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.