HORIZON-EIE-2023-CONNECT-03-01: Implementing co-funded Action Plans for Connected Regional Innovation Valleys

17 May - 17 October 2023

This Co-fund Action in Horizon Europe aims to establish regional innovation valleys involving regions with lower innovation performances. The eligibility conditions require the participation of at least five national or regional authorities from different member states or associated countries (i.e. these may include Western Balkans), with at least one of these must be representing a “strong” or “innovation leader” innovator region.

The consortium must also provide a letter of intent indicating the source of the required 50% of complementary funding.

Successful applicants will be recognised as “regional innovation valleys”, and projects are expected to contribute to enhancing innovation ecosystems, cooperation among them, and innovation capabilities. The aim of the topic is to create efficient, open, inclusive and interconnected European innovation ecosystems in line with the New European Innovation Agenda, contributing to the twin green and digital transition and a resilient society.

Financial issues

The Commission estimates that an EU contribution of between EUR 8.00 and 12.00 million would allow these outcomes to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of a proposal requesting different amounts.
The total indicative budget for the topic is EUR 60.00 million. The EU contribution under this topic constitutes two budget lines, EUR 35 million from the EIE 2024, as well as an additional EUR 25 million from the EIC 2024.

Eligibility conditions

This action requires the participation, as beneficiaries, of at least five (5) national or regional authorities, from at least five (5) different Member States or Associated Countries, of which at least two (2) are representing a ‘moderate’ or ’emerging’ innovator region and at least one (1) is representing a ‘strong’ or ‘innovation leader’ innovator region. The Regional Innovation Scoreboard is taken as a reference, and in the case of entities representing national authorities, the European Innovation Scoreboard. The applicants must use as a reference the latest version of the documents mentioned above at the time of the call closure. Associated Countries which are not included in the European Innovation Scoreboard and are ranked below 25 on the latest Global Innovation Index are considered as ‘moderate’ or ‘emerging’ innovators.
In cases of Associated Countries not included in any of the previously mentioned references, the participation rank of the country in the Horizon Europe programme (H2020 country profile) will be taken as a reference and countries ranked below the average will be considered as ‘moderate’ or ‘emerging’ innovators.

[n.b. the Western Balkans are in the first category of ‘moderate’ or ’emerging’ innovator regions]

The consortium must provide a letter of intent at the moment of submission of the proposal indicating the source of the required 50% of complementary funding (e.g. national and/or regional funding, European funding, or private investments).

Beneficiaries may provide financial support to third parties. The support to third parties can only be provided in the form of grants. The EUR 60,000 threshold provided for in Article 204 (a) of the Financial Regulation No 2018/1046 does not apply. The maximum amount of FSTP to be granted to an individual third party is EUR 600.000. This amount is justified since the cascading grants will support concrete interregional projects to be undertaken by research and innovation entities. Due to the nature of these projects (e.g. development or deployment of technological innovations) and their relatively small number of expected participants, a threshold lower than EUR 600.000 would constitute an obstacle to establishing effective collaborations.
Grants awarded under this topic will have to submit the following deliverable(s): Annual work plans subject to approval by the Commission. For the first year, the annual work plan needs to be submitted together with the respective proposal.

The funding rate is 50% of the eligible costs.

Expected Outcome: In line with the new European Innovation Agenda’s flagship on accelerating and strengthening innovation in European Innovation Ecosystems across the EU and addressing the innovation divide, this action is intended to create connected regional innovation valleys across the European Union (EU), involving regions with lower innovation performances, by building on strategic areas of regional strength and specialisation (defined in their smart specialisation strategies), in support of key EU priorities. Successful applicant regions under this call topic will be recognised as “regional innovation valleys”.

Projects results are expected to contribute to all of the following expected outcomes:

  • Open, efficient, inclusive and interconnected innovation ecosystems across the EU in line with the New European Innovation Agenda, building on their diversities and complementarities, enhancing the joint definition of visions and strategies involving actors from across the quadruple helix, based notably on their respective national/regional smart specialisation strategies, and strengthening their efficiency and potential to innovate;
  • Enhanced synergies, complementarities and cooperation among European innovation ecosystems around strategic areas, technologies and challenges of common European interest, build on Smart Specialisation Strategies and, where applicable, on the participation in the pilot Partnerships for Regional Innovation (PRIs)), the creation of common knowledge assets within regional innovation valleys, and support to their cross-border connectedness;
  • Increased innovation capabilities, including in deep tech 46 in Member States and Associated Countries, allowing innovators to bring their ideas to the market and enable innovations to be scaled up at EU level, and facilitating the link with the private sector and other research and innovator actors;
  • Better links between innovation ‘leaders’ and ‘strong’ innovator regions with ‘moderate’ and ’emerging’ innovator regions across the EU and Associated Countries;
  • More innovation co-investments, mobilising other funding leverages, including European, national or regional public funds and/or other private funds, to complement Horizon Europe support;
  • Increased participation of all innovation ecosystems actors across EU territories in technology and industrial value chains (existing and emerging ones) relevant to the EU twin green and digital transition to achieve broader sustainability and the EU’s open strategic autonomy. 

Target group(s)

The topic is primarily focused on the regional aspects of innovation and targeted at national and/or regional innovation authorities. Other relevant entities should participate in the consortia as associated partners (such as research institutions, public authorities, universities, companies, clusters, innovation intermediaries, etc.).


The aim of this topic is to foster the creation of efficient, open, inclusive and interconnected European innovation ecosystems in line with the New European Innovation Agenda, notably in thematic/technological areas (including deep tech) that will be critical for EU value chains.

