Horizon 2020: what it is and how to apply for funding

How businesses, universities, charities and other organisations can access funding support for European research and innovation projects.


Horizon 2020 is the largest ever European funding programme for research and innovation. It has a budget of 79 billion euros and will run until 2020.

It aims to:

  • ensure that Europe produces world-class science
  • remove barriers to innovation
  • make it easier for public and private sectors to innovate together

This guidance is designed to help people in the UK understand and access the funding opportunities available, in order to innovate and grow both in the UK and abroad.

What is Horizon 2020?

The Horizon 2020 programme was established by the European Union (EU) as a collaborative financial instrument that would help secure Europe’s global competitiveness in research and innovation.

The programme – running from 2014 to 2020 – is seen as a means of putting Europe at the heart of world-class science and innovation, making it more competitive, creating economic growth and new jobs. It offers an open, simple structure for accessing funding in order to remove barriers to collaborative innovation, get new projects off the ground quickly and achieve results faster.

Funding calls are based on 3 areas:

Excellent science

This area focuses on raising the level of excellence in Europe’s science base by:

  • supporting the best ideas
  • developing European talent
  • providing researchers with access to a research infrastructure

Industrial leadership

This area stimulates the growth potential of European companies by:

  • offering access to risk finance
  • encouraging private investment in research and development
  • offering support for innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

Societal challenges

This area aims to tackle the biggest challenges facing modern society. It reflects the policy priorities of the European Commission and covers all stages of research and innovation, from concept to market.

EU Flags in front of the European Parliament
EU Flags in front of the European Parliament.

What Horizon 2020 can do for you as a UK business

If you are an innovative UK-based business you should apply for a Horizon 2020 call. It is:

  • the biggest single opportunity for UK businesses to access European funding
  • a gateway for accessing new expertise, infrastructure and markets
  • a proven instrument for supporting your business to become more innovative, competitive and to grow faster – and helping to grow the UK economy as a whole

Find out if you’re eligible to apply

Horizon 2020 funding opportunities are open to all EU member states.

If you want to apply to run a standard research project you must be one of the following:

  • registered business
  • charity
  • partnership or
  • research organisation that has legal standing

You must form a consortium with other members of this status. For other, non-standard competitions different conditions may apply. The guidance for the competition will specify this.

Horizon 2020 and the UK exiting the EU

UK government has committed to underwriting payment of Horizon 2020 awards while the UK remains a member of the EU. It will underwrite payment of such awards, even when specific projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU. This includes awards where the application is submitted before the exit and is subsequently approved after exit.

There are also some opportunities for people from other countries. You can find the full list of these associated countries and third countries on the Horizon 2020 website.

Find out what funding is available

Horizon 2020 provides different types of funding schemes. You can find more information about each stream on the European Commission Participant Portal.

Research and innovation actions

You can apply for funding for projects that establish or explore the feasibility of new knowledge or technology. You can get funding for up to 100% of your project’s direct costs.

Innovation actions

You can apply for funding if your project is close to market. This could include:

  • prototyping
  • testing
  • demonstrating
  • piloting
  • market replication or
  • large-scale product validation

You can get up to 70% of your project’s direct costs if you are a business, or up to 100% funding if you are a not-for-profit organisation.

Coordination and support actions

You can apply for funding to cover networking and coordinating research and innovation projects. This can include:

  • standardisation
  • dissemination
  • awareness-raising
  • networking
  • support services

You can get funding for up to 100% of your project’s direct costs.

SME instrument

This stream is for SMEs that want to develop their growth potential. There are 3 phases and these cover the whole innovation cycle. You can also access a mentoring and coaching service.

Fast track to innovation

You can apply for funding for innovation activities that are close to market. To apply, you must be part of a consortium with 3 to 5 partners. Partners must be from at least 3 different EU member states or associated countries.

Pre-commercial procurement

If you are in the public sector, you can act as a buyer to encourage the development of new solutions to problems. This will give you access to innovations before they go on sale to others. This will also open up market opportunities for industry and researchers.

