1. INTRODUCTION – BACKGROUND
The Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, hereafter referred to as "EASME", acting under the powers delegated by the European Commission (also referred to as "the Commission"), is launching a call for proposals with a view to concluding grant agreements to accelerate the transfer of innovative technological solutions to sea basin economies.
1.1. Regulation (EU) No 508/2014 on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)
This call is launched in accordance with the 2016 Work Programme for the Implementation of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)1 (section 188.8.131.52 of the annex), on the basis of the objectives set out in the Regulation (EU) No 508/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 May 2014 on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund2, and in particular Article 82(c).
1.2. General information concerning the call for proposals
The action covered by this call for proposals forms part of the EMFF Work Programme, whose implementation is partially delegated to the Executive Agency for Small and Medium- sized Enterprises.
According to the Act of Delegation3, grant agreements will be signed by EASME.
The seas and coasts of Europe have great potential to foster regional development and technological innovation. In the EU, it is estimated that about 5 million people work in the blue economy. It includes well-established sectors (such as shipbuilding and ship repair, transport, offshore oil and gas), as well as emerging sectors with a high potential for growth (such as blue biotechnology, aquaculture, ocean renewable energy)4. These sectors were identified in the Blue Growth Strategy launched by the European Commission in 20125, which aims at strengthening the potential for jobs and growth of Europe's coasts, seas and oceans.
As stated in the 2014 Communication "Innovation in the Blue Economy: realising the potential of our seas and oceans for jobs and growth"6, innovation is one of the drivers of the blue economy. One of the fundamental challenges for a more competitive and innovative maritime economy in all sea basins is that the transfer of research results into business ventures must become easier and new technologies need to be brought faster to a commercial and industrial scale.
There is significant EU funding available for innovation in 2014-2020, with the 79 billion € Horizon 2020 programme (i.e. research and innovation actions, SME Instrument projects, projects on the uptake of research results7 and knowledge transfer), COSME8 and a large proportion of the EU's Structural and Investment Funds earmarked for innovation. Still, there is a lack of strategic public-private collaboration projects, in particular transnational ones, to help bring research results to the market and harness new business and investment opportunities in the blue economy.
In addition, synergies and complementarities between existing funding instruments remain difficult to implement at operational level. This is a significant obstacle to creating a critical mass for transfer and application of new technology areas, processes and solutions, as well as for scaling up and testing/piloting local solutions in wider commercial environments.
The regional smart specialisation strategies9 are an initiative that deserves special attention, notably the National/Regional Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3 strategies). Smart specialisation focuses on improving the innovation process by developing specialisation strategies building on a region's strengths, competitive advantages and potential for excellence, whilst being based on strong partnerships between public entities, knowledge institutions and businesses.
Following a similar logic as that of smart specialisation strategies, the EU's maritime policy promotes growth and development strategies that exploit the strengths and address the challenges and needs of each sea basin in the EU. By addressing a certain sea basin or sub-sea basin, it becomes possible to explore the regional potential and provide appropriate solutions for the difficulties or assets of the area, thus creating European added value. This action will support the implementation of sea basin strategies and regional approaches, notably in the Atlantic (Action Plan for a Maritime Strategy in the Atlantic Area10), the Baltic Sea (EU
Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region11), the Adriatic-Ionian Seas (EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region12) and the Mediterranean (BLUEMED13).
The Blue Technology action aims to build on existing smart specialisation strategies and support strategic partnerships of maritime regions and their stakeholders for developing sea basin specific roadmaps/action plans in key blue growth domains that will bring research results faster to the market and accelerate the development of pre-commercial and commercial applications. Based on the roadmaps, a strategic set of pre-commercial or commercial projects will be developed to boost blue growth investments in the sea basin.
Roadmap: an action plan that identifies and coordinates relevant new business and investment opportunities in a sea basin on a mid- to long-term scale, in order to harness the development potential of a chosen blue growth technology, domain or value chain.
Domain: corresponds to a specific area of expertise. In this context it relates in particular to knowledge fields and activities relevant to blue growth within an Economic sector or cutting across different economic sectors.
