From Scepticism to a Clear Vision: Greece in Horizon 2020

On behalf of Vision2020: The Horizon Network, I'd like to present the second article in a series of interviews with some of our most active members. In this article, I'll be introducing Panos Psoroidas. 

As a Vision2020 Regional Business Partner from Athens, Panos was kind enough to give us his thoughts on Greece's place in Horizon 2020, how to potentially drive more research and innovation funding into Southern Europe during the upcoming work programme, and his experience so far working with Vision2020.

By Cais Jurgens

Good afternoon and thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. To begin, can you please tell me a bit about yourself, how you first come across Vision2020 and perhaps go into some detail about your initial thoughts of the network and its goals?

I have been active in the European Research & Technology ecosystem since FP5, as a business advisor, mainly on management and on building exploitation strategies for research projects.

For a number of reasons, my involvement in EU-funded projects was not my first priority for a number of years, only to be revived by the end of 2013.

It was not more than a year ago, that I was introduced to Vision2020 through a colleague. Knowing that Horizon 2020 has been a major area of interest for me, she was adamant that I should get to know what the Vision2020 Network (Vision2020) is all about.

I must admit that at first, I was rather sceptical. For example, there are quite a few networks around and the actual value they provide to H2020 participants and implementers, besides generic information and proposal submission tips, has rarely been conspicuous to me.

However, it became clear that Vision2020 is different from the moment I spoke with their senior executives. I could tell immediately that I was speaking to a team with an in-depth, hands-on knowledge of the overall Research and Innovation ecosystem in Europe, as well as a clear vision for moving forward and branching out as a network.

Facts also helped: Vision2020 member organisations include some of the most important research organisations globally, many of which I’ve tried hard to work with before (sometimes unsuccessfully…). Being a member of Vision2020 suddenly unlocked all this potential.

But what really worked for me, was when I participated in a Vision2020 event in Ljubljana, Slovenia, which was co-hosted by the leader of the Health Helix, KU Leuven. There, through a very well organised process, I witnessed network members being helpfully guided towards participation in winning Horizon 2020 consortia and research ideas. 

Immediately after the Ljubljana event, I knew all the necessary contributing factors for successful networking and tangible results are in place:

  • The network administrators (i.e. people with a clear vision and strategy, fully dedicated to maximum success),

  • The quality of members (comprising some of the most important players in the European R&I scene)

  • The working methodology (i.e. an efficient and effective way for building successful  proposals & consortia)

You held some meetings with Vision2020 staff in Athens in 2016. How did these meetings come about and what came from them?

The arrival of Vision 2020 Network executives in Athens was an ideal opportunity to introduce the network to some of the most active in research & innovation (R&I) entities in Greece. Also, it was a good opportunity to share opinions with trusted Greek partners on the extent to which the Vision 2020 Network co-working concept could be applied to an R&I scene with intense peculiarities, such as the Greek one.

Those meetings were a real success: It is far from an overstatement to say that ALL organisations attended those meetings, including the National Kapodistrian University of Athens, the Piraeus University of Applied Sciences and others. Several have already lined up for Vision2020 membership.

As of now, there are about two and a half years left in the current framework period. Although that doesn’t seem like much, it is certainly worth noting that there is still about €30 billion left to be awarded for research and innovation. With this in mind, what do you hope to accomplish by partnering with Vision2020 over the next two years?

A significant part of my professional effort has been dedicated to helping enterprises and organisations move closer to reaching their goals through the exploitation of the EU’s R&I funding framework.

My involvement covers all relevant stages, i.e. from the initial maturation of the research project idea up to project conclusion. Through partnering with Vision2020, I am convinced that this effort will be vertically facilitated through the transfer of knowledge and expertise accumulated in numerous thematic areas (called “helixes” within Vision2020).

On the other hand, being already a member of the Vision2020 family, my main priorities include introducing domestic organisations and enterprises involved in R&I that can really contribute to the overall Vision2020 success.

Horizon 2020 is all about collaboration and Vision2020 has developed a very unique and very efficient environment for collaboration. Yet, success needs one more ingredient: active contribution of all network members to common objectives!

One of the major goals of Vision2020 is to increase the level of engagement of institutions and businesses from Southern and Eastern Europe. What are some of the struggles your region has faced in the past when attempting to collaborate within Horizon 2020 for the purpose of winning funding?

According to a recent study, Greek researchers amount to 3% of the world's most influential scientists (in terms of citations and references), although Greeks globally account for less than 0.20% of the world's 6.92 billion inhabitants.

That is 15 times above the expected norm. Yet, of the above, an estimated 85% have already left the country. This is perhaps indicative of the dynamics prevailing within the Greek research community.

Greece has also been hit by a persistent recession, which has been largely due to severe pathogenesis in the economic and public sphere.  Also, being in the global news so often, and seldom for the right reasons, is not the best starting point for strategic collaborations with top institutions and researchers throughout the EU.

The recession has led to severe cuts in resources that could be directed towards winning Horizon 2020 contracts and as a result, Horizon 2020 participation by Greek research institutions and SMEs is far below the actual capabilities of the Greek R&I community.

There is the strong indication of a fragmented presence in H2020 projects, thus perpetuating the difficulty of maintaining a coordinated and persistent presence.

How do you feel further collaboration and funding will specifically benefit your region?

Current Horizon 2020 participation levels by Greek entities indicate that there is a significant research potential in the region waiting to be unleashed. I strongly believe that international collaboration, exchange of knowledge and adoption of best practices is perhaps the single most important contributing factor to get Greece back on its feet and allow the exploitation of its significant R&I potential, for the benefit of economy and society.