Public procurement of innovative solutions

If you are a contracting authority, you can apply for funding to help you act as a customer for new innovations. These innovations are products or services that are not available on a large-scale commercial basis.

Marie Sklodowska Curie actions

You can apply for funding if you are a researcher. You can get funding for up to 100% of your project’s direct costs.

European Research Council grants

You can apply for funding if you are looking for support for fundamental research. You can get funding for up to 100% of your project’s direct costs.

Flight deck of the airlander
Flight deck of the airlander.

Apply for Horizon 2020 funding

To apply for funding you need to:

  • find a live funding call
  • find partners to form a consortium
  • register on the European Commission Participant Portal
  • read the online manual, which includes step-by-step instructions on preparing your proposal
  • submit your proposal via the portal by the stated deadline

Once you have submitted your proposal the European Commission will check that you are eligible. A panel of independent experts will then assess your proposal. There is standard evaluation criteria, although this can vary for each funding scheme.

Get help with your Horizon 2020 application

If you are a UK applicant there are organisations that can help you find opportunities and complete your proposal.

National Contact Points

The network of National Contact Points are based across the UK to help you with a range of Horizon 2020 issues, including:

  • choosing the best funding scheme
  • administrative procedures and contractual issues
  • the application process
  • the documents you’ll need to use (forms, guidelines and manuals)
  • finding a project partner
  • reviewing your proposal
  • any communication between you and the commission on your project scope

The Enterprise Europe Network (EEN)

The Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) works to advise and connect UK businesses with co-developers, manufacturers, distributors and suppliers overseas.

You can get help from EEN if you are an organisation with high innovative potential and ambitions for international growth. It can advise on:

  • going international – finding and connecting with potential business partners across Europe
  • communicating with the EU
  • finding other funding opportunities and local initiatives
  • account management for organisations receiving Horizon 2020 funding
  • becoming more innovative

The Knowledge Transfer Network

As our networking partner, the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) links new ideas and opportunities with expertise, markets and finance through its network of businesses, universities, funders and investors.

You can get help from the KTN to:

  • find funding opportunities
  • form partnerships
  • develop your project proposals
  • work with other UK stakeholders to influence Horizon 2020 work programmes

Devolved administrations

If you are in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales you can get support from the devolved administrations:

Get help to find a project partner

To apply for some Horizon 2020 funding schemes you will need to form a consortium with partners in other countries.

There are a number of places where you can get help to find partners:

Horizon 2020 events

You can find out about specific funding opportunities by attending a Horizon 2020 event. Future events will be listed here.

Other European funding opportunities

You can also access other European funding and support programmes:


EUREKA is a network of over 36 countries. It supports international collaboration for the development of innovative new products, processes and services.

There is no direct funding available in the UK for EUREKA projects. You can take part if you are a large UK business or academic organisation but you must fund this yourself.

Contact Dora Meredith, European and Global Portfolio Manager,

EUREKA Eurostars

If you are an SME and want to take part in collaborative research, you can apply to the EUREKA Eurostars programme. EUREKA Eurostars supports the development of new products, processes or services. You can apply with 2 (or more) participants from 2 (or more) Eurostars countries. An SME carrying out R&D must lead the project.

There will be two calls for proposals each year between 2014 and 2020. You will find out if your application has been successful within 14 weeks of the closing date.

Innovate UK funds successful UK applicants. You can get up to 60% of eligible project costs - up to €360,000 per UK project partner.

Only innovative intensive and research-performing SMEs are eligible for funding in the UK. You can also take part in a Eurostars project if you are a large UK business or academic organisation but you must fund this yourself or from other sources.

Contact customer support service or 0300 321 4357.


The ERA-NET programme provides opportunities for researchers and innovation funders in Europe to work together and co-ordinate joint activities.

Competitions consist of open calls for European consortia in selected topics or areas. Each country has its own eligibility criteria.

