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“Our European proposals have had a €227M return in 2021”

projets européens

2021 has been a successful year in terms of Zabala Innovation’s international projection and its European proposals. Igor Idareta, International Project Manager of the company, reviews some of the proposals of its European side and several of the most important milestones that have been achieved recently.

Zabala Innovation celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2021. It was born as a local company with a strong European vocation, how has the evolution of this international facet been?

It has been an international company since its creation, José Mari Zabala founded the office with the first European framework programme and Zabala Innovation has always offered a very comprehensive and European service. A milestone was the opening of the Brussels office in 2004, the first one outside the Mutilva headquarters, with a team dedicated exclusively to following opportunities at the European level. Another very important turning point was when we started to provide services to non-Spanish clients, starting in 2007. Today 28% of the proposals submitted by Zabala Innovation are from non-Spanish clients, and we are now a benchmark at the European level in many programmes.

And what are the keys to such a large penetration of the European market?

One of the key factors in our experience is that we have been working on European proposals and their markets for more than thirty years. We know that each European programme (and even sub-programme) is different: we have to study it, we have to see what the European Commission is asking for, we have to know what they want to finance, and we have to prepare proposals that fit perfectly with these expectations. On the other hand, we always work with the needs of our clients. Our starting point is to know the characteristics of your specific R&D activity to see what you need and to be able to look for the best funding opportunity for your project; we are very strict in the evaluation and the search for the best funding opportunity.

Is cooperation important for the success of these projects?

It is essential; 90% of European programmes require projects to be carried out in cooperation. A differential of the European programmes is that the service, the methodology, the resulting product… must be innovative at the European level and achieve an impact on that scale. It would be very difficult to demonstrate all this in an individual project and to guarantee that your project will meet the requirements it will be necessary to go into cooperation.

In addition, our clients with experience in European programmes reveal to us that once the projects are completed, the main advantage has been the collaborative ties that have been woven in the consortia, even more so than the funding obtained. At Zabala Innovation we like to say that the important thing is the project and that the funding is only an instrument to be able to execute it as successfully as possible.

What are the most attractive European programmes for Zabala Innovation’s clients?

Our company always works in the field of innovation, our clients are innovators and what they are looking for is support to develop their projects in this field. That is why the programme for excellence that supports innovation in all sectors is Horizon Europe, the successor to Horizon 2020. It is the most attractive and we submit the highest percentage of proposals there.

For example, in the last quarter of 2021 we have submitted more than sixty proposals: we have received the evaluation of about twenty, ten of which have been funded and four have been left on the waiting list. We already have a return of more than €70 million for our customers in this programme.

And what is the reason for the great success of the first Horizon Europe calls?

No doubt the great team we have. Our consultants are ultra-qualified to advise our clients and to be able to lead these consortia of European entities; they show a proactive commitment to achieve excellence in the proposals submitted; they carry out essential teamwork to capitalise on all the potential we have at Zabala, and of course, they demonstrate a great preparation and understanding of the main developments of Horizon Europe. Finally, it is worth highlighting the importance of planning to prepare an excellent proposal. Managing and leading a large consortium requires knowledge, a well-established procedure, and a minimum development time.

What has been the role of Zabala Innovation in other relevant programmes such as LIFE or Innovation Fund?

We work in many programmes presenting European proposals, some linked to environmental issues, others to social aspects, sustainability… In LIFE, Zabala Innovation has presented 5% of all the proposals approved at the European level; in Innovation Fund, 10%, 15% in CEF Transport… At the European level, Zabala Innovation is one of the leading consultancy firms, as shown by the fact that in 2021 we have obtained 227 million euros of return on our European proposals.

How is the European projects area structured to deal with this workload?

Between programmes and sub-programmes we have more than 400 lines of action. Therefore our department is structured in twelve knowledge areas, in which more than one hundred experts work on all European proposals. Each one of them researches the programmes that finance projects, identify the topics of interest to our clients, locates possible actors for collaboration, monitors the preparation of projects…

Is Zabala Innovation also involved in European proposals?

Yes, we are users of the programmes as partners or coordinators in more than 40 projects funded by European programmes. We support our clients in the tasks of management, exploitation of results, social impact, dissemination, and diffusion, and at the same time in these projects we weave a network of knowledge and contacts. This is where our R&D lies: we increase our knowledge in different sectors by experiencing them as users and this allows us to provide a better service to our clients.

So, in Europe, Zabala Innovation is synonymous with…

The values that characterise the company: trust, seriousness, team commitment, excellent innovation management, and rigour in our work.

What does 2022 look like?

With a lot of work, because in 2021 some programmes were delayed, and many calls have accumulated in this first quarter. For 2022 the entities are making a very important analysis of the opportunities that exist and we already have a lot of demand to participate in the programmes that close this year. It will also be a very important year because Horizon Europe will publish the work programmes for the period 2023-24, so we are already prepared!