Grant Agreement Data Preparation for EIC Accelerator
This article is intended to summarise some negotiation survival tips for EIC Accelerator beneficiaries.
Acronyms: EIC: European Innovation Council, ESR: Evaluation Summary Report, EC: European Commission, GA: Grant Agreement, SME: Small & Medium Enterprise, IBAN: International Bank Account Number.
Right after the ESR is released by the EC, Accelerator beneficiaries are called to start a process named GA Data Preparation that, if successful, will result in the EC extending an invitation to sign the GA. This process is also informally known as “GA negotiations” or simply “negotiations” and often takes an average of three (3) months to be completed.
Why the need of negotiations survival tips?
As mentioned above, negotiations are a key process not to be underestimated where the beneficiary has an opportunity to revisit the project proposal, checking that the technical and scientific details are correct, relevant and still current because if they are not, during negotiations there is a possibility to amend any small mistake by updating the data provided. Remember that once the GA is signed off and in-force, it becomes a legally binding contract between EC and the beneficiary where both parties are obligated to carry on with the content of the GA.
If you are involved in an Accelerator negotiation, do not panic! Take a deep breath and contact us for assistance, we would be happy to do so. [Fun fact: we have contributed to 100+ European projects to successfully completed negotiations and moved forward into a GA signature with the EC].
Additionally, please check out the following top 10 negotiation survival tips:
- SME status validation: even though this has been requested during the proposal preparation and submission process, sometimes EC requires beneficiaries to update their SME status according to the most current available financial data. If that is the case, all you have to do is simply let EC know the figures from your last closed financial year available (turnover, balance sheet and headcounts). EC will then review the information provided, check them against the requirements and confirm your company SME status.
- DoA: the description of action (DoA) or annex 1 is the actual description of the technical and scientific work to be done, it is the core of the project. It involves the what, how, when and by whom. Since proposals are often prepared a few months before the project actually starts, it is always good practice to review the DoA during negotiations one more time making sure all is accurate and still relevant. In case anything needs to be updated or reviewed, during negotiations would be the appropriate time to do so.
- Starting date: confirming your project starting date is not trivial. Normally projects start on a standard date, i.e. the first date of the month following the signature of the GA by EC. Alternatively, should you require your project to start in a specific date due a technical requirement (justification needed), you can agree on that with EC. That is why the importance of confirming the starting date of your project during negotiation is the correct one.
- Budget: the budget of the project is also known as annex 2 and refers to the total amount that the project will cost to carry out. It is divided into different costs categories (direct & indirect) containing an estimation of the funding needed for each of them. Again, during negotiation you have a chance to check that all costs were forecast in accordance to the DoA.
- SME owners: as implies by its name, SME owners are the owners of the company that are going to declare work hours in the project. Often, SME owners get pay by any other means than an employment labor contract, i.e. dividends, bonuses, shares, and/or other contracts that are not employment labour contract under national applicable legislation. If that is the case, SME owners’ work in the project would not be eligible for reimbursement. As a solution, EC has come up with an alternative method to recognize SME owners’ work in the project called “unit costs”. It is a fixed amount (a formula applies) to calculate and it is eligible for reimbursement. That is why the importance of checking whether in your project there are any SME owners or not, as otherwise, you would be risking a fair amount of work hours not to be considered for reimbursement. If in doubt, feel free to contact us.
- Bank account: providing a correct and valid bank account, in its IBAN format, is important too as it is into the project nominated bank account where EC will disburse the payments, therefore it is always advisable to check it is the one you intend to use for the project. Other than the IBAN, a bank statement not older than 6 months should be enough evidence to validate a bank account.
- LEAR appointment: parallel to the validation of your organisation, its legal representative(s) (e.g. typically the CEO of the company) must nominate a Legal Entity Appointed Representative (LEAR). The LEAR role, which can be performed by an administrative staff member in the organisation’s central administration, is key: once validated by the Commission, the LEAR will be authorised to manage the legal and financial information about the organization, manage access rights of persons in the organisation (but not at the project level) and appoint representatives of the organisation to electronically sing grant agreements (‘Legal Signatories’ – LSIGN) or financial statements (‘Financial Signatories’ – FSIGN) via the Funding & Tenders Portal.
- Roles: managing a project implies assigning a few roles for a better administration. You should differentiate them between organization roles & project roles.
- Organisation roles: as explained previously, the LEAR must assign 2 roles for the organization, a Legal Signatory (LSign) and a Financial Signatory (FSign). Even though you could allocate such roles to more than one person in your organization, it is recommended to centralized all of them into only one. Doing this will ease the process in the end.
- Project roles: similar to the organisation, the project needs a Project Legal Signatory (PLSign) and a Project Financial Signatory (PFSign). Again, there is the possibility for you to assign such roles to more than one person from the project team, however, it is recommended for only one person to hold both roles. Doing this will accelerate any pending “signature” and, to avoid the risk of only one person holding both roles, you can assign the same roles to another team member as well so there would be a backup in case of unforeseen events.
- Business coaching sessions: as part of the beneficiary package, EC facilitates complimentary business coaching sessions for Accelerator beneficiaries. These sessions are aimed to better prepare you to manage the different project areas and strengthen your skillset to deliver, for example, a fierce commercialization strategy. EC will wait until you have sat down with the business coach and come up with a needs analysis in order to progress the grant agreement signature; that is why the importance of addressing this at your earliest convenience.
- PO: the project officer is the contact person from EC allocated to your project. In general, your PO remains the same for the whole duration of the project. Their role is to assist you in navigating the intricate bureaucracy of the EC framework of reference and interpreting the GA for seamless project management. Open and fluent communication with PO is key during negotiations. It is in your best interest to secure your grant therefore, the sooner you get an invitation to sign the GA, the better.
In conclusion, during negotiations, you have the chance to review the proposal submitted thoroughly and check all is correctly described as initially planned, or if anything needs to be updated. Bear in mind that not all changes/updates are going to be accepted by EC. Your ultimate goal is to keep the negotiations as faithful as possible to the original proposal and only proceed to the minimum necessary changes to guarantee the project’s full completion.
Negotiations set out the structure of the future GA to be signed. An average of 2 weeks is often given to complete this process, which at the end of it you must submit the GA data.
Following the above-mentioned tips during negotiations will maximise your chances of succeeding and moving on to the next step.
In case of doubts or need for further clarification, please do not hesitate to let us know; we would be happy to assist you.
Author: Juan José Vázquez, Project Manager within the Inspiralia Project Management Office