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How can Catalan companies get more funds from the European Commission’s SME Instrument? The first Lessons Learned session of 2017, held by Biocat and CataloniaBio on 21 February at the Barcelona Science Park (PCB), aimed to share the successes and failures of participating in one of the star programs of Horizon 2020, which has €3 billion earmarked through 2020.

SME Instrument funds innovation projects with great potential to help SMEs grow, develop and internationalize. From 2014 through February 2017, 117 projects in Catalonia have received funding, 20% of which are in the healthcare and technology sector. Of these projects, 88 have received phase-1 financial aid (€50,000) and 29 have received phase-2 aid (up to 70% of the funds needed for the project, from €1 million to €5 million).

"SME Instrument was created in 2014, after detecting that there weren’t any public or private funds in the European Union to move TRL projects forward,” explained David Rovirosa, head of International R&D and Innovation at ACCIÓ and moderator of the event. In addition to the funds, companies also receive a quality seal and support to participate in international fairs and investment forums.


Three experiences from Catalan biotechnology firms

Inbiomotion is a spin-off that was created to ensure a biomarker discovered in the lab at IRB Barcelona reaches the clinical phase of development. This biomarker can detect whether breast cancer will metastasize in a particular patient. As Non-Executive Director Roger Gomis explained, “We thought the SME Instrument was a very good option, given the amount of money it offers for biotechnology,” and, since they believed in their project, they went directly to phase 2. Unfortunately, despite being ranked 9th out of 100 projects, only 7 of the projects received funding.

According to Gomis "We needed market studies to define the niche, among other things.” This is why they turned to a consultancy, reviewed all the information, took a step back and applied to phase 1, which they received. They’re currently waiting to hear whether they have been selected for phase 2.

The founder of Inbiomotion has the following advice: “A good scientific foundation isn’t enough, that’s a given. You have to prove that the project is unquestionable.” It is also important to be able to prove that the project has contacts in the biotechnology or pharmaceutical industry that are willing to partner and to submit reports, interviews and statistics demonstrating that the proposed change is a real possibility. 

Another interesting experience came from ZeClinics, set up in 2013 at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB) to offer tropical zebra fish as an alternative to mice for biomedical research. ZeClinics also submitted their application directly to phase 2 of the SME Instrument and were granted €1.87 million for their ZeCardio® project, which assesses the cardiovascular effects of drugs using their own analysis software. But what was their strategy? First of all, they contacted a consultancy firm. “Even though the entrepreneur knows the project like the back of their hand, it is key to involve a consultant that specializes in Horizon 2020,” explained CEO Davide d’Amico. “You have to impress the evaluator quickly. This is why we highlighted the scientific part, sold the concept well and proved that it is viable and can be successful,” he said.

The CEO of ZeClinics also believes it is essential to prove that the company wants to grow exponentially, to submit a truly innovative project and show that it will have an impact on society and resolve a problem that affects the people.

Sense4care, a center that specializes in analyzing human movement located in Vilanova i la Geltrú, has applied to phase 1 and phase 2 of the SME Instrument on three separate occasions. Finally, they were granted both. The advice CEO of the company J. Manuel Moreno had for those in the audience at the Lessons Learned session was “patience and perseverance”.

Sense4care submitted a system that can detect and assess various symptoms of Parkinson disease. “We had developed the device, done clinical trials with patients but didn’t know how to launch it to market. Participating in phase 1 allowed us to focus on market volume and distribution channels,” he explained.

They were granted phase-2 aid on the third try last November. In this case, the company received 70% of the funds for the project. As J. Manuel Moreno explained, “The assessment is highly subjective. It is important to make things easy for the evaluator and, above all, to have someone who isn’t a scientist go over the documents!”

The next Lessons Learned session will be on 5 April and we’ll talk about internationalization strategies. Hope to see you there!


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