How it works
Registration of interest
A company must make a formal initial request for support by registering their name and some basic company details, along with an outline description of their innovation project idea using photonics, via the online registration form on the ACTPHAST 4.0 website. A company may complete and submit this form at any time.
Central Contact Point & Central Business Coach
All registrations of interest come through to the ACTPHAST 4.0 Central Contact Point (CCP) and are assigned to one of our Central Business Coaches for initial assessment. The Business Coach will contact the company to check the details, to collect whatever additional information may be required, and to answer whatever questions the company may have at this stage. The follow-up may take several days to several weeks to complete depending on the quality and timeliness of the information provided. The ultimate goal is to determine if there is a good fit between the company’s project request and the ACTPHAST 4.0 support model in order to qualify the project request for further technical, business and financial coaching including potential deep technology intervention in the form of a funded innovation project. The ACTPHAST 4.0 Business Coach remains a single point of contact for companies throughout the process to make it easy and user-friendly for companies to check on the status of their request or to ask questions at any time.
Technical Coordination Team
Once qualified as a “potential” project, the details of the request are passed to the ACTPHAST 4.0 Technical Coordination Team (TCT) in order to identify and appoint the most suitable technical expert from the pool of up to 200 top photonics experts from across the network of ACTPHAST 4.0 Partners, who offers the best match with the requirements of the innovation challenge of the company. In this way, ACTPHAST 4.0 endeavours to be responsive to the “market pull” rather than a “technology push”. The process of identifying and appointing people to projects is conducted in a fully open and transparent manner across the consortium to avoid any conflicts of interest, and is usually completed within 1-2 weeks.
Once a particular member of the ACTPHAST 4.0 TCT board (the TCT responsible) and a particular expert from one of the ACTPHAST 4.0 Partners have been appointed to investigate a company's project, the next step is for that expert to contact the company to arrange for a scouting engagement to have in-depth discussion under NDA. It is also used to provide the company with more information about the ACTPHAST 4.0 proposal and contract documents, and the evaluation criteria used by the TCT when granting support, so that expectations are clear from the outset. On the basis of the discussion, the technical expert together with the Business Coach then complete and submit a scouting report for evaluation by the TCT responsible with a recommendation to either progress or cancel the request, or indeed the company may themselves withdraw from the process at this stage if they wish. The scouting engagement is usually conducted face-to-face at the premises of the company, but may be completed by phone/video conference by Skype if more convenient within the available time. Since the discussion requires the sharing of confidential information about the company’s innovation ideas, it is necessary to first establish a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) using standard ACTPHAST 4.0 templates. There are two NDAs required - one Bilateral NDA between the company and the expert’'s institution to cover the direct discussions between the parties, and a second Proxy NDA between the company and the VUB on behalf of the ACTPHAST 4.0 consortium to allow the expert to share his/her scouting report (as well as any subsequent project information) with the Business Coach and members of the TCT who will carry out the evaluation. In the case where any party deems it necessary to have certain members of the ACTPHAST 4.0 TCT excluded from receiving information about a project, this can be accommodated including the restriction of any access rights to particular projects on the ACTPHAST 4.0 online projects portal. The scouting phase is usually completed within 2-4 weeks depending on the availability of key stakeholders.
Innovation Project Proposal
If the scouting report of the Technical Scout and Business Coach provide a positive recommendation to proceed with a full innovation project proposal, and this recommendation is accepted by the TCT, then a suitable person from the pool of experts across the ACTPHAST 4.0 Partners is selected and appointed to act as Project Leader. This person may be the same expert who conducted the scouting engagement, but not necessarily so. It is the job of the Project Leader and Business Coach to work together with the company (and any other ACTPHAST 4.0 Partners in the case of a multi-party project) to prepare and write the innovation project proposal which consists of two parts. Part I covers the business plan aspects and the forecasted impact in terms of increased revenues and jobs in the company which are targeted as a result of the innovation project, while Part II covers details of the technical project plan including the project deliverables, tasks, budget and schedule. The proposal also requires a clear statement that there is a consensus between all of the parties as to how the project IP will be handled, and that the company understands and is in agreement with the standard terms of the ACTPHAST 4.0 contract. In writing the proposal, it is essential that the Project Leader, the Business Coach and the company review the evaluation criteria in advance, and that high quality information is provided by the company which specifically addresses the evaluation criteria to be used by the TCT when it comes to assessing the proposal. The proposal phase is usually completed within 2-4 weeks depending on the availability of key stakeholders. Innovation Project Proposals (Parts I and II) should be submitted 3 weeks in advance of an upcoming TCT Evaluation Meeting in order to be guaranteed for inclusion on the agenda.
The ACTPHAST 4.0 TCT members meet once every two months to evaluate submitted Innovation Project Proposals. The Evaluation Meetings are conducted face-to-face over a full day to allow for robust and healthy discussion on each proposal, and generally take place in Brussels. Proposals are assessed in accordance with the published evaluation criteria which are designed to guide discussion and debate amongst the TCT members before leading to an informed consensus view on the score to be applied, rather than being a mechanical scoring exercise. The Project Leaders, the Business Coaches, and the main Company Contact Person are all invited to be connected into the meeting via video conference call e.g. Skype if required to address specific questions raised by the TCT about their individual project proposals before the final scoring is determined. Projects which score above the minimum threshold in the published Evaluation Report are automatically approved for support or are approved subject to some requested minor modifications, and there is also a standard process whereby a project proposal which fails to achieve the minimum threshold and is not approved, may be re-submitted for the next TCT Evaluation Meeting with major modifications made following feedback and discussion with the Project Leader, the Business Coach and the company.
Where an innovation project is approved for support, the next step is the process of preparing and signing the contract document between all of the relevant parties to the project. The contract is based on the standard ACTPHAST 4.0 template (which is shared earlier in the process to ensure no surprises and delays post-approval) and includes the final Innovation Project Proposal as the main schedule for the Statement of Work. The contract process is coordinated and administered by the VUB on behalf of all of the parties, and may be completed as quickly as possible up to a maximum of 3 months after the date of approval, otherwise ACTPHAST 4.0 reserves the right to have its proposed support withdrawn. All parties are advised that the contract signing should be completed before commencing the project since any costs incurred in the absence of a contract cannot be reimbursed.
Project Execution & Follow-Up
Once the contract is signed, the innovation project must commence with a formal kick-off meeting between all of the parties and project team members. The CCP will keep in regular touch with the Project Leader and the company with formal Progress Reports required at specific intervals during the project and Consensus Reports / Satisfaction Reports required at the end of the project. Furthermore, the Central Business Coach will remain in communication with the company after project completion on an annual basis to reflect on the outcomes and impact of the innovation project on the company’s business growth. Where successful, the company may consider applying again for a new follow-on project to further advance the TRL of its innovation. Where appropriate, companies will be connected with the Photonics Pilot Lines or Mass Manufacturing facilities in Europe to take the innovation to full commercial-scale market readiness, and companies emerging from the ACTPHAST 4.0 incubator will also be invited to participate in the annual European Photonics Venture Forum (EPVF) and other relevant events to showcase their innovations to prospective investors.