The purpose of FRACTALS is to support the community of innovative ICT SMEs and Web Entrepreneurs to harvest the benefits of FIWARE, by developing applications with high market potential, addressing the needs of the agricultural sector. This support is going to be multi-dimensional in the sense that it aims to span beyond grant assistance to also include: (1) the technical capacity building of ICT SMEs and Web entrepreneurs with respect to developing applications based on FIWARE, (2) the testing and validation of applications in an open innovation context (by involving end-users in the testing/validation assignment through a short of Living Labs environment), and (3) clustering and mentoring services related to entrepreneurship and venture capital finance. FRACTALS Call will be open to all European SMEs and Web entrepreneurs but will additionally focus on areas which are considered as “white spots” with respect to FIWARE (Balkans, South East Europe). Note that this geographical area presents considerable opportunities for the development of a new market since only a small portion of farmers (i.e., the main focus of this proposal) are using ICT to improve their work. FRACTALS will assist these farmers in this area to leapfrog technologically into the era of Future Internet and will enable SMEs to assist them in this evolution. The Open Call will employ an innovative evaluation method that eliminates personal bias of evaluators, ensuring transparency, equal treatment of all applicants and short time-to-project, tailor-made to the needs of ICT SMEs. FRACTALS is a community-driven project, bringing together 4 ICT SME Associations and linking them with industrial and research partners with leading roles in the FIWARE community. Thus, both participation of SMEs in the Open Call and know-how regarding existing FIWARE enabling technologies (GEs and SEs) are ensured. Last but not least, FRACTALS is coordinated by a funding agency with vast experience in managing Open Calls and monitoring co-funded projects.
The value proposition of FRACTALS can be summarized in the three following points:
- Addressing a sector (Agriculture) where digital services based on Internet are not yet provided at a satisfactory level. The choice of agriculture as an application domain can provide various multiplying effects in speeding up the adoption of Internet services and applications and thus increase the return-on-investment (ROI) of FIWARE for Europe. Namely agriculture is a domain where internet technologies have the potential to make a huge impact. For example, precision agriculture tools, farm management software, and affordable sensors are all within reach of even the smallest farmers today. Buzz-laden terms such as the “Internet of Things” and the “Big Data” that comes along with it, when deployed effectively, will work towards achieving crucial long-term objectives for agriculture such as: efficient farm management and resource efficiency, traceability and supply chain efficiency. SMEs providing such solutions catch the attention of Venture Capital (VC) funds worldwide.
- Covering a region (Balkans) which has so far been considered as a “White Spot” with respect to benefiting from FIWARE. FRACTALS aims to introduce FIWARE in “white-spot” regions, such as Bulgaria and Serbia but also to further strengthen the visibility and usage of the initiative in regions with very limited, comparing to their potential, exposure to FIWARE benefits, such as Greece and Turkey. Other countries of Western Balkans, i.e. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo, which fall in the category of “White Spots” will also be reached by FRACTALS as a result of: (a) geographical proximity, (b) common language and socio-economic background, and (c) the strong ties and synergies that ICT communities of Western Balkan countries have developed during previous years on the basis of various regional initiatives.
- Recognizing the importance of producing solutions according to users’ needs, thus all financed applications will go through User Validation from PA4ALL, the precision agriculture Living Lab of Biosense/UNS. FRACTALS aims to fund 50-60 sub-projects, for the development of applications with great market potential, thus beneficiaries have a clear motive to validate their applications through a User’s Community and receive feedback, since this process will increase the marketability of the applications. The consortium will provide this service through PA4ALL, a Living Lab focused on ICTs for Agriculture. A group of 300 Lead Users, covering all links of the value chain (farmers, agronomists, agrochemicals vendors), will be selected to take part in testing and validation assignments, both in terms of a formal process (with pre-defined metrics) but also (and probably more important) through open interaction sessions.
