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Mandatory outlines as the basis for applications to seek status as an SFI centre

It is now possible to submit a mandatory outline for qualification to seek funding to establish a Centre for Research-based Innovation (SFI) with start-up in 2020.

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The Norwegian-language call for proposals is the legally binding version.

This call pertains only to mandatory outlines. Only applicants who submit a mandatory outline will be qualified to seek funding under the final funding announcement for applications for SFI status. The final call will have an application submission deadline of 25 September 2019.

Status:

Active

Amount of funding presumed available for this call for proposals:

The intention is to start up at least 10 new Centres for Research-based Innovation (SFI) in autumn 2020. The annual allocation from the Research Council to new centres is expected to be up to NOK 120 million.

This new round of SFI funding coincides with the Research Council’s introduction of more active portfolio-based management, and it may be possible for particularly strong SFI applications to receive funding outside the SFI scheme budget.

The Research Council, through its ICT scheme, will fund 2-4 centres outside the SFIs budget allocation, if they reach competitive quality.

Guidelines and important considerations relevant to all types of applications in this call for proposals:


Conditions for funding

Who is eligible to apply?

This funding announcement for applications for SFI status encompasses all thematic areas that may be of importance for innovation and value creation in the business sector. All proposed centres that satisfy the overall criteria for SFI centres may apply for funding, as long as the applicant is an approved research organisation. All applicants must describe how the proposed centre will expand upon or complement other established centres or large-scale initiatives.

When selecting centres for SFI status and funding, importance will be attached to their potential to generate innovation, business development and sustainable value creation within the centre’s thematic priority areas. The scientific merit of the research must be of high international calibre.

Mandatory outlines

In the first phase of the application process applicants are required to submit mandatory outlines. Project outlines must be submitted at the latest by Thursday, 4 April 2019, 15:00 CEST.

The main aim of mandatory submission of outlines is to ensure that applicants do not put too much work into applications for SFI status that will clearly not be competitive. The submission of outlines also serves as a tool to help large institutions to prioritise and rank their various initiatives, and helps the Research Council to tailor the assessment process for the final application phase.

Only applicants who submitted a mandatory outline by the deadline will be qualified to seek funding under the final funding announcement. Applications for SFI status that are not based on an outline submitted by the deadline will be rejected.

Main requirements and conditions for SFI centre funding

A description of the main requirements stipulated for conferral of SFI status may be found in the document Centres for Research-based Innovation (SFI) – Requirements and Guidelines (January 2019). All applicants are advised to familiarise themselves with these requirements and guidelines.

Please note the following changes and new details in relation to previous SFI funding announcements:

  • The formal applicant and host institution must be an approved Norwegian research organisation. The establishment of an SFI centre must be viewed in the context of the research strategy of the host institution.
  • The inclusion of companies in the centres’ activities is one of the requirements of the SFI scheme. Both public entities and companies may participate in the centres’ activities. Each centre must have at least three user partners, and these must always include company partners.
  • All user partners are to actively participate in the governance, financing and research activities at the centres, and must conduct significant innovation activities of their own as well as be able to take advantage of the research results when developing their activities.
  • Financial contributions from private companies and other user partners must comprise at least 50 per cent of the Research Council’s annual contribution.
  • The host institution and other research organisations may contribute additional funding to highlight their strategic basis and commitment.
  • The host institution and partners are to decide among themselves how the partners are to contribute, based on each one’s size, role and prerequisites. The amount of any own financing from the research organisations will not be weighted in the application review process.
  • An SFI centre is a time-limited research centre with a period of operation and funding of maximum eight years. Each centre will receive an annual allocation from the Research Council of NOK 10–12 million per year.
  • The Research Council cannot allocate state aid under the SFI scheme. Support awarded to research organisations may only be used in connection with the organisations’ non-economic activities. The Research Council requires companies to keep separate accounts for the economic activities and the non-economic activities. Companies must cover their own costs and are not allowed to receive indirect state aid either. Projects under the auspices of the centre are to be carried out as effective collaboration between the partners.

Applications that do not comply with the main requirements and conditions stipulated for SFI centres will be rejected.

