How to write a successful proposal for public funding by F6S

So, you’ve spotted that golden opportunity—a call for public funding that seems tailor-made for your startup. But now comes the hard part: crafting a proposal that not only ticks all the boxes but also stands out in a sea of submissions.
F6S Innovation Managers compile a short guide on how to nail your future attempts at our open calls.

The momentum behind the call

Before diving into the nitty-gritty, understand the driving forces behind the call. What’s the political, social, economic, and cultural landscape that has led towards the initiative running the call? Is there a push for green tech? Are there funds earmarked for social innovation? Or was it female entrepreneurship and deep tech? Recognising these trends helps you align your proposal with broader goals, showing evaluators you’re in tune with the zeitgeist.

Guide for Applicants is your proposal bible

You’ve probably briefly read about the call somewhere (European Commission, social media, intermediaries, local media, national contact points..) and it has brought you to the website of the initiative. What now? The programs may run Info Webinars and produce brief articles on the current Open Calls, however, your main information point is the Guide for Applicants. This seldomly short document is your bible, and while it may be daunting to read the 30-50 pages (and keep going back to them as you progress with writing!), we believe that you cannot be successful if you don’t embrace it!

Are you a good fit?

First things first—make sure you’re eligible. Dig into the Guide for Applicants (yeah, we told you!) and check eligibility requirements:

  • Call Focus: What’s the main aim? Geographical location, company type, tech & innovation focus, maturity status, team composition, cap table, sustainability, impact?
  • Specific Challenges: Are there particular problems the call aims to address? It may focus on public and social challenges, or it may ask you to solve market challenges?
  • TRL & IRL: There might be a particular focus on the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) and Investment Readiness Level (IRL), so it’s paramount to know where you stand currently! 

Top tip: Have a chat and reach out to past winners! What was their focus? Maybe you can learn from their successes, and identify the type of companies that may be a better fit (e.g. SaaS models, heavy research and deep tech-oriented startups).

Writing Process

      1. Application Process + Supplementing Documentation

Identify what are the application process requirements. Each program has its requirements, and here are some of the things we’ve seen that can be asked during the application process

  • Application Form, often divided into sections such as
  • Excellence (Objectives, ambition, the science behind the concept)
  • Implementation (Your work plan, timeline and feasibility of the concept)
  • Impact (How are you contributing beyond scientific results and achievements?)
  • Pitch Deck or 1 Pager
  • Founders  or Demo Video
  • Administrative documentation
  • Team CV’s
  • Interview


      2. Where to start though?

Every section of the application form should be in harmony with your supplementing documents. This being said, we would like you to start with knowing your problem, value proposition, impact and Team.

  • Problem Statement: Show us that you started with the problem, and not with the solution. Is it a global problem? What (potential) customers have identified it?
  • Value Proposition: What makes your solution unique? Think benefits and think features! Two different things. Don’t confuse them! We won’t know how you stand out if you don’t showcase your competitors!
  • Impact: Quantify your impact – economic, social, technological and environmental. It’s also positive to highlight the impact this program can have on your company.
  • Team: Highlight your rockstar team’s credentials and why they’re perfect and aligned for this project.
  • Consortium –  In some open calls, there is a possibility of ´mini-consortia (i.e: 2- 3 partners applying together). Consider linking up with like-minded entities with past experience if it’s your first time! Take the time to find the best partners to embark on the open innovation project and let us know why this synergy, in particular, is the key to success!

Tips and Tricks

  1. We highly recommend that you build proposals around your current development plan (tech & business). Alternatively, you risk sidetracking your business and building components that may be scrapped after the funding ends.
  2. Reviewers are busy. Make their job easier. Be clear and concise. Don’t make them dig for info. Place your key points exactly where they expect to find them.
  3. Make sure your proposal addresses all evaluation criteria in the right place (e.g. do not explain innovation in the implementation section).
  4. Use data, the latest trends, statistics, and evidence to support claims and show that you’ve got the goods! 
  5. Please, please, please, don’t disregard the importance of adhering to guidelines and formats. We’ve seen many startups get excluded simply because they didn’t upload the document in the right format.
  6. The proposal must have an engaging storytelling and persuasive writing. It may not be your forte, however, find your selling narrative and practice it! 
  7. Take a minute to invest in formatting. Delete yellow marks, and template instructions, and make sure everything is readable.
  8. Please review and proofread for errors and inconsistencies. You don’t want evaluators to be confused and misled, do you?

Common mistakes

  1. At least 20% of proposals are unmotivated ones. They demonstrate a lack of depth, incomplete data, length, and strategic planning. Show passion and thoroughness.
  2. Occasionally, the applicant overestimates or underestimates budgets. Evaluators look into the feasibility of the work plan and how you intend to fund it!
  3. Worth mentioning again that ignoring guidelines and formatting requirements will result in eligibility.
  4. Applicant’s lack of focus on impact and sustainability post-project can be sensed in its long-term planning. 
  5. While the application forms can be lengthy, applicants tend to repeat the same information in different answers/sections. Please do not do this. It demonstrates a lack of creativity and motivation.
  6. Don’t be cheeky and write the text that does not directly answer the specific question. You will be wasting the time of the evaluator. 

Play your strengths, and work on your weaknesses

Be honest about where you shine and where you don’t. Leverage your strengths and find ways to indicate how well the project, if gets funded, ameliorates your weaknesses.

Are you feeling it, or is it just wishful thinking?

Finally, be real with yourself and use your gut feeling. Is this call truly the right fit for your startup, or are you forcing it? If it’s the latter, step back and reconsider. The proposals are successful if they come from a place of genuine alignment and passion.

Chat GPT?

Finally, let’s address the elephant in the room: using ChatGPT for your proposal.

Is it acceptable? 

Absolutely. ChatGPT is a fantastic tool for generating ideas and drafting text. However, if you merely copy-paste its output, evaluators will spot it instantly. The savvy proposal writer uses ChatGPT as a foundation, like Lego blocks, to construct a unique and compelling argument. By personalizing and refining the AI-generated content, you ensure your proposal stands out as both authentic and persuasive.

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Remember, a successful proposal is about more than just meeting requirements—it’s about telling a story that convinces evaluators you’re the one to trust with their funding. Now go out there and crush it!


AI-BOOST is a project funded by the EC’s Horizon Europe programme that has a central focus on establishing and managing highly scalable AI open innovation competitions, fostering scientific advancements in critical AI domains.

AI-BOOST is composed of a strong consortium of seven partners: ZABALA, F6S, CINECA, INESC TEC, Univerzita Pavla Jozefa Safarika V Kosiciach, EIT DIGITAL and Universitat Pompeu Fabra.


Follow AI-BOOST today to take part in the shaping of the next level of European AI open competitions.

Join AI-BOOST’s community on Twitter (@aiboost_project) & on LinkedIn (@aiboost-project)