By Antonio Carbone, Horizon 2020 Italian National Contact Point* for SMEs, ICT and Access to Risk Finance – ‎APRE – Agency for the Promotion of European Research


Horizon 2020 stimulates SME and start-ups participation across the whole programme, yet with a particular focus on close-to-market support. As recently stated by the European Commission in occasion of the European Innovation Council – EIC pilot calls, the EU needs to help improve the conditions enabling the emergence and rapid scale-up of highly innovative enterprises. The objective is to strengthen breakthrough innovations and boost the number of high-growth companies.

The SME Instrument addresses SMEs with a radically new idea underpinned by a business plan for rolling out marketable innovation solutions and with ambitions to scale up. Fast Track to Innovation targets industry-driven consortia seeking a quick market uptake of new solutions, and brings together actors with complementary backgrounds, knowledge and skills.

Both the instruments will focus on market-creating innovations radically new, breakthrough products, services, processes or business models that open up new markets with the potential for rapid growth at European and global levels. Market-creating innovations take shape at the intersection between different technologies, industry sectors and scientific disciplines, linked to domains such as agriculture, energy, health, ICT, space and transport.

Therefore, in the next three years the European Commission will look also for exploitation of promising research results in ICT for Health, wellbeing and ageing well, with a view to stimulating increased availability and market uptake of relevant ICT products and services. It will concern both interoperable and secure eHealth solutions for consumers and institutional healthcare delivery building on standards and new ICT solutions and innovation ecosystems for ageing well building on open software platform5, in order to deliver new and more efficient care to European citizens and respond to new market opportunities for SMEs. Particular attention should be given to potential for disruptive innovation and fast market up-take in ICT for health, wellbeing and ageing well.


SME Instrument

Close-to-market and scale-up projects of a single SME or a consortium of SMEs established in EU Member States or Horizon 2020 associated countries.

Fast Track to Innovation (FTI)

Close-to-market projects of consortia with three to five entities from at least three different EU Member States or Horizon 2020 associated countries. Industry must participate. Interdisciplinary approaches encouraged.

Useful links

  • Transformation of Health and Care in the Digital Single Market (link)
  • European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot (link) 
  • EASME – Executive Agency for SMEs (link)
  • Access 4 SMEs – National Contact Points for innovation (link)


*The network of National Contact Points (NCPs) is the main structure to provide guidance, practical information and assistance on all aspects of participation in Horizon 2020. NCPs are also established in many non-EU and non-associated countries (“third countries”).

december, 2023

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