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Innovation Studies

This FFplus open call for the development of generative AI models addresses the needs of SMEs and Start-ups proficient in generative AI and HPC for large-to extreme-scale computing resources. The strategic objective is to facilitate and strengthen the technological development of European SMEs in the area of generative AI. The participating SMEs and Start-ups will be supported in enhancing their innovation potential by leveraging new generative AI models, such as Large Language Models (LLMs), building on their existing expertise, application domain, business model and potential for expansion.

This announcement is the first call for proposals for “innovation studies” driven by the business needs of SMEs and Start-ups highly competent in generative AI, professional software development, and data processing. The innovation studies must use large-scale European HPC resources (e.g., pre-exascale and exascale supercomputers) to develop and customise generative AI models such as foundation and large language models.

This FFplus call is complementary to the open call for proposals for business experiments addressing the uptake of HPC by SMEs (Identifier FFplus_Call-1-Type-1) that is executed in parallel. It should be noted that SMEs (in the role of main participant) may only participate in one of the two types of sub-projects; i.e. participation is mutually exclusive.



 July 1st, starting at 15:30 CET and July 8th, starting at 14:00 CET

These webinars address European SMEs and startups, as well as supporting organisations (e.g., research institutes, universities, ISVs, IT providers) who want to learn more about solving business challenges and advancing to the next level with the help of HPC and AI, or taking the opportunity to develop and customise LLM models with generative AI.

All participants need to register to join the webinars here.



Submission Deadline: September 4th, 2024 at 17:00 Brussels local time
Expected duration of experiments: maximum 10 months with targeted commencement December 1st, 2024
The indicative total funding budget for all sub-projects funded under this call is € 4M.
A number of funding constraints and eligibility conditions apply, detailed in the full announcement text, proposals that do not adhere to these conditions will be rejected without further evaluation.

Expectations for the innovation studies and proposals
The expectations for innovation studies and proposals are detailed in the full announcement text, a summary of which is as follows:

The complete announcement and proposer’s guide for the current open call can be downloaded as an FFplus Call-1: Type 2 Announcement document.

Proposal Submission

Submission Deadline
All submissions must be made by 17:00 Brussels local time, September 4th, 2024.

Electronic Submission
Proposal submission is exclusively in electronic form using the proposal submission tool accessed via the link below. Proposers are encouraged to submit draft versions in advance of the deadline, which may be updated (replaced) up to the submission deadline.

Proposals must be submitted in English.

Each proposal must comprise 2 parts: Part A (containing administrative information), Part B (containing the body of the proposal, whose structure is explained below).

The central component of proposal submission is the uploading of two PDF-documents (whose individual size must not exceed 5.0 MB) compliant with the proposal content, structure and formatting instructions detailed in the call announcement and proposer’s guide, downloadable as a FFplus Call-1: Type 2 Announcement document. That document also explains the evaluation criteria to be applied.

Please note that proposals that are not compliant with those instructions (for example, not adhering to page limits or including extraneous information such as letters of support) will be rejected without further evaluation.

It is a requirement that the downloadable proposal exemplars are used.
Available here: Part A and Part B.

The proposal exemplar document includes, in particular, an embedded spread-sheet for budget data.



We strongly recommend against last minute submissions and recommend that proposers make use of the option to submit and update draft proposals throughout the period in which the call is open. Proposal submission after the deadline will not be possible.

Successful proposals will be included in the FFplus Project as clearly defined activities within the project and new participants will be included as Third Parties contracted by the FFplus Coordinator, the University of Stuttgart. All organisations that are eligible to participate within the Digital Europe framework programme would be expected to be accepted for participation as Third Parties in FFplus.

The SME or Start-up (main participant) should be highly competent in generative AI, professional software development, and data processing and should have an existing business model that would significantly benefit from the proposed new developments.

Please note, that all seven FFplus beneficiaries are ineligible to participate as either main or supporting participants. Please check the answer to the next question for a complete list of the seven excluded organisations.

All seven FFplus beneficiaries are not allowed to take part in the open call:

  • Universität Stuttgart
  • scapos AG
  • Arctur
  • Teratec
  • Cyfronet

The SME definition of the European Commission will be used: in particular, this means that an SME is an independent enterprise with less than 250 employees and a €50 M annual turnover.

Before the conclusion of the funding agreements, the SME will be required to document their status as an SME in line with European Commission definitions and their self-assessment of adherence to EU guidelines for trustworthy AI.

Yes, assuming that they also qualify as SME using the EC SME definition and are able to explain the expected business impact, whereby it is understood that they would not be in a position to report on an established history of business operation and an extensive customer base.

The FFplus Type-2 open calls are open to proposals that address business challenges from European SMEs and start-ups highly competent in generative AI, professional software development, and data processing but lacking large-scale HPC resources.

A main participant is an SME or a Start-up and supporting participants are organisations assisting the main participant to complete activities foreseen for the innovation study.

The expectation is that the consortium for the new innovations study includes all necessary partners for the execution of the innovation study. The coordinator of the innovation study should be chosen to best meet the needs of the coordination of the activities to be performed within the innovation study.

