The SME Instrument is by now, the most popular and attractive research and development (R&D) finance program, dedicated to small and medium enterprises (SME) in Europe. It offers simple rules, a user-friendly application process and attractive funding conditions. For applicants, the biggest downside of the program, is by far, large competition, which makes it very difficult to receive a grant for developing an innovative product or service.

According to the European Commission, the success probability rate is 8% for Phase I and 6% for Phase II. Therefore, obtaining financial support will depend on the innovativeness and impact of the solution, as well as the capabilities of the company in order to successfully implement the project.

Comprehensive financing tool

To ensure, that support provided by the instrument has maximum impact on the EU enterprise sector, the program was designed to addresses various industry branches, as well as solutions on a different level of development. Therefore one can apply for either creating a feasibility study or performing R&D works. For companies, which finished the development process, non-financial support, in the form of guidance in commercializing the product is provided as well. In terms of industry branches, the applicant needs to specify, which SME instrument topic to address.

Hint #1 – Recognize your proposal’s area of expertise

The SME instrument is divided into topics, which reflect particular industrial branches, such as ICT, health, space technologies and many other. Each one has an amount of financial resources allocated. Information about particular topics are available here. Most applicants will not find it hard to determine, which topic to address. Applicants should, however, bear in mind, that some applications correspond with two or three topics. In this case, I strongly advise to address the topic, which statistically has less applications submitted, in relation to the allocated amount of money. This will increase your chances of obtaining a grant.

Hint #2 – Be aware of the expected project outcome

Applicants should bear in mind, that within the SME instrument phase I, it is possible to obtain a grant for elaborating a feasibility study including a business plan. Therefore the information presented in the application should indicate, what kind of activities are going to be undertaken, to acquire data and information necessary to complete the document.

Hint #3 – Submitting a proposal – Don’t be late!

Activities, concerned with applying in the SME Instrument, are performed only via the participants portal. This is very convenient, since no paper documents are needed. Users need to remember, however, not to wait for the final hour before the deadline. Many applications submitted simultaneously may cause the participant portal’s failure.

Hint #4 – Address important issues

In the end, the SME Instrument’s financial resources come from EU citizens. Therefore, they should be used to address important social/economic problems, such as public health or the state of our environment and in the long run generate benefits for those citizens.

Hint #5 – Keep the proposal business oriented!

The SME Instrument financially supports the R&D phase only. Therefore, the planned solution should start making money when introduced on the market. Evaluators will analyze the business potential of the solution proposed by the applicant. What if our product/service does not generate income, show market growth and create jobs? In this case we should once again consider applying in the SME Instrument.

Hint #6 – Cover important information

The application should address three criterias.

1) Excellence

In this part, we should describe our solution by presenting its performance, main functionalities and benefits for the end users. The evaluators should be convinced, that the offered product/service, has potential to generate income, new jobs and is technologically disruptive. The applicant should also authenticate the presented technology readiness level achieved (minimum TRL6 required).

2) Impact

This part of the application refers to the influence, which the proposed solution will have on the market. The applicant should indicate, which target groups does our solution address. The presented market data, main competitors and competitive solutions and list the main benefits and advantages of the product should be reliable. It is essential to emphasize the current state of intellectual property rights and convince the evaluators, that the proposed solution does not infringe the rights of others. Last but not least, it is important to formulate a strategy, on how to disseminate and exploit the project’s results.

3) Implementation

In this part, the applicant should convince the Evaluators, that he has the necessary capacity to implement the project successfully. Human and technical resources, experience, established cooperation and third party involvement – all these should be covered in the proposal. The more relevant activities indicated, the more probability of receiving positive assessment within this criterion. The applications should also contain a comprehensive work plan, which proves, that we will be prepared in case we obtain the grant.

Hint #7 – Images speak louder than words

When creating a proposal, the applicant should avoid the ,,wall of text’’ method. In other words, the proposal should not be limited to words only. We strongly advise to present data in the form of graphs, diagrams, visualizations etc. This will make the application seem more user friendly and may allow scoring more points in the evaluation.

Hint #8 – Reach for the stars

According to the European Commission, The SME instrument is targeted for small and medium-sized enterprises, with a strong growth potential and the ambition to become world-market leaders. Therefore the program seeks ventures, which have the potential to expand and conquer, instead of just allowing the company to maintain on the market.


These are just some of the information, which should help applicants in creating their SME instrument phase I proposals. Hope you will find them useful.

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External Funding Specialist

Master of Law degree at the University of Bialystok. Gained experience in acquiring external funding since 2012. Applied for funding from both national and EU resources. Implemented several training and investment projects for both public entities and enterprises. Performed financial and substantive settlement, confirmed by relevant state authorities. Currently specializes in research and development projects, also within the Horizon 2020 program.