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The opportunities of Horizon Europe: EU4TECH PoC university partners WIDEN their outreach

When Professor Arban Uka and Gent Imeraj from the Epoka University in Tirana Albania got involved in the the “PANBioRA” project, a prestigious Research and Innovation Action funded under the European Union Framework Programme Horizon 2020, they felt privileged to collaborate with the highly cited scientists they had previously only met at conferences. The two researchers are now involved in cutting-edge medical and computer science research, identifying risks of biomedical implants. They acknowledge that the combination of academia and industry, scientific excellence and commercialisation was key to win this prestigious grant. Spartha Medical Company, one of the project coordinators based in Strasbourg, brought together a mix of experts from 17 institutions, including Epoka University, where experts are working on image acquisition with portable microscopes, computational microscopy and image analysis. The Horizon 2020 project opened doors, enabled them to purchase advanced infrastructure, work with worldwide unique datasets and involve students in research. “It’s good to be based in Albania”, insists Prof. Uka, explaining that there is a privilege that partners from other countries did not enjoy: A law that exempts the acquisition of research infrastructure for the Horizon 2020 projects from some taxes and customs duties. Following up on their positive experiences, the group is now looking also into opportunities offered by the recently launched successor programme, Horizon Europe.

Image Acquisition and Analysis Lab at Epoka University
(From left to right: Gent Imeraj, Albert Kopaҫi, Arban Uka, Gerald Topalli)

21 million euro are available for 14+ projects in the Western Balkans to make a major step forwards on the stairway to excellence. Launching on June 29 the so-called “TWINNING Western Balkans Special” call is open only for coordinating institutions from the region. Until the deadline in early October, they can define strategic plans in a proposal to strengthen their networks, research management and administrative skills, develop new approaches to R&I collaboration, increase mobility and raise their reputation. Up to 1.5 million euro will be available for 3-year projects. Moreover, even if one is not successful in this call, the applicants receive feedback from during the evaluation process and can re-submit their proposal to broader Twinning calls in the upcoming years.

This possibility is also welcomed by another EU4TECH-PoC supported team: Silvana Andric, professor and head of accredited Centre of Excellence for Reproductive Endocrinology and Signaling at the University of Novi Sad has seen several good examples “close to home”. Her university is the most successful institution in the region and she highlights that with Horizon Europe the scheme became much more attractive as “allowing the institutions to allocate budget for research activities makes a big difference”, she points out. Previously, the scheme focused on the interfaces of science to management, networking and communication. Now, 30% of the grant can be invested directly in research activities. While Prof Andric is excited about this positive change, she also acknowledges the complexity of writing such grant proposals compared to, for example, EU4TECH PoC or the Jumpstarter programme of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. Nevertheless, she already has some ideas and partners in mind – and hopes to be successful in the next competitive grants: “if you set your mind on it, you can do it” summarises her positive outlook.

Centre of Excellence for Reproductive Endocrinology and Signaling at the University of Novi Sad

The EU4TECH PoC TA is appreciated by both professors, who highlight the excellent support that is been delivered by the team. According to Prof Uka, links between academia and the local economy are “so much lacking that people don’t perceive it”. Skills in relation to commercialisation aspects are valuable, including hopefully future WB6 success in Horizon Europe.

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