Value chain: the entire range of activities that (one or more) actors engage in to bring a product from its conception to its end use, ranging from design, production and marketing to distribution and support to the final consumer14.
Demonstration project: a pre-commercial or commercial pilot project that ensures a full-scale demonstration of a new solution with a high potential to be marketed on an international scale. The new solution can be a new technology, process, service or a new application of an existing solution.
Technology Readiness Levels (TRL)15: Scale applied by many public and industry stakeholders to assess the maturity of evolving technologies/applications in terms of their feasibility and commercial potential. A TRL level 5 and higher refers to a technology/application/service demonstrated in a relevant concrete environment.
2. OBJECTIVES – PRIORITIES – ACTIVITIES – OUTPUTS/IMPACTS
Based on the needs set out above, this call for proposals aims to support strategic transnational partnerships to develop joint roadmaps at sea basin level16 in order to coordinate investments for innovation in a specific high potential blue growth technology, domain or value chain. The specific roadmaps shall include an investment plan that will deliver a set of bankable/ready-to-invest demonstration projects for new technologies, industry applications, processes or services within the targeted blue growth area. The aim is that these concrete demonstration projects will be readily available for industry and finance institutions to move swiftly to the implementation stage at the end of the project.
This Blue Technology action aims at Technology Readiness Level 5 or higher, i.e. testing/validating applications in a relevant concrete environment. By doing so, the action will support bringing research results to the commercial and industrial sectors faster. This will in turn contribute to generating jobs and business opportunities in the blue economy.
The roadmaps that projects will develop should build upon existing sea basin/macro-regional strategies, blue growth investment priorities and research and innovation initiatives and funding instruments such as the National/Regional Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3)17, with the objective to:
maximising synergies between existing strategic roadmaps for research, technology and innovation at sea basin level18;
coordinating funding for priority investments;
making the best use of existing financial instruments at EU level (e.g. Horizon 2020,
ERDF and EFSI, EIB) and at national/regional levels.
This call for proposals is open to all blue growth related technology areas, domains and value chains. Nevertheless, projects contributing to the implementation of EU priority areas such as the Circular Economy19, the Digital Agenda20 and the Energy Union and Climate21 are particularly encouraged.
In order to ensure the relevance and impact of this action, the active participation of industrial partners is strongly encouraged throughout the process. Their input and commitment is needed to accelerate the deployment process and to answer to real commercial/market opportunities and industrial challenges.
2.2. Process description
The process description below illustrates the scope of projects to be funded under this action.
The starting point of any project is the establishment of a transnational consortium focused on a sea basin22 and related blue growth challenges and opportunities. The consortium has to have a common interest in a specific blue growth related technology, domain or value chain, for example blue biotechnology, aquaculture, coastal and maritime tourism, wave, tidal or offshore wind energy, etc.
Taking existing strategies and investment plans for the sea basin as a starting point, the consortium will analyse the targeted domain and the opportunities and industry challenges. This analysis should provide a good overview of business opportunities and technologies to tackle industrial challenges that could benefit from enhanced cooperation and to identify the available funding for these cases. To give but a few examples, initiatives could be related to algae biomass production, the multi-use of the marine space or utilisation of new materials for enhanced performance or cost reduction in ocean energy, etc.
Based on the analysis made, the consortium should develop a joint roadmap that a) shows the development opportunities for the blue growth domain in the sea basin in the medium to long term and b) specifies the activities, commitments of stakeholders and milestones needed to realise these opportunities. The final roadmap will include an investment plan that will map the available funds comprehensively and show which funding is available at what stage of the development process, so that the roadmap can be implemented.
The consortium will then mobilise public-private investment partnerships to focus on the most promising opportunities and develop two to three bankable demonstration projects that will show how a new solution for the chosen blue growth area will be put in practice. At the end of the project, these demonstration projects should be ready to be pitched to additional investors/financing institutions and put into action.
