Simple Fast Track

15.01.2020

Is it possible to use simple language when drawing up competition documentation for EU-funded research and development projects? By launching this year’s first Fast Track competition, the National Centre for Research and Development (NCBR) wants to prove that it certainly is! NCBR, as the executive agency of the Minister of Science and Higher Education, is planning to spend PLN 1.2bilion on co-financing innovative projects as part of the competition under the Smart Growth Operational Programme.

What is the timeline for grant applications? The entire competition is divided into four rounds, with rounds 1-2 and 3-4 having different target groups. The first two rounds, starting on 7 February and ending on 3 April 2020, are intended for projects implemented by large enterprises and consortia consisting of large enterprises (also those including SMEs and/or research establishments). The last two rounds, starting on 4 April and ending on 1 June, are intended for projects implemented by small and medium-sized enterprises and consortia of such enterprises (also those including research establishments). For the first time, different allocations for individual rounds have been defined: Round 1 – PLN 300 million, Round 2 – PLN 100 million, Round 3 – PLN 500 million, and Round 4 – PLN 300 million. NCBR’s flagship competition has undergone several major modifications – all with the applicants in mind.

“I am pleased to announce that this year’s Fast Track will be not only fast but also as simple as possible,ˮ said Jarosław Gowin, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Science and Higher Education, putting it in a nutshell.

“Our economic policy has been focused on fostering Poland’s development by making Polish enterprises more and more innovative. This approach certainly bears fruit as evidenced by data becoming more and more promising each year. In 2018 gross domestic expenditures on research and development (GERD) amounted to PLN 25.6 billion, a 24.6% growth in relation to the preceding year. In the same year, the number of enterprises involved in R&D activities grew significantly, by over 13%. The Fast Track competition is where public support meets the openness and willingness of enterprises to reach for new and innovative approaches. Through this cooperation, we are changing Poland’s innovation landscape,ˮ said Jadwiga Emilewicz, the Minister of Development.

“Creating conditions conductive to the development of a modern economy has been one of this Government’s priorities. Therefore, we support businesses in implementing innovative projects. It is essential for such support to have a multi-dimensional character and be noticeable at every stage of cooperation between the administrative branch and businessesˮ stressed Małgorzata Jarosińska-Jedynak, the Minister of Funds and Regional Policy.

As further noted by Małgorzata Jarosińska-Jedynak, Polish innovators are offered an opportunity to use funding provided under the Smart Growth Operational Programme – the EU’s major programme supporting research and development, as well as innovations within the cohesion policy framework. “We encourage businesses to take that opportunity, and we provide them with tools to help them grow and become competitive on European and global markets. We are attentive to entrepreneurs’ voices, and the just-announced Fast Track competition is a proof of that.ˮ

A new language

First of all, the entire competition documentation has been radically simplified. The more comprehensible language and the new layout, including useful references, have made the documents more reader-friendly and understandable.

To achieve this, the “Linguistic Analysis” project was carried out by NCBR in 2019, involving an in-depth assessment of the lexis, syntax and logic of the call for proposal rules and other competition documents. The project outcomes have revealed that even complex and detailed issues can be expressed in a precise and yet reader-friendly language.

“ This simplification of competition documentation, which NCBR was the first to propose on such a major scale in the Fast Track competition, can act as a roadmap for many other institutions, including those distributing EU funds. The outcome proves that complicated processes can be described in simple terms without compromising the message. I believe this simplicity will encourage new entrepreneurs to apply,ˮ Deputy Minister Gowin stressed.

“Fast Track proves that cooperation between entrepreneurs and scientists, as well as creativity and determination – when properly used ¬– can result in projects we could be proud of both in the country and internationally. No matter what the industry, size or place of business – our experience clearly shows that exceptional ideas originate from large research centres and small laboratories alike. What matters more is the ability for an innovative idea to evolve in a business-friendly legal environment, and to receive timely support, both in financial and substantive terms. The Ministry of Science and Higher Education aspires to provide such favourable conditions. Measures such as Fast Track are launched exactly with this objective in mind. I am certain that in its new format, Fast Track will constitute an effective tool for supporting Polish inventors,ˮ said Grzegorz Wrochna, the Deputy Minister of Science and Higher Education.

