In today’s article I aim to talk a little more about a fundamental strategic issue in innovation projects and emerging areas for which I’ve been receiving, day after day, more requests for advice/consultancy: FUNDING! Today we will focus on Europe.
For the Innovative Air Mobility (IAM) market, also known as Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) and several other terms (see my article Air Mobility 5.0), it all started in 2014, when Europe launched Horizon 2020: an EU’s research and innovation funding program from 2014-2020 with a budget of nearly €80 billion. The program consisted of seven societal challenges (SC) focus for the funds to be awarded – one of them, SC #4, ‘Smart, green and integrated transport’.
The Societal Challenge 4 ‘Smart, green and integrated transport concerns’ addressed urban mobility-related issues and through three main calls (Mobility for Growth, Automated Road Transport and Green Vehicles) and, from that moment on, Europe began to act actively to respond to environmental concerns and to address new societal imperatives linked to demographic changes, new mobility patterns, public transport, sharing economy, accessibility and inclusion.
There were years of encouraging innovation that gave rise to several interesting projects and were the initial step for many start-ups to establish themselves and demonstrate their capacity, attracting the attention of private investment funds that subsequently injected capital so that they continued to grow and pass to occupy a relevant position in the IAM market.
Many of the current vehicle concepts (drones/eVTOLs) that we know today and the missions we see them performing were conceived from this initiative: (i) developments of fundamental components and systems (e.g., eVTOL propulsion, autonomous navigation systems, long-range connection and high-quality/stable signal to enable BVLOS operations), (ii) development of complementary hardware and software, enabling technologies for mobility as a service (MaaS), and (iii) investigations and initial experimentation related to this new Operations (CONOPS), its impacts on society and the public acceptance related to it.
It is a fact that this European Funding Program added some value to the industry and to the academy, however, it was only the initial step for a market as complex as IAM. Having an idea and creating a concept is a small part of a long and fundamental process: the development of a product. A product is something that is certifiable, scalable, viable, sustainable, and profitable (well accepted by the market, consistent with user expectations and limitations).
Thinking about obtaining products, market value and industrial development, what needed to be improved? It was necessary to implement metrics, minimum conditions, and selection criteria that – from the application stage – would contribute to (fairly) guarantee that concepts and prototypes became products to reach the market on a large scale: Horizon Europe, the ninth multiannual financial framework (MFF) starting in 2021 until 2027, was created.
In addition to providing a budget exceeding €95.5 billion, Horizon Europe aims to be more ambitious and more impact-oriented than its predecessor, Horizon 2020. It is composed by many programs and initiatives for ambitious researchers with ground-breaking ideas and innovative entrepreneurs with state-of-the-art innovations – IAM is one of the markets benefited by this incentive scenario.
Additionally, I highlight in this article the chaotic situation experienced in the last 3 years and which has also impacted the world of innovation: the COVID-19 pandemic. This generated major economic impacts and required recovery actions to be implemented. The NextGenerationEU Program was born, what is considered more than a recovery plan, it is considered a chance to transform the EU economies and societies, and design a Europe that works for everyone.
An investment of €806.9 billion is planned and agreed between Member States together, making Europe greener, healthier, stronger, more digital and equal. In this context, the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) was created, considered the key instrument at the heart of NextGenerationEU to help the EU emerge stronger and more resilient from the current crisis.
RRF is a temporary recovery instrument. It allows the Commission to raise funds to help Member States implement reforms and investments that are in line with the EU’s priorities and that address the challenges identified in country-specific recommendations under the European Semester framework of economic and social policy coordination. It makes available €723.8 billion (in current prices) in loans (€385.8 billion) and grants (€338 billion) for that purpose.
Therefore, several National Recovery and Resilience Programs were created across Europe. Many Innovation Agendas were created to respond to these calls and, once again, develop technologies that are in line with the continent’s expectations and incentives – IAM is one of the markets benefited by this incentive scenario. RRF can be considered a great help for innovation to continue, companies to establish and grow, resulting in an EU that achieves its target of climate neutrality by 2050 and is placed on a path of digital transition, creating jobs and spurring growth. in the process.
Back at Horizon Europe, I’d like to talk about some current funding opportunities. Horizon Europe consists of three pillars: Excellent Science, Global Challenges & European Industrial Competitiveness and Innovative Europe. This article focuses on opportunities linked to the second and third pillars, where many of the open calls can be related to IAM and its technologies.
The pillar “Global Challenges & European Industrial Competitiveness” addresses societal challenges directly at European and global level within one of the following six clusters:
- Culture, Creativity and Inclusive Society;
- Civil Security for Society;
- Digital, Industry and Space;
- Climate, Energy and Mobility;
- Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment.
There are several calls within each cluster focused on an important societal theme within Europe. For example, thinking about developing and launching new technologies for providing the best care, stimulating inclusiveness or promoting climate action.
The Innovative Europe pillar focuses on stimulating innovations in order to strengthen the EU’s competitiveness. For example, you can receive funding for cutting-edge innovations with upscaling potential from the European Innovation Council (EIC) programme.
But to get straight to the point… Within the scope of Horizon Europe, what are the real chances of funding for IAM today? Altogether there are 135 open for submission calls and 2 forthcoming calls. Some relevant calls for the area are related to the following topics:
- U-Space and Urban Air Mobility
- Capacity-On-Demand and Dynamic Airspace
- Multimodality and Passenger Experience
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Aviation
- Connected and Automated ATM
- Aviation Green Deal
- Virtualization and Cyber-Secure Data Sharing
- Air-Ground Integration and Autonomy
- Performance Management & Network impact Assessment
It is also important to point out that, related to the same topic, different types of calls are opened so that businesses and technologies that are in different stages of maturity can be covered. Specifically, with a focus on IAM, the main classes of calls currently open are: Fundamental Science and Outreach, ATM application-oriented Research, Industrial Research & Validation, and Fast Track Innovation and Uptake.
The technical details associated with each call are described in the related notice. In addition to a high-potential idea or concept, there is a whole complex process associated with it: a list of requirements needs to be met, a consistent proposal drawn up, a consortium that demonstrates knowledge and comprehensive industrial potential needs to be built, and program management must be conducted from application through income statement, submission of deliverables and closing.
Of course, for many start-ups and small companies this is a totally new process, and in a lean/compact organizational structure, they may not have a professional who has experience and knowledge in this area in their staff. However, the process should not be abandoned. Over the past few years, many companies of this size have succeeded and raised funds. To help with all this, the IAM market already has expert consultants on the subject: innovation, funding and IAM technologies – Accenture, through Industry X, makes this expertise available to the market.