Other requirements and expectations under this funding announcement

Innovation and commercialisation

SFI centres are expected to have the active participation of companies and public entities. The exchange of staff members between partners is also expected. All SFI centres must have clear, targeted plans and procedures for how to facilitate and encourage innovation and how they will define, map and follow up research results that have innovation potential. All applicants must clearly explain how proposed centres will address innovation and commercialisation issues.

Internationalisation

A secondary objective of the SFI scheme is to promote the development of outstanding industry-oriented research clusters that are an integral part of dynamic international networks and that enhance the internationalisation of the Norwegian business sector. There are clear expectations for SFI centres to incorporate international participation and collaboration. An SFI centre may include international partners under the same terms and conditions as Norwegian partners, provided that the international partners also help to achieve the centre’s objectives and the overall objectives of the SFI scheme. An SFI centre is expected to incorporate international researcher exchange and research stays abroad. SFI consortium partners are further expected to take active steps to participate and achieve success in international research arenas, e.g. as a player under the EU framework programmes. All applicants must clearly explain how proposed centres will address internationalisation.

Participation of public entities

Although the SFI scheme is targeted towards the Norwegian business sector, public entities may also participate in an SFI centre together with companies. This kind of collaboration is relevant in a number of areas where there are major national and international market opportunities for the Norwegian business sector, such as in the health care and transport sectors. Public entities in this context can be demanding user partners and problem owners. R&D collaboration within an SFI centre may also provide companies and research organisations with access to data, equipment, test arenas and more that can be valuable for the centre. Applicants must clearly explain the role of any public entities and how they will actively participate in the centre’s activities.

The SFI scheme is flexible

The SFI consortium participants are to decide among themselves how the partners are to contribute, based on each one’s size, role and prerequisites. Contributions from consortium participants may be provided in the form of direct funding, in-kind resources through concrete collaborative activities, or infrastructure that is essential to performing the centre’s research activities. Thus the scheme is highly flexible with regard to encouraging the involvement of large, internationally-oriented enterprises as well as of small and medium-sized companies. The Research Council assesses each application and its consortium on the basis of the centre’s objectives, focus of activities and how these will be tailored to the challenges to the research and innovation ecosystem in the relevant area. All applicants must clearly explain the active role of each consortium participant based on its size and prerequisites.

Sustainable societal and business development

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are the global work plan for eradicating poverty, combatting inequality and halting climate change by 2030. The long-term research activities of the various centres enable the SFI scheme to promote increased, more sustainable value creation as well as restructuring of the Norwegian business sector. The SFI scheme will help to meet major societal challenges in other areas as well. All applicants must clearly explain how the centre will promote sustainable societal and business development. When assessing grant applications, and assuming that all factors relating to scientific merit and relevance are essentially equal, the Research Council will give priority to applications that can make a significant contribution towards promoting sustainable societal and business development.

Researcher training and research stays abroad

The SFI scheme is to encourage and contribute to researcher training in areas where recruitment of highly educated, qualified personnel is important for the business sector. Researcher training may be organised and financed wholly or partially within the centre or through cooperation with a university or university college in some other way. Researcher training must be provided through a university or university college that is accredited by the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT) to confer doctoral degrees in the relevant field. The scope and profile of the researcher training must be adapted to the need for and challenges relating to recruitment to the business sector and reflect the needs of the research and innovation ecosystem of the relevant area. Training within an SFI centre encompasses master’s and doctoral students as well as post-doctoral research fellows. All applicants must clearly explain how and to what extent the centre will contribute to researcher training in its area of focus.

Research stays abroad are a vital part of researcher training and all research fellows working in an SFI centre should obtain international experience. All applicants must explain how they plan to address this.

Gender balance

There are eight women directors at the 24 current SFI centres. This is a substantial improvement compared to previously, but it is desirable to increase the proportion of women directors even more. All applicants are encouraged to nominate qualified women as centre directors and senior researchers. As a general rule, research institutions should integrate relevant gender equality considerations into the planning and preparation of their applications for SFI status. When assessing grant applications, and assuming that all factors relating to scientific merit and relevance are essentially equal, priority will be given to applications with women as centre directors and to centres with a high percentage of women in leadership positions.

Archiving of research data

The host institution and the partners together are responsible for selecting the archiving solution(s) to use for storing research data generated in the centre, and must specify the planned solution(s) in connection with the revised grant proposal.

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