New criteria

Language simplification was not the only change. In mid-2019 a decision was made by NCBR to revise the structure of competition criteria.

“We were receiving numerous requests to change the Fast Track criteria, especially from beneficiaries, but also from application evaluators. And we decided to take up the challenge. It took us six months and much effort to get this done. I am certain that the outcome will turn out successful – contributing to our beneficiaries’ success,ˮ said Wojciech Kamieniecki, the Director of the National Centre for Research and Development.

The number of selection criteria was reduced to 13, and the most important project assessment elements now focus on score criteria. These facilitate the assessment process and provide greater chances of a positive assessment than the zero-one scale. Also, the criteria description itself is now clearer and shorter.

Establishing a new score criterion, “Essence of the project,” has also been a major modification, as it combines all issues related to the project concept. The idea was to facilitate describing all the most important aspects of the project at the application preparation stage.

“We want to ensure that the application process itself does not create any barriers to innovators. We, therefore, attach much importance to precisely defining the project objective and outcomes right at the start,ˮ Wojciech Kamieniecki emphasised.

Criteria modifications have been reflected in the new application template and in the instructions for filling in grant applications. This will make it easier for applicants to prepare their applications, while shortening the time needed for assessing them and identifying key information. The applicants taking part in NCBR’s competitions can also receive increased support from the Centre’s experts. In the application assessment process, applicants will have a chance to receive extended project recommendations, and to correct their applications under the criteria which previously could not be corrected.

There are still no restrictions as to the theme, except for the requirement that all R&D projects must be consistent with at least one National Smart Specialisation (NSS). The competition is intended for less-developed regions – in essence, all voivodeships except for the Mazovian Voivodeship.

Close to beneficiaries

The new Fast Track format was announced at the Ministry of Science and Higher Education in attendance of a group of beneficiaries representing small, medium-sized and large enterprises.

Ryvu Therapeutics, a Polish biotechnological company developing innovative small-particle composites with therapeutic potential in oncology, has cooperated with NCBR for nearly 10 years.

“We have already launched 16 projects supported by NCBR with a total amount of co-financing exceeding PLN 200 million. The vast majority of the projects has been implemented in the Fast Track format,ˮ noted Tomasz Nocuń, the Investment and Development Director at Ryvu Therapeutics, at the meeting.

Flexibility in choosing the project objective – the subject matter of industrial research and development work (in various fields of science), an opportunity to implement relatively large projects, and quick assessment are mentioned among the major advantages of the Fast Track format.

“All of our projects implemented through Fast Track focus on discovering new cancer drugs and extend from discovery and development to the clinical phase, and eventually to phase-one clinical trials,ˮ Tomasz Nocuń explained and added: “Thanks to the co-financing provided by NCBR, we can implement more projects simultaneously, and hire more world-class scientists, both from Poland and abroad. In addition, we could develop our research four times faster.ˮ

Set up in 2007 (under the name of Selvita), the Kraków-based company currently employs 150 scientists, including 80 Ph.D. holders.

The SGOP – a wide range of competitions to be held in 2020

The second Fast Track competition this year will be launched by NCBR on 1 July, with the allocation value to be announced at a later date. Overall, using the funds available within the Smart Growth Operational Programme, the Centre is planning to launch 11 competitions in 2020, their budget totalling no less than PLN 2 billion. As in previous years, a Fast Track competition will be announced for SMEs holding the Seal of Excellence certificate– this year on 14 January.

It is also worth noting that in mid-2019 the Centre announced themed competitions in the Fast Track format. Calls for proposals under Fast Track “Heating devices” and Fast Track “Innovative environmentally friendly fertilisers” are currently in progress (applications can be submitted by 31 March and 14 January, respectively).

Apart from that, NCBR continues its joint-ventures (A joint venture with the Silesian Voivodeship in the field of developing solutions minimising the causes and adverse effects of air pollution; A joint venture with the Lubelskie Voivodeship in the field of photonic technologies; A joint venture of INGA, PGNiG and GAZ-SYSTEM in the field of innovations in the gas sector). Other proposals include GameINN (the video game industry) and Application Projects (competitions addressed to consortia consisting of research establishments and entrepreneurs, willing to jointly implement research and development projects).

The NCBR’s SGOP competition schedule can be found on NCBR’s website and on the SGOP’s website.

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