Each funding body has its unique goals, criteria, and expectations, and aligning your project with these is crucial for success. In this section, we will explore some of the key funding schemes, focusing on Horizon Europe, Eureka calls , European Innovation Council (EIC) funding schemes, ADEME, and Bpifrance.


Horizon Europe

Horizon Europe is the EU's flagship research and innovation program, succeeding Horizon 2020. It aims to drive Europe's scientific excellence, create industrial competitiveness, and solve the societal challenges facing the EU continent and beyond. Horizon Europe is structured around three pillars: Excellent Science, Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness, and Innovative Europe. Projects submitted here should be scientifically and technologically sound and should demonstrate their potential impact on society and contribution to the broader goals of the European Union.


The EIC funding schemes are part of Horizon Europe. The EIC offers a range of funding opportunities designed to support researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and companies. This includes the EIC Accelerator, which focuses on individual SMEs, particularly startups and spinout companies, aiming to develop and scale up breakthrough technologies and disruptive innovations starting from TRL5. Proposals should demonstrate high risk, high reward, and the potential for a significant societal or economic impact. Additionally, the EIC Transition funding is aimed at converting research results into innovation opportunities, focusing on technology maturation and validation in the lab and in relevant application environments (from TRL 3/4 to TRL 5/6). The EIC Pathfinder, on the other hand, is designed for exploratory research on breakthrough technologies and offers funding for early-stage development of future technologies (up to TRL 3/4).


Eureka calls such as Eurostars and Globalstars

Eureka is an international network facilitating R&D cooperation, with two notable programs: Eurostars and Globalstars. Eurostars supports small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in leading international collaborative research and innovation projects. The key here is transnational partnership and market-driven innovation. Globalstars, on the other hand, extends this concept globally, allowing for collaboration with non-European countries. Proposals for these programs should emphasize innovation, commercial potential, and collaborative elements across borders.


ADEME - The French Environment and Energy Management Agency

ADEME focuses on supporting projects that aim to create more efficient, sustainable, and environmentally friendly energy solutions. When applying for ADEME funding, it's vital to highlight your project's potential environmental impact, its contribution to sustainable development, and its alignment with France's ecological transition goals.


Bpifrance

Bpifrance provides financial support primarily to French companies, focusing on innovation and development projects. They prioritize projects that demonstrate potential for economic growth and competitiveness, particularly in emerging markets or technologies. When applying to Bpifrance, clearly articulate your project's market potential, innovation level, and how it contributes to the economic landscape.


Section 2: Building a strong foundation

The basis of a successful grant proposal is a strong foundation established through thorough preliminary research and the assembly of a multidisciplinary team. 


Importance of preliminary research and understanding the subject matter

Before starting to write your grant proposal, it is imperative to engage in extensive preliminary research. This phase allows you to understand your project through a thorough investigation of the state of the art, identifying gaps in current knowledge or technology, and understanding the broader context of your field.

  • Market and technological research: Begin by analyzing the market and technological background related to your project. What are the current trends? Where is there a lack of innovation? Understanding these elements can help position your project in a space with potential.

  • Literature review: Conduct a thorough literature review. This will provide you with a solid background in your field and help in identifying what has been achieved previously and what remains to be explored.

  • Policy and strategy alignment: Familiarize yourself with the strategic priorities and policies of the funding body. How does your project align with these? This alignment is often a crucial criterion for funding decisions.

  • Feasibility studies: Preliminary research can also include feasibility studies. This demonstrates to the grant reviewers that you have considered the practical aspects of your project and have a plan to address potential challenges.


Horizon_Europe_Tips_Grants

Assembling a multidisciplinary team

Grant proposals stand out for their innovative approach significantly enhanced by a multidisciplinary team or consortium. This multidisciplinary team brings together diverse expertise, ensuring that all aspects of the project are thoughtfully considered and addressed.

  • Covering all bases: A team composed of members from various disciplines and covering the whole value chain can look at the project from different angles – scientific, technological, commercial, or societal. 

  • Enhancing innovation: Team members can inspire each other, leading to novel ideas and approaches that might not have emerged in a homogeneous group.