While single-member consortia are eligible in principle, the proposal would need to clearly demonstrate that the sole partner SME or start-up has all necessary competences and skills to carry out the innovation study.

The total number of consortium partners (main participant and supporting participants) is limited to three (3).

Please note, that SME participation (as the main participant) in the FFplus innovation studies and in the business experiments (addressed by the open call for proposals for business experiments addressing the uptake of HPC by SMEs) is mutually exclusive.

For FFplus Type-2 open calls this is not a problem if the company has a clearly defined role in the consortium and the necessary skills and competences to carry out the proposed work.

The maximum EC funding expected to be allocated to an individual innovation study is € 300,000. However, that is a maximum figure and the proposal evaluators will be asked to pay attention to the planned resources (effort & budget) being commensurate with the stated objectives of the innovation study.

The FFplus project receives funding based on a Grant Agreement following the regulations of the Digital Europe Programme and the eligibility rules of that Grant Agreement will apply for the direct costs arising in the sub-projects.

In particular, Third Parties will receive 100% funding of incurred eligible direct costs necessary for the completion of innovation study activities; no indirect costs or overheads will be funded.

The details of funding rules that will be applied can be found in the annotated model grant agreement for the Digital Europe programme.

The maximum funding that can be allocated to the main participant (SME or start-up) is € 200,000.

Funding limits for organisations participating as supporting participants: a maximum of 150 K€ under this open call (i.e. under call identifier FFplus_Call-1-Type-2); a maximum of 300 K€ over all FFplus innovation studies.

In principle, the major part of the funding applied should be allocated to the main participants. Any deviations from this principle must be duly justified.

For supporting participants, only engineering activities are eligible for funding. Activities such as business consultancy, marketing initiatives, administrative tasks, and other non-engineering activities are not eligible for funding.

More information about the eligibility of costs for equipment, travel, HPC compute capacity and material are available in the call announcement.

Consortia selected for funding via the proposal evaluation process will be invited to conclude a funding agreement with the FFplus project coordinator, the University of Stuttgart. An example (template) of that funding agreement can be downloaded here.

Yes. The innovation studies must use large-scale European HPC resources (e.g., pre-exascale and exascale supercomputers) to develop and customise generative AI models such as foundation and large language models.

The main participant is allowed to take part in only one innovation study per tranche. While an SME or start-up could be main participant of several proposals, we strongly recommend to concentrate on a single proposal. 

However, it is expressly foreseen that the SMEs/start-ups may participate in more than one tranche of innovation studies, that is, if developments and results of their initial innovation study are evaluated successfully, then they would be eligible to submit a proposal for an extension of the developments in a subsequent open call. More information about this is available in the call announcement.

There are no formal restrictions on the number of proposals in which a supporting participant participates. However, the funding restriction for supporting participants (a maximum aggregated funding of € 150,000 for all innovation studies in which they take part in) must of course be considered.

Meetings organized by FFplus which are mandatory for innovation study partners or coordinators will in general be held online. Each innovation study will hold a kick-off meeting which all participants are expected to attend. Further innovation study-internal meetings, whose attendance and frequency depend on the work plan, are anticipated. As a guide, two such innovation study-internal meetings are to be expected. If these meetings would lead to substantial travel costs, online meetings should be preferred

Furthermore, a representative of the innovation study is expected to attend one FFplus review meeting.

The target is for the new innovation studies to commence at the beginning of December 2024. We expect to be able to communicate the results of the evaluation of proposals by late October 2024. However, the exact dates will depend on the number of proposals received and the resulting workload of the evaluation.

Proposals submitted with a Part B whose length (excluding the cover page and excluding the provision of scientific literature references) exceeds the 12-page limit will be rejected without further evaluation.

Please note, that during past open calls, there have been some issues connected with the export of “google doc” documents to the final pdfs. This sometimes led to blank pages or page breaks being inserted which created a final pdf document with more than 12 pages. If you use an online tool for writing of the proposal, please be careful to check the page count before submitting.

For supporting participants, only engineering activities are eligible for funding. Activities such as business consultancy, marketing initiatives, administrative tasks, and other non-engineering activities are not eligible for funding.

The innovation studies will receive support from the project with a range of actions relating to interactions with the project and also relating to potential collaborations with other sub-projects. Furthermore, direct support for each individual innovation study will be provided relating to gaining access to EuroHPC JU-provided computing resources and technical consultation relating to the effective execution of the innovation study work plan.

Travel must be well justified in terms of the necessity for performance of the proposed innovation study work plan.

According to our current planning, the deadline for the next tranche of Open Calls for business experiments and innovation studies will be (approximately) in August or September 2025. The calls will be published two months earlier.

Supporting participants can participate in both Type-1 experiments and Type-2 innovation studies if their roles are well justified. Of course, they need to stick to the funding restrictions for both types: 150,000 € for Type-1 business experiments in this open call and 150,000 € for Type-2 innovation studies in this open call. In addition, it should be noted that for Type-2 innovation studies there is a global limit of 300,000 € for supporting participants over all Type-2 calls.