The evaluation of all proposals will be based upon a set of evaluation criteria designed to assess proposals under a holistic view, while at the same time being clear and transparent and easy for reviewers to assess. These criteria are the following:
- Experience and technical capacity of the applicant,
- Integration with FIWARE,
- Technological excellence,
- Quality of the implementation plan,
- Ability to provide significant value to end-users,
- Measures to engage end-users in validation through Open Innovation,
- Market potential.
Accelerator activities include mentoring and clustering/networking services:
Mentoring Services: Their aim is to improve the possibilities of an SME or entrepreneur to have access to the needed capital to commercialise the App. These services will consist of some knowledge transfer about (i) funding alternatives more adequate to his case (Application, capital need, location,…), (ii) how to analyse and balance the viability and risks, (iii)support to prepare an effective presentation to the target investment actors (venture capitalists, business angels, other public/private financial services), and (iv) negotiation skills and knowledge about common financial conditions and parameters he can influence to improve them.
This service will be available for any request from any of the new beneficiaries and will improve their chances to build a sellable product, perform a good risk analysis and to effectively explain its strong points, strategy and have more chances to succeed in a negotiation with a capital investor.
Clustering/ networking services: The fact that there will be many participants working in different angles of the same sector provides the basis for improving Project impact by taking advantage of having those participants closer and, thus, to discover new ways of business collaboration and generation of more complete offers. At the same time, it will enrich the possibilities to widen the scope of applications and services as result of complementary skills provided to the Agricultural sector. Therefore, FRACTALS will create a clustering service which targets at creating a network of contacts by identifying potential synergies among Project participants motivating they contact themselves for new business opportunities. From questionnaires about organisation competences and interests to be filled by all participants, FRACTALS will create a Competence/Interest matrix that will identify potential collaborations. It will offer a service to study potential collaborators to the requester and will organise at least one event to join organisations for networking purposes.
FRACTALS proposes an innovative and agile evaluation method, tailor-made to the needs of SMEs that has already been successfully applied and has the potential to roll out in future EC Calls with similar requirements.
The method follows the steps described below:
- During the first round every proposal is given a mark by one valuator according to the evaluation criteria. FRACTALS makes a first ranking of proposals according to these marks.
- Second round. FRACTALS selects 1 best and 2 worst and give them to an evaluator which will rank them by comparison. And then FRACTALS select the best and the 3rd and 4th worst give it to another evaluator who will rank them. FRACTALS follow this process to all the rank of proposals.
- FRACTALS repeats the 2nd step up to 3 times (or rounds). One total there are 4 rounds, first for marking and three for ranking.
- FRACTALS select the proposals at the top of the ranking lists and funds them according to the available budget.
Benefits of this method include:
Elimination of the personal bias of different evaluators: This kind of reviewing process is created to reduce the difference in personal points of view among the reviewers. The idea is to provide as accurate rank at the top of the chart as possible. Comparing the highest ranked application with the two lowest ranked ones would prolong the comparing of good applications for the final round. On the other hand, a good application that scored a poor rank in the first round because it was given to a severe reviewer, would keep the decent chances to climb the chart before the final round.
Flexibility, affordability and speed: The whole evaluation process is designed for a 3-weeks period plus 1 week for eligibility tests. Additionally the concept of consecutive iterations that evaluators are ranking, rather than marking proposals, significantly reduces the amount of effort required for these iterations, thus reducing the overall costs. Last but not least, the process can be adjusted to last less or more than three weeks. All of these mainly depend on the availability of reviewers, time and funds, as the reviewers are being paid for their contributions. The main point is that the proposed evaluation method can significantly reduce “time-to-project”, which is one of the most attractive features of SMEs to participate in R&D Calls, without the risk of missing the “momentum of the market”, which is one of the main reasons discouraging really innovative SMEs.
Transparency: The number of reviewers involved the different iterations of evaluation and of course the precautions that will be taken with respect to conflict of interest (all reviewers are expected to sign relevant declarations) ensure the level of transparency required when distributing funds coming from Europe’s tax-payers money.