Yet, paraphrasing the famous JFK quote, I often say to persons and organisations trying to benefit from the European Research and Innovation funding framework: Ask not what Horizon 2020 can do for you, ask what you can do for Horizon 2020.

The moment you clarify how you can add value to the European Research and Innovation ecosystem, the very same moment you will know how you can benefit from existing funding and collaboration opportunities.

Teslianum: Bringing up the Western Balkan Region

On behalf of Vision2020: The Horizon Network, I'd like to present the first article in a series of interviews with some of our most active members.

Today, I'd like to welcome Mirjana Prljevic, the Owner and General Manager of TESLIANUM Ltd. Having founded TESLIANUM in 1993, and with offices in Belgrade and Paris, Mirjana has over 20 years of experience in strategic positioning.

In addition, Mirjana has been a guest lecturer at several universities, including the London School of Commerce, Harvard, BIMBA-Beijing International MBA, Antai College Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Moscow Higher School of Economics, and several others.

Her book The Strategy of Positioning as a Key to Success has been translated into seven languages. Mirjana is also a columnist for the Forbes China magazine and has an impressive amount of experience in the domains of Global Strategic Positioning, Sustainable Country Development, New Economic diplomacy, and Energy efficiency. You can find more on www.prljevic.com.

I spoke with Mirjana recently regarding her experience so far with the Vision2020 initiative and how we can work together to increase the amount of Horizon 2020 funding flowing into the Western Balkan region. 

By Cais Jurgens

Hi Mirjana, thanks for joining us. How did you first come across Vision2020?

I first heard about the benefits of becoming a member of Vision2020 from the Brussels office of Horizon 2020 program DG R&D. From there, I wrote to them and expressed interest in becoming a member of this remarkable business- and academia-based family.

The first time I met with Vision2020 staff was in Belgrade at a Workshop organised by the Serbian Chamber of Commerce. The second was at Cardiff University at a Vision2020 Energy Helix event. It was then, I must say, that I recognised the potential for a strategic partnership between their network and the Western Balkan Region.

Since then, we've helped several very interesting and prominent businesses become members of Vision2020, including Energoprojekt, one of the biggest companies in Serbian industry, RADEI – Regional Development Agency for European Integration of Belgrade and ECS – An Executive Car Service from the SME sector. 

You recently held a week of events with Vision2020 staff in Belgrade. What would you say was achieved during that week?

Sending the right message to Serbian and Western Balkan Region potential members regarding how to be successful in applications for different program funds of Horizon 2020 can be a very challenging activity. 

Academics and experts from our University and research organisations, SMEs, and big industrial corporates possess a huge interest in participating in Horizon 2020 programs. I was very pleased to recommend to the potential partners in attendance over the course of that week that Vision2020 is the number one partner in this domain.

During a recent meeting in Belgrade with Vision2020 co-founders Abdul Rahim and Michael Browne, we took note of this ever growing interest, as well as the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done to get the West Balkan Region more involved, and went from there.

Furthermore, we felt a strong amount of goodwill from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Belgrade, on behalf of Dean, PhD Radivoje Mitrovic, and State Secretary of Government of The Republic of Serbia, PhD Vladimir Popovic, to establish a group of technical faculties – as a smaller Serbian consortium – which can then be a part of a much larger collaboration effort, once they become full members.

The Helixes on Vision2020's networking platform, Crowdhelix, for which they expressed the most interest are Materials, Manufacturing, Energy, Digital, and Climate. It is my hope that they'll be able to find a number of relevant collaborators within these Helixes and successfully apply for funding. 

What do you hope to accomplish by partnering with Vision2020?

For the moment, work-packages or project coordination activities are not the priority. What is important is finding the appropriate partners within the network to exploit the huge potential of Serbia and other countries in the region. 

As soon as we identify goals and the interests of our members in the Western Balkan region, and work to get more Horizon 2020 projects to Serbia and the rest of the region, we will be stronger as a strategic partner with Vision2020. Overall, that is my goal for the coming year. 

We have an opportunity to offer some incredibly interesting opportunities for collaboration between industry, experienced professors and young researchers desperate for funds.

For me, this is one of the most valuable contributions that Vision2020 makes through the different Helix consortiums. Regarding Teslianum, and how we go about choosing partners, we are certain to give our very best to secure membership only for members that possess, in my opinion, excellence as a trademark of their business activities.

What are some of the struggles your region has faced in the past when attempting to collaborate within Horizon 2020 for the purpose of winning funding?

Serbia and other countries of the Western Balkans region have really suffered a lot in the last few decades, especially, through an enormous exodus of the young and well-educated people.

We are lacking people who work intensively on EU programs, which as you know, is not an easy way to secure funds due to different conditions, different applications, different portfolios for the consortium membership, different strategies, etc.

From the Danube strategy projects to the IPA and IPARD, from the Ionic-Adriatic strategy the right to Horizon 2020, it is not easy for companies, for the government, local municipalities, or for SME's.

Different stakeholders have begun to understand in the last two years that we need to cultivate an integral approach to the different industrial and economic challenges. From targeted ones, such as agriculture and infrastructure projects, to energy and telecommunications.

Regarding Horizon 2020 programs, we have several evaluators, but not so many projects where Serbian organisations have had the opportunity to be project leaders, but much more often as coordinators or WP managers. Now, with more focus and with more integrality at the same time, our struggles, I hope, will be more technical and operational than strategic.

How do you feel further collaboration and funding will specifically benefit your region?

As I said, we need more knowledge and best practice examples to see and understand. Vision2020 is the right network and Crowdhelix is the best platform for finding the right partners for our projects, as well as the experienced people needed on applications. But perhaps, most important of all, we'll have more information on how to successfully apply for Horizon 2020 funding, and I'm looking forward to seeing the benefits in accordance with our efforts.