Currently Innovate UK is providing funding for UK partners in 3 ERA-NET competitions:

  • CoBioTech, which aims to help transform the global economy from depending on fossil raw material to using more sustainable, bio-based resources
  • Solar, which aims to improve Europe’s market share in solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies
  • Photonic sensing, which aims to improve Europe’s market share in photonics-based sensing technologies

Contact customer support service or 0300 321 4357.

Sustainable urbanisation global initiative (SUGI)

This competition looks to find new understanding and solutions to the systemic management of food, water and energy in cities. It is designed to support international collaboration, requiring the participation of at least 3 different countries. There are 22 countries involved.

The UK is to provide up to 1.6 million euros in order to fund 6 to 7 UK-based businesses with maximum funding per project of up to 300,000 euros. Funding is being made available by Innovate UK, Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Contact customer support service or 0300 321 4357.

Electronic components and systems for European leadership

You can apply to ECSEL if you are a business or research and technology organisation. ECSEL combines 3 technology areas:

  • ENIAC nano-electronics
  • ARTEMIS embedded computing systems
  • European Technology Platform EPOSS (smart systems integration)

There is no UK funding available for this programme. UK companies and organisations are welcome to participate but they will have to self-fund.

For further information, see ESCEL website.

European Institute of Technology

You can also apply to the European Institute of Technology to take part in one of its knowledge and innovation communities (KIC). These KICs bring together the private sector, research organisations and higher education institutions.

Each KIC has a physical centre which acts as a hub for activities such as:

  • training and education programmes
  • innovation projects
  • business incubation

There are 6 operational KICs:

There will also be a KIC in Urban Mobility in 2018.

Published 3 November 2015
Last updated 23 February 2018 + show all updates
  1. Added latest programme of Horizon 2020 events taking place in March and April 2018.
  2. Updated latest events.
  3. Updated latest events.
  4. Updated latest events.
  5. Updated latest events.
  6. Updated latest events.
  7. Updated latest events.
  8. Updated latest events.
  9. Added latest events.
  10. Updated latest events.
  11. Clarified underpayment of awards to UK applicants for projects that continue and/or are awarded beyond the UK's exit from the EU. Also updated the outlining ministerial statement to:
  12. Updated latest Horizon 2020 events.
  13. Added new sections on 'What is Horizon 2020' and 'What Horizon 2020 can do for you as a UK business' to clarify programme details and benefits. Incorporated information on funding while the UK remains a member of the EU in 'Find out if you’re eligible to apply'. Moved section on 'Get help with your Horizon 2020 application' above 'Get help to find a project partner'. Updated imagery.
  14. Added latest Horizon2020 events.
  15. Updated latest events.
  16. Updated with latest events and link to UK National Contact Point details.
  17. Updated latest events.
  18. Added information on SUGI programme under 'Other funding opportunities' and updated funding information under 'Electronic components and systems for European leadership'.
  19. Added information on ERA-NET programme under 'Other funding opportunities'.
  20. Updated latest Horizon 2020 events.
  21. Updated contact details and programmes we support.
  22. Updated H2020 events
  23. Added "MSCA - RISE Call 2017 information event" to event listing
  24. Updated events listing
  25. Updated the events listings
  26. Added new events
  27. Added new events for October and beyond.
  28. Removed "Horizon 2020 Climate Action, Environment, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials - Societal Challenge 5" as it has been cancelled
  29. Added new events
  30. Added new events
  31. Added link to Chancellor Philip Hammond’s statement guaranteeing Horizon 2020 EU funding beyond date UK leaves the EU
  32. Added new events
  33. Link added to register for the expression of interest to become a member of the Horizon 2020 Interim Evaluation High-Level Expert Group on maximising the impact of EU Research and Innovation programmes as part of the interim evaluation of Horizon 2020
  34. Added Horizon 2020 Information Day on the Research Public-Private Partnerships event details
  35. Removed an invitation-only event
  36. New H2020 events added
  37. Two past events removed.
  38. New events added
  39. Events added
  40. New event added
  41. New event added
  42. New events added
  43. First published.