Yes, there are no special access rules for the FFplus innovation studies  and they are expected to use the access scheme for AI and data intensive applications (see for example the Question concerning the target to use large-scale HPC systems).


Is the proposal fully aligned with the FFplus call objectives defined in the Call for Proposals for Innovation Studies for the Development of Generative AI Models? In particular:

  • Is the proposed work driven by the business needs of, and target business benefits for, the main participant (SME or Start-up) highly competent in generative AI, professional software development, and data processing and also proficient in HPC? 
  • Does the proposal explain why generative AI addresses the business challenge/opportunity, and if so, why the development proposed is necessary and timely?  
  • Does the proposal demonstrate the potential to strengthen the technological development of European SMEs in the area of generative AI?
  • Does the proposal incorporate the use of large-scale European HPC resources (e.g. pre-exascale or exascale supercomputers) to develop and customise generative AI models such as foundation and large language models? 

Does the proposal define specific objectives that must be achieved to successfully address the business challenge or business opportunity? Does the proposal present a vision of success, i.e. how using large-scale HPC will lead to positive business impact? If applicable, does the proposal define the value propositions and the process of value creation? Are key indicators defined such as revenue generated over recent years or the existence of a customer base? If the main participant is a Start-up, is an explanation of the expected business impact provided?

Will the proposed project support the FFplus project in the generation of success stories suitable for publication, including in multi-media form, discussing business benefits (e.g., additional income, new business models, decreasing cost), technical and business challenges, and societal and environmental impact, e.g. energy-to-solution improvement? 


Is the proposed work, as described in the proposal, feasible in the technical and management sense? Are risks properly described and addressed?

Does the proposal give grounds to why generative AI serves as a solution to the problem, why the development of a new model is imperative and why the problem could not be solved sooner? Are potential obstacles identified along with approaches to overcome them?  

Is the proposed approach explained in terms of machine learning lifecycle: data preparation, model development/engineering and model evaluation*. Furthermore: 

  • Is a detailed description provided and a demonstration of the availability of a suitable training data set? 
  • Are the characteristics of the models to be developed presented with sufficient detail, including type, size, hyperparameters, and architecture, and are their repercussions to training and exploitation outlined?
  • Is the selection of performance metrics for model evaluation, scaling, and optimisation clearly outlined and justified? Are benchmarks to establish baselines described and methods to ensure experiment reproducibility specified? 
  • Have potential risks been identified considering EU guidelines for trustworthy AI, including unfairness, bias, hallucinations, and model drift during the exploitation phase, and are means to address and mitigate them presented? 
*Model exploitation/deployment/operation is out of scope.

Is the work plan sufficiently clear and coherent instilling confidence that the proposed work will be carried out effectively and will be directed towards achieving the objectives of the innovation study and the FFplus call?

Does the proposal include producing a pre-final results and potential impact report to be delivered by the end of the 7th month of the innovation study*?  

Comprehensive Data Management Plan: Is a data management plan presented that covers policies for data access, usage, sharing, retention, and disposal; outlines methods for protecting sensitive or personal data; and incorporates FAIR principles and their implementation when applicable?

Is the consortium as a whole well qualified to carry out the proposed work? Is each consortium member as presented in the proposal qualified to carry out the work they are assigned? Is the assignment of that work clear?

Does the consortium contain the necessary partners with all the skills needed to carry out the proposed work? Are the roles of all partners clearly described and does each partner have a significant and well-justified role? Are key personnel clearly identified and described? Are the contributions of supporting participants justified and also limited to engineering activities (which are the only activities of supporting participants eligible for funding)? Are any types of partner missing?  

Have appropriate resources (effort and budget) been allocated to members of the consortium in such a way that each of them has the required resources needed to carry out their part in the work effectively? Is the effort of each partner required for specific tasks clear? Has the major part of the requested budget been allocated to the main participant(s)?

Is the Resource Allocation (effort, budget, software licences or any sub-contract) clearly justified? Does the proposal conclusively demonstrate how the allocated resources (personnel, IT/computing and any other resources) address and fill current gaps in the processes needed to implement the proposed action?

HPC resources: Does the proposal clearly explain the HPC resources (hardware, software, frameworks, and compute volumes) appropriate for the execution of the innovation study? Are the HPC resources needed defined, possibly using computing resources provided directly (free of charge) by the EuroHPC JU, e.g., through their AI and Data-Intensive Applications Access system, or through national actions? The HPC National Competence Centres may be able to provide assistance with the selection of appropriate resources and the application process. (FFplus will not be in a position to provide computing resources itself). 

Will the development and customisation of generative AI models described in the proposal be expected to have the appropriate level of performance and parallel scalability to execute the most compute-intensive steps in the innovation study workflow? Does the proposal consider the performance characteristics of said developments and establish that their use is feasible on the proposed computing infrastructure or HPC services? Is that adequately described in the proposal?

*It is a requirement of all innovation studies that they deliver an intermediate report on the results achieved (and those expected by the end of the study) and the potential impact of those results on the SME’s business model and potentially by third parties using the results. It will be used to evaluate the eligibility to submit a proposal for extension/continuation of the innovation study to a subsequent open call for proposals. 

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