We just completed our next proposal for an FP7 (Framework Programme 7 – the EUs current round of research funding). The proposal had to be finished at 5.00pm Brussels time last night. There’s no flexibility. It’s like any government blind tender. You stick your bid in, and wait.
Our proposal combines some of the most acclaimed scientists in Europe with eminent clinicians and 3 very capable SME‘s. Our geographic spread is impressive, with partners from the UK, Italy, Greece, Sweden and Serbia. Our scientific objectives are challenging – finding ways for neurologists to care for neurodegenerative disease patients in their homes. Our business opportunity is (virtually) infinite – the problems of treating Alzheimers Disease and Parkinsons Disease patients is growing exponentially, with no end in sight. A successful outcome to the research will make our SMEs millionaires, many times over.
That’s one side of the paradox – the biggest business opportunity we’ve ever been involved in. The best brains in Europe get to research a problem nobody else wants to solve. The EU pays for it – and we get to own the results.
The other side of the paradox is less enticing. We’ve spent 8 months finding scientists interested in solving this problem, finding SME’s who want to work with us developing the proposal, and trying to interpret the call to understand more of the thinking behind the call.
As the process of understanding the objectives of the call and developing a tightly targeted proposal advanced we became less influential. The scientists have to do the clever stuff and somebody else has to understand the bureaucracy. Between them they have to develop an idea which will excite the evaluators.
Ultimately we end up as “grubby” sales people. Nobody wants to listen to what we think. Even though 33% of the evaluation marks are allocated to the impact our project will make, and that depends on somebody turning what the scientists discover into packages others will pay money for – we still finish the process as partners who need to be tolerated, as opposed to accommodated.
After the proposal goes in, we have to wait for around 3 months to find out if our proposal is accepted. If it is there’s another 6 months paper work and bureaucracy to plough through. Then finally we’ll be able to get started, and get a cheque in advance payment of some of our (small) piece of the grant.
Throughout the research we’ll be the poor relations, except at annual review time when the EU officer will quite rightly want to know where, and how, the return on its investment will be achieved.
After 4 years we SMEs will get the chance to build a new business, and enhance our existing operations with the project results.
If this marathon sounds like something no sensible SME would get involved in I’ll understand. It’s speculative, high risk, a major drain on resources and infinitely frustrating.
On the other hand I suggest you think again, resolving the paradox.
How else can a small business get to work with some of the brightest people on the planet, solving a problem another group of seriously intelligent guys have decided needs an answer, have somebody else pay for it, and ultimately own the output?
This is the only way I’ll ever get to own a boat and sail it around the British Virgin Islands, and probably the only way you could too.
It’s also enlightening, exciting, and captivating, unlike working with most of the DoDos constrained by their bosses ill informed strategies, which we would otherwise we doing.
My next post will describe the paucity of the Scottish business support agencies and their inability to understand the opportunity, and the need to support SMEs who have the ambition to go after it. More of that later.
For now I’ve resolved the FP7 Paradox. The pain is definitely worth the potential gain.