In order to realise the objectives outlined above, projects should implement targeted activities resulting in concrete and measurable results within the project's duration of maximum two years.
In line with the above objectives, projects must implement the following core activities, the completion of which is fundamental to realise the objectives of the call:
Develop a joint roadmap including an investment plan for a promising blue growth technology area, domain or value chain at sea basin level. The roadmap should identify key business opportunities and investment priorities (be they local, regional, national or transnational) for a medium to long term timeframe (5-10 years). The main building blocks of the joint roadmap shall include:
- The set-up of a strategic partnership of cluster organisations and/or business network organisations23, which will jointly analyse, identify and scope out a common vision for the specific blue growth technology area, domain or value chain for the targeted sea basin, in cooperation with regional/national public authorities and research organisations as appropriate;
- The establishment of an investment plan for the implementation of the roadmap to coordinate the financing for the chosen domain, pool financial resources, map other funds that could be mobilised and establish links and synergies with related major investments at local, regional or national levels.
Mobilise public-private partnerships that will develop two to three bankable/ready-to- invest demonstration projects. These projects should turn research results, new technologies or other innovations into commercial applications and market opportunities within the targeted blue growth area. The demonstration projects should as a minimum address the following elements:
- identify partners and stakeholders;
- elaborate the demonstration project concept and consortium that will implement it;
- develop the business case and necessary financing (industrial/private and public funding);
- identify solutions to cover the innovation risks;
- produce a timeline for the implementation of the demonstration project.
Nota bene: The two processes – that is developing the joint roadmap on the one hand and developing the bankable/ready-to invest demonstration projects on the other hand – can run consecutively or in parallel during the project lifetime, depending on what exists already as strategy for the region/sea basin to build the roadmap on.
Projects are encouraged to implement one or more of the following complementary activities to support the above core activities:
Organise workshops and matchmaking events to develop, scope out and fine tune roadmaps and to create public-private partnerships for joint investments in demonstration projects;
Provide support to the public-private partnerships in terms of mentoring, coaching, training, investment readiness support, other advisory and financial planning support (e.g. through technical assistance vouchers);
Undertake activities that will increase the likelihood of market uptake from the demonstration projects.
The list of complementary activities is non-exhaustive and aims at providing guidance to applicants. Applicants may propose other activities they deem necessary to achieve the objectives of this action as long as the choice is justified and establishes a clear and direct link between the proposed activities and the project objectives.
Networking with other projects
During the lifetime of the projects financed under this action, a number of meetings will be organised at EU level for the grant beneficiaries to facilitate the exchange of experience and good practices across sea basins, to foster mutual learning and to enhance the European dimension of the blue growth focus. Project beneficiaries are expected to participate in these meetings, which will be held in Brussels or other relevant locations.
2.4. Geographical scope
The geographical area covered by the action includes the North Sea, Baltic Sea, Black Sea, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean sea basins. Proposals shall target one of the above sea basins. They shall involve EU Member States and may also include third countries bordering the selected sea basin and participating in the respective cooperation frameworks
(e.g. Union for the Mediterranean, EU Atlantic Strategy, EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian region, Black Sea Synergy, etc.), excluding volatile regions25.
2.5. Expected outputs/impacts
Projects under this action should achieve concrete outputs within the project's duration. The core activities shall result at least in:
- A joint roadmap that includes an investment plan. This roadmap can serve as a model for other sea basins and consortia to address common challenges and to help turn research results/innovations into industrial applications/business opportunities;
- Two to three bankable demonstration projects, involving a transnational public-private consortium, ready for industry and financing institutions to invest in and to be implemented at the end of the project.
In a wider perspective, projects are encouraged to produce:
- New market opportunities for European industry and SMEs in high potential and
innovative blue growth technology areas, domains or value chains;
- More rapid market uptake of new technologies or industry applications, processes or
- New transnational business and investment opportunities and value chains in high
potential blue growth domains across a sea basin.
A list of relevant indicators (qualitative/quantitative) to measure the expected outputs/impacts of the project should be included in the proposal.