  • Addressing reviewer concerns: Reviewers often come from varied backgrounds. A proposal written by a multidisciplinary team will resonate with a diverse group of reviewers, addressing a broader range of potential concerns and interests.


Section 3: Writing an engaging grant application

Writing a grant proposal is like telling a story where your innovative idea is the main character. This section explores the specificity of writing an engaging grant proposal that demonstrates the technical excellence of your project and catches the attention of the grant reviewers.


Articulating your project’s uniqueness and potential impact

  • Identify your unique innovation: Every project has something that makes it stand out – it could be an innovative approach, a novel application, or a significant impact on society or the industry. Identify this aspect and explain it clearly. This uniqueness is what makes your project memorable and engaging.

  • Demonstrate impact: Explain how your project will make a difference. Will it advance scientific knowledge, solve a critical societal issue, or revolutionize a sector? Address the expected outcomes under the topic and the wider impact including technological, scientific,societal, educational, and environmental impacts. Make the potential impact evident to the reviewers by providing clear, quantifiable metrics where possible.


The role of storytelling in making your proposal stand out

  • Create a narrative: Start with the problem or challenge your project addresses. Then, describe your innovative solution and how you plan to implement it. Finally, envision the future after your project has been realized. A well-structured narrative helps reviewers follow your thought process and understand the significance of your work.

  • Engage emotionally: While grant proposals are technical documents, adding a human element can be highly effective. If your project has the potential to improve lives, share those stories or scenarios.

  • Use clear, persuasive language: Avoid excessively complex language. The goal is to communicate your ideas clearly and persuasively. Remember, some reviewers might not be experts in your specific field, so clarity is key.

Incorporating feedback and learning from successful proposals

  • Seek external opinions: Before submission, have someone outside of your field review the proposal. They can provide valuable insight into how your proposal is perceived by a non-specialist and suggest improvements.

  • Learn from successes: Analyze successful grant proposals, especially those funded by the body you're applying to. Understand how they structured their narrative, what language they used, and how they presented their ideas. Insights gained from this research can help you develop more effective proposals.


Section 4: Technical excellence and feasibility

A crucial aspect of any grant proposal is demonstrating technical excellence and feasibility. This section is where you showcase the credibility of your project's objectives, methodology, and innovative aspects. 


Demonstrating technical feasibility and innovation

  • Detail your methodology: Clearly outline your approach, including the methods, techniques, and technologies you will use. Be specific about how these methods will be applied to achieve your project's objectives. This demonstrates to the reviewers that you have a well-thought-out plan for executing the project. In addition, describe the challenges related to your innovation activities and describe how you will overcome them through your project.

  • Highlight innovation: Emphasize any novel aspects of your project, whether it's an innovative application of existing technology, a new process, or a groundbreaking idea. Explain how your project goes beyond the current knowledge or practice.

  • Provide evidence of preliminary work: If you have conducted preliminary studies or experiments, include these results to support the feasibility of your project. This can significantly strengthen your proposal by showing that your project is grounded in realistic and achievable goals.


Horizon_europe_Excellence

Effectively presenting your methodology and expected outcomes

  • Clear and logical structure: Organize the technical section of your proposal in a clear and logical manner. Start by stating the objectives, followed by the methodology, and then discuss the impact. Follow the template and the guidelines provided by the funding body.

  • Use of visuals: Incorporate charts, diagrams, or other visuals to illustrate complex processes or methodologies. This makes technical information more accessible and understandable.

  • Realistic outcomes and timelines: Be realistic about what your project can achieve and within what time-frame. Over-promising can weaken the credibility of your proposal. Set achievable goals and provide a realistic timeline that reflects the scope of your project.

Addressing potential risks and mitigation strategies

  • Identify risks: Acknowledge any potential risks that could arise during your project implementation.

  • Mitigation strategies: For each identified risk, provide a corresponding mitigation strategy. This demonstrates your proactive approach to problem-solving and your preparedness to handle unforeseen issues.


Section 5: Budget planning and justification


Creating a realistic and justifiable budget

  • Itemize and detail expenses: Break down your budget into specific categories such as personnel, equipment, materials, travel, and overheads. For each category, provide a detailed explanation of the costs. 

  • Align costs with project activities: Clearly link each budget item to specific project activities. This shows that each expense is necessary and has been carefully considered in the context of the project’s objectives and activities.

