Interdisciplinary Collaborative Research (ICON)
What is an ICON project?
Flanders Make ICON is a project type in which a well-balanced consortium of Flanders Make and at least three mutually independent Flemish companies develop new knowledge that can be applied in practice and thus contribute to economic and possibly broader social added value in Flanders. The typical project duration is 2 years with a maximum of 3 years.
An ICON project can only be submitted to VLAIO via a strategic research center (such as Flanders Make) or spearhead cluster.
ICON open calls
Objective of ICON
By joining forces in targeted projects with a consortium of at least three mutually independent Flemish companies and an important contribution from the research partner, an important added value can be achieved. In ICON projects, cooperation and joint efforts are therefore central. Both companies and knowledge institutions contribute to a common goal, each from their own point of view. The direct involvement of the companies makes them an explicit instrument to give direction to demand-driven research within Flanders Make.
This is different from the traditional collaboration model between companies and research organizations in the context of business support, where the research organizations carry out activities that are fully embedded in a company's agenda and are at the service of the company, and they are fully remunerated for this by the company.
Who is eligible?
An ICON project can only be submitted to VLAIO via a strategic research center such as Flanders Make or spearhead cluster. As an industrial partner, both SMEs and large companies can participate. The Flemish industrial partners can call upon the support of the Agency for Innovation & Enterprise (Agentschap Innoveren & Ondernemen, VLAIO).
How can you participate?
To realize the ambitions of the competence roadmap of Flanders Make and to obtain a consistent portfolio of research projects and infrastructure investments, Flanders Make organizes 2 ICON project calls per year. You can participate by answering a call. See also frequently asked questions about the submission process.
Frequently Asked Questions?
When to choose the ICON formula?
- When there is a clear component for the research organizations that distinguishes itself from the business horizon;
- If there is a distinct knowledge build-up with an added value compared to the state of the art and ongoing research;
- If there is a risk of success that is significantly higher than in industrial research;
- If the application possibilities are broader than the horizon of the individual companies involved.
The knowledge can later be incorporated into individual business activities and also contributes to systemic effects in an innovation ecosystem.
Compared to SBO, ICON is also closer to an application, sufficient to have active company participation.
What is a typical project duration of ICON projects?
The typical project duration is 2 years with a maximum of 3 years.
Can companies outside Flanders also participate?
Companies outside Flanders (also Belgian companies without an exploitation seat in Flanders) with their own valorization rationale can participate as a partner provided they can provide clear and important added value to the project and the consortium, but do not receive support from VLAIO.
What is the level of support that companies can count on?
The ICON project type fulfils a bridging function between research and application and therefore consists of a research part and a business part. The subsidy for the implementation of the research part is granted to the research organization concerned. Foreign research organizations can also be called in for the research part for a maximum of 20%. The research part in ICON is financed at 100% by the funds of Flanders Make.
The subsidy for the implementation of the business part is done with subsidies from VLAIO to the companies involved. The part of the company (typically a research project within ICON) is financed at the applicable support percentages as laid down for the new business support instruments for development and research projects:
Support amount: requested support of minimum € 100,000 and maximum € 3 million;
Basic support: min. 25% - max. 50%
- The project can consist of a mix of development and research activities. Parts that include research receive a basic support percentage of 50% and parts that include development receive a basic support percentage of 25%;
Increase of the basic support percentage:
- 10% for a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME);
The overall funding rate is limited to 60%.
Firms in difficulty are not eligible for funding. Click here for more information.
It is important to note that no support can be provided retroactively. Only costs incurred after the formal starting date can be subsidized. This start date can coincide at the earliest with the first working day of the month following the month in which the complete application document is submitted to VLAIO (=Agentschap Innoveren & Ondernemen).
Can the other Strategic Research Centres (SOC) also participate?
The other Strategic Research Centres such as the VIB, VITO and Imec can participate in Flanders Make research projects as external research partners. They finance their own participation.
Can subcontractors be called upon?
It is indeed possible to collaborate with other companies and research organizations as subcontractors. The subcontractor's costs are borne in full by the business partner(s) and are also eligible for subsidy. Companies outside the Flemish Region that do not have their own valorization rationale can also be called upon as subcontractors.
The following criteria apply to the subcontracting of knowledge partners:
- Subcontracting must be well defined in terms of task and output.
- The subcontracting must not affect the generic character of the SBO research and a clear distinction between the activities in the SBO part and the tasks in the subcontracting is necessary.
- For the performance of the knowledge partner, the company must pay the market price or reimburse the full costs plus a reasonable margin.
What about intellectual property rights, knowledge transfer and valorization?
Clear agreements for ownership rights, knowledge transfer and valorization are made in a cooperation agreement known at the time of the grant of support so that there is clarity for all the participants involved in the project. The conditions to be able to give 100% support to the research institutes have to be taken into account. As a general principle, all partners own the results of their share in the collaboration project and the ownership rights are distributed in a way that reflects the work packages and ownership.