It will also contribute to the twin green and digital transition and a resilient society, and to the net-zero objective, particularly in the areas of reducing reliance on the fossil fuels, increasing global food security, mastering the digital transformation (including cybersecurity), improving healthcare, and achieving circularity.
The topic will support strategically oriented long-term programmes of activities (action plans) to enable authorities in charge of public national, regional, or local innovation policies and programmes, with the participation of the private sector and research and innovation actors, to implement joint activities towards innovation development and deployment, aimed at tackling challenges at EU, national, regional, and local level.

The applicants are encouraged to consider a project duration of three to five (3-5) years and proposals should:

  • Present the applicants’ respective commitment to enhance the coordination and directionality of their research and innovation (R&I) investments and policies, their joint strategic visions, and their proposed joint innovation programme of activities; before the proposal submission the participants should have already selected a thematic/technological area and reached an agreement on what they want to achieve, in order to be able to present concrete action plans; the plans can be further detailed on an annual basis during the implementation of the projects;
  • Describe the activities necessary, the process that will be followed, and the research and innovation assets that will be mobilised; activities should be open, clear, realistic, impact-oriented and ensure:
    • Inclusiveness and diversity by expanding their activities to territories that are less advanced in innovation deployment (‘moderate’ and ’emerging’ innovators) and with the involvement of all innovation actors: research institutions,  universities, companies, clusters, innovation intermediaries, as well as those that are currently less active or missing in the innovation ecosystems (e.g. investors, foundations, public and private buyers, social innovators, civil society organisations including non-governmental organisations, individual innovators, rural actors, as well as women-led start-ups and SMEs); each participating region is expected to mobilise all relevant actors of its innovation ecosystem to ensure their contribution to and benefit from the activities supported through the project;
    • Participation of private actors, either for the joint implementation of proposed activities, and/or their possible co-funding; for example, via links and cooperation with innovative SMEs, start-ups, industry, private entities supporting innovation and innovators, including clusters, associations, as well as investors and foundations;
    • Complementarity and synergies with other funds (EU, public, and/or private) and innovation-related strategies/policies/programmes/plans at national and/or regional level, including their smart specialisation strategies, and where relevant, the participation in pilot PRIs, start-up villages50, as well as other relevant programmes (e.g. the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and the Knowledge and Innovation Communities (EIT KICs), Enterprise Europe Network, Startup Europe); applicants should outline the scope for synergies and/or additional funding, in particular where this makes the projects more ambitious or increases their impact and expected results.
  • Explain the need and the reasons for selecting the proposed action plans that should be scalable at European level and demonstrate their strong EU added value; the proposed plan should:
    • Include the provisions and modalities for the competitive selection and funding (joint open calls implemented via financial support to third parties – FSTP) of at least three interregional innovation projects in the selected thematic/technological area, including deep tech, linked to key EU priorities:
    • These interregional projects are expected to be similar to HE Innovation Actions (TRL 6-8) and should focus on the development and/or deployment of technologies and innovations, including breakthrough and disruptive, through cooperation between research and innovation actors from the participating regions;
    • Each of these interregional projects should aim to deliver concrete and tangible outcomes during the duration of the project, and ensure their dissemination and exploitation;
    • These interregional projects should be managed in a coordinated manner, as a portfolio of projects, and should identify and establish links among the projects and with other relevant EU, national or regional projects in similar thematic/technological area (horizontal integration) or complementary areas (vertical integration) with a view to integrate into and contribute to existing or emerging value chains.
    • Proposals should allocate at least 50% of the action plan’s total budget to these interregional innovation projects.
    • Include a consistent set of core collaborative activities, for example:
      • Networking and coordination structures and tools to facilitate innovation development and access to and sharing of best practices, resources, talents, markets, expertise, services and knowledge, including open and collaborative knowledge bases and common knowledge assets (methods, data, processes);
      • Support to interconnections between innovation hubs/local pockets of excellence; market analysis, development and activities towards better access to new markets and finance for innovative SMEs and start-ups;
      • Training and skills development; interconnection of open innovation infrastructures; supportive activities towards scale up, exploitation and dissemination of innovative solutions;
      • Joint public procurement initiatives;
      • Social innovators’ and civil society integration, as interlocutors for society and important inputs to the development of innovations and promotion of gender equality and diversity.
    • Explain the reasons for selecting the proposed strategic areas of cooperation, and how this cooperation will improve the efficiency and performance of the EU’s innovation ecosystems, fostering their interconnection and scale-up, and their contribution to key EU priorities; the joint innovation programme of activities should focus on a thematic/technological area, in line with the smart specialisation strategies of the participating regions, and should highlight how it will contribute to innovation priorities of common interest, EU strategic priorities (including green, digital and social transitions, and open strategic autonomy) and where appropriate Horizon Europe Missions; it should pay attention to gender equality objectives; it should clarify the potential for growth and competitiveness foreseen in the targeted sector and/or expected impact on EU challenge(s);
    • Present and explain how the consortium plans to implement these joint activities (e.g. resources to be mobilised, assets to be used);
    • Include clear targets in terms of outcomes for the measures/activities underpinned by verifiable indicators (applicants may wish to refer to the Sustainable Development Goals, the EU taxonomy on sustainable finance, or other relevant policy frameworks);
    • Ensure their long-term commitment towards engaging in the joint cooperation activities set up in the frame of their projects (letter of intent per beneficiary as part of the proposal).

In order to comply with the idea of a joint Horizon Europe and Interregional Innovation Investments (I3) Instrument call 52 provided in the New European Innovation Agenda, this call will be closely coordinated with relevant calls under I3.

For more information and the relevant footnotes, please refer to the Work Programme: https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/opportunities/docs/2021-2027/horizon/wp-call/2023-2024/wp-10-european-innovation-ecosystems_horizon-2023-2024_en.pdf