  • Benchmark costs: Where possible, benchmark your costs against industry standards or similar projects. 

Horizon_Europe_Budget

Justifying your budget to the funding body

  • Explain the necessity of each expense: Explain why each expense is crucial to the project. This justification is key in convincing the reviewers that your project requires the amount of funding you are requesting.

  • Highlight value for money: Emphasize how the budgeted expenses represent value for money and contribute to the efficient and effective realization of the project goals. If your project involves subcontractors, this is essential.

  • Consider scalability and sustainability: If applicable, discuss how the budget takes into account the scalability and sustainability of the project. This is important for projects that aim to have a long-term impact or be scaled up in the future.


Anticipating and addressing funding body concerns

  • Be prepared for close examination: Assume that every aspect of your budget will be closely examined. Provide clear and concise explanations for each item, anticipating any questions or concerns the reviewers might have.

  • Flexibility and contingency planning: Plan for unforeseen expenses in your budget to demonstrate flexibility. However, ensure that this margin is reasonable and not excessively large, as it might raise concerns about overestimation.


Section 6: Attention to detail

Attention to detail can make or break a grant proposal. It is important to adhere to guidelines, maintain clarity, and ensure the coherence of your proposal.


Adhering to guidelines and requirements

  • Follow specific guidelines: Every funding body has its own set of guidelines and requirements for grant proposals. Ensure you follow these to the letter, including formatting, page limits, and specific sections or information that must be included.

  • Understand review criteria: Be familiar with the criteria used by the funding body to assess proposals. Make sure your proposal meets these criteria, addressing each point explicitly to leave no doubt about your eligibility and suitability for the grant.


Proofreading and editing for clarity and coherence

  • Multiple rounds of proofreading: Engage in several rounds of proofreading to identify errors, unclear language, and inconsistencies. Consider having team members or external reviewers proofread the proposal to catch mistakes you might have missed.

  • Clarity in writing: Your proposal should be clear and concise. Avoid jargon and complex sentences, and ensure that your objectives, methodology, and the significance of your project are easily understandable.

  • Consistency in style and tone: Maintain a consistent style and tone throughout the proposal. This consistency helps in making the document professional and coherent.


Section 7: The review process and feedback

Understanding the review process and effectively utilizing feedback are essential to enhance the quality of your grant proposals over time.


Understanding the review process

  • The perspective of reviewers: Remember that reviewers are looking for reasons to advance proposals that clearly meet the grant criteria. Your job is to make it easy for them to see why your proposal deserves funding.

  • Insight into review guidelines: The guidelines and criteria followed by the reviewers are often well-documented and public. Familiarizing yourself with these guidelines will offer significant insights into what reviewers will be looking for. To provide a deeper understanding of this process, NETO Innovation will soon publish a detailed blog post about the review process in Horizon Europe. Be sure to stay tuned for more information!


Using feedback from previous proposals

  • Learning from rejections: If you have previously submitted proposals that were not successful, use the feedback to improve. Understand where you made mistakes and how you can address these areas in future proposals.

  • Continuous improvement: View each proposal as a learning opportunity. Whether successful or not, there are always lessons learned that can enhance your future grant writing efforts.


Horizon_Europe_Grant_Writing

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that each proposal is a milestone in the journey of research, development, and innovation. At NETO Innovation, we understand the complexities of this journey. Our experiences in navigating the challenging world of grant writing, coupled with our dedication to innovation, have equipped us with invaluable strategies. Grant writing is an iterative process requiring persistence, adaptability, and a continuous learning approach. Every application, whether successful or not, offers lessons and opportunities for growth. The key is to approach each proposal with clarity, conviction, and a deep understanding of your project and its potential impact.


Are you planning to undertake a project that requires funding and support? NETO Innovation is here to guide you through this complex process. Our team of experts, with their large experience in research, development, and innovation, is ready to provide you with the support you need to create successful grant proposals. We invite you to reach out to us for advice in project management and grant writing.


Additionally, for more insights like these and to stay updated on the latest trends and tips in grant writing and project management, subscribe to our website. Our blog gives you access to a wide range of knowledge and resources that can aid you in your quest for innovation and success.


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