Each partner therefore has full exploitation rights to its own background and foreground (including those in co-ownership). In addition, partners also have access rights to the background and foreground of the other partners. The conditions for these access rights are:
- That the 50/50 rule is met at the end of the project.
- That the partner needs access to the other partner's background or foreground for the exploitation of its own foreground.
- The license fee for the acquisition of access rights is as follows:
- Access rights to background: market-based remuneration.
- Access rights to foreground free of charge, subject to intense collaboration with the other partner and need for exploitation of own results.
What is the 40/60 rule and the 50/50 rule and how are they applied?
A Flanders Make ICON project requires sufficient input from the companies. The 40/60 rule determines the required budgetary relationship between the research groups and the industrial partners: the joint contribution of the industrial partners receiving support from VLAIO, Innoviris or another funding agency must be higher than that of the research partners. In concrete terms, this means that a ratio of at least 60% for the company part and a maximum of 40% for the research part per ICON project must be achieved upon submission at the accepted budget level.
In determining this ratio, non-subsidized companies that co-sign the consortium agreement can be taken into account. In this case, the deployment of the companies (cost) in each project must be at least equal to the deployment of the subsidized research organization(s) in the research part (at least 50/50 ratio). The cost of a research organization that provides a clearly defined service to a company as a subcontractor and is therefore paid directly by the company is included in the company's share. This does not apply to a participation by the research institute as a research partner in the company share.
Of course, this budget is only clear once the full proposal has been submitted. During the abstract phase that precedes this, the consortium only has to give up a number of man-months. It is then up to the partners to estimate as accurately as possible whether they will comply with the 40/60 rule.
A 60% contribution from industrial partners is the absolute minimum to be approved as a Flanders Make ICON project. With 65% to 75%, the project is in better shape, as this indicates an even stronger commitment from the industrial partners. There is therefore a buffer in case one of the partners revises its contribution during the project or gets out of it for valid reasons.
What does the submission process look like?
To manage the ICON project calls, a so-called project funnel for project definition and selection is implemented. There are 3 stage gates as shown in the figure below.
Stage Gate 1
The 2 pager project proposals are evaluated based on a clear description of the project idea, a clear industrial application problem linked to an innovative technological solution and the valorization potential and expected impact of the result on the Flemish companies.
The proposals are evaluated by the company members of the competence cluster working group. Within 10 calendar days after the submission deadline, the evaluators evaluate the proposal according to the above criteria. The review results are discussed in the steering committee of the competence cluster and the cluster manager takes the final decision.
Stage Gate 2
The 6 pager project proposals are assessed on the application needs, the common technology and infrastructure barrier and the technological approach. A clear timeline with tangible results, as well as a clear project structure and a high quality consortium with a significant impact on Flemish industry and clearly defined valorization mechanisms are also examined. In addition, there should be a significant impact on the implementation of the Flanders Make roadmap and its use in research projects or for services to companies is clearly defined.
The submission is done by cluster managers of Flanders Make or the Central Bureau (CEO, COO, CTO, CVO). The submission by the Central Bureau is intended for the development of new strategic directions and projects in which the scope exceeds the scope defined in the roadmaps of the competence clusters.
Gate 2 proposals are assessed by the Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) and Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) and the Central Bureau of Flanders Make. Within 14 calendar days after the submission deadline, the reviewers evaluate the proposal according to the above decision criteria. Thereafter, the Central Bureau holds a decision meeting in which the results are discussed and the final decision is taken.
STAGE GATE 3
The ICON full proposal projects are evaluated by VLAIO, which decides on the financing of the companies and advises the Board of Directors of Flanders Make on the basic research. Consequently, the Flanders Make Board of Directors takes a decision.
How are ICON projects assessed and monitored?
The responsibility to generate and prioritize quality ICON projects lies in the first place with Flanders Make. The decision committee at the Hermes Fund decides on the supportability of the projects, as well as on the amount of support (applicable support percentages, acceptable activities - cfr European framework). The evaluation process is conducted in close cooperation between the agency and Flanders Make. The follow-up of the projects lies in the first place with Flanders Make. The knowledge institution monitors that the projects are carried out to a high standard and specifically also that the results of the research part sufficiently find their way to applications in the Flemish industry. In addition to the direct value for the ICON business partners involved, this is where the ICON formula's significant broader added value lies. The agency will monitor Flanders Make in its actions to effectively realize this added value.
Exempt from corporate income tax?
The aid granted by the regional authorities to firms under ICON is exempt from corporation tax. In particular "profits are exempt up to the amount of the premiums and capital or interest subsidies on intangible and tangible fixed assets granted to companies in the context of aid for research and development by the competent regional institutions".
Documents and guidelines
Do you want to join an ICON project? Download all documents and guidelines here.