How businesses can connect with the brightest minds in Europe

European Research Council

The ERC provides low-risk opportunities for UK industry to connect with world-leading researchers and get funding of up to €2.5 million for innovation.

Open the door to innovation

Investing in innovation can be high risk for companies, but it can also reap high rewards. Not enough businesses are taking up the low-risk opportunity to boost their innovation by working with European Research Council (ERC) researchers.

ERC researchers are expected to bring about new and unpredictable scientific and technological discoveries that may form the basis of new industries and markets. The researchers are the best in their fields: previous awardees include Nobel Prize winners.

What does the European Research Council fund?

The ERC funds investigator-driven frontier research across all research fields, based on research excellence and is a flagship programme of Horizon Europe, the European Commission’s seven-year framework programme for research and innovation.

ERC grants give the principal investigator the freedom to identify new opportunities and directions in any research field. ERC grants reward innovative proposals as the emphasis is on the quality of the idea rather than the research area.

There is a common misconception that the ERC only supports fundamental research. There is funding of up to €2.5 million available on an ERC grant that can also cover the eligible costs of any industrial partners. The ERC supports ‘frontier’ research, which is research that is directed towards fundamental advances at and beyond the ‘frontier’ of knowledge. This can also include ‘applied’ sciences as there are 11 evaluation panels within the Physical Sciences and Engineering domain.

The UK is a good place to get involved in ERC projects, as it is the top country for host institutions with ERC grants since the ERC’s inception in 2007. Collaboration is not limited to the UK though; industry can work with any ERC grantee based at any European host institution.

Industry plays a vital role

Industry can also be awarded ERC grants as a host institution for a principal investigator to conduct their research at your facilities. One example of this is IBM Research GmbH, an industrial research laboratory in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, hosting Dr Leo Gross. Dr Gross is funded by an ERC grant to work on atomic force microscopy to identify molecular structures for applications in synthetic chemistry, pharmacy, life sciences and environmental sciences.

Another way is for industry to actively participate in a research project. This is what openDemocracy does, working with the University of Bath on the impact on labour relations of unconditional cash transfers.

Businesses can also apply, with a researcher, for funding to commercialise research that has previously received ERC funding with an ERC proof of concept grant. This is a great opportunity for industry to get involved at a crucial time in research development.

The University of Liverpool has a proof of concept grant to deliver a database of molecular semiconductors that offer high charge mobility and time-saving software capable of foreseeing the charge mobility of synthesised molecular materials.

If committing to a grant agreement with the European Commission is too binding, there are opportunities for companies to provide a paid-for service to an ERC-funded research project. In the ERC project TREAT-NPM1-AML, TES Pharma, a research-based biopharmaceutical company based in Italy, is a third party on the project to develop molecular therapies for acute myeloid leukemia.

Ways for industry to get involved

If you or your organisation has a research idea that is pushing the boundaries of knowledge beyond its frontiers, check out the information on our website about how to apply for an ERC grant. We are the UK national contact point for the ERC and run regular events explaining how the programmes work from application to post-award.

If you would like to find ERC-funded academics to collaborate with, you can search on the ERC funded projects database.

If you want inspiration, find out how the ERC transformed science with stories about the achievements of some of the 10,000 ERC grantees.

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Top image: The Berlaymont building, seat of the European Commission © European Union, 2020

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