Dr Paul Drath, founder and director of Singleimage
"Applicants must have a long term view, but it is a good source of funds when other sources are drying up..."
The Company Dr Paul Drath is the founder and director of Singleimage Ltd. Established in 1996, the company provides workshops, training and advice to help researchers working in the European Union’s Framework Seven funding programme (FP7). Paul has 19 years experience of EU research, as an expert evaluator and reviewer, and has participated in more than 10 projects, including three as co-ordinator. Prior to founding Singleimage, Paul worked for 11 years in the computer industry. Further information about Singleimage, plus details of forthcoming workshops and events, can be found at the company’s website: www.singleimage.co.uk 1) What is FP7? FP7 is the European Union’s current research and development funding programme. It has a budget of €50bn to spend between 2007 and 2013. Two thirds of this is for collaborative research between large and small companies, universities, government laboratories, not-for-profit institutes and for-profit research organisations – basically anyone who undertakes research. The only condition is that research projects must be collaborative – the work has to be undertaken by a consortium. 2) What are the payoffs and pitfalls? FP7 provides a fantastic opportunity to work with researchers across Europe, potentially including your customers or suppliers. You can use the research to explore new markets, or to get your end-users to help define new products, processes or services. The sheer size of FP7 means that there are a wide range of opportunities for all types of organisations. However, collaboration can also be seen as a pitfall. Because you are working with a team, you have to progress at the pace of the team, rather than the speed you might individually prefer. It’s a trade-off because of course you have access to the combined expertise of your team, which can be substantial. The other downside is the legendary bureaucracy of the European Commission! 3) Where does Singleimage come in? In a nutshell, Singleimage trains people across Europe who are either trying to become involved, or are already involved in FP7 projects. We run workshops covering proposal preparation, project management, finance, and contracts and legal requirements. We give clear and useful information together with practical exercises that avoid myth and jargon help participants to build their confidence and put together successful bids and projects. Locally, we’ve worked with the Sanger Institute, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, British Telecom, Schlumberger and others. Across Europe our client list includes CERN, the European Space Agency, Volvo, Motorola, Qinetiq, Thales and Philips. 4) What is your business model? We provide workshops in Cambridge that anyone can book and attend. We also provide in-house training for companies and institutes across Europe. 5) Do you expect to see an increase in interest in FP7 given the current economic climate? They are looking at FP7 as a means for their portfolio companies to access European projects. Because FP7 is effectively government money, it can provide a cash injection which doesn’t need to be paid back. That said, even applying for FP7 money is a long term commitment. It isn’t unusual for it to take a year or more from submitting your application to getting a contract. Applicants must have a long term view, but it is a good source of funds when other sources are drying up. 6) How viable is it for a small firm to get involved in FP7? It does depend on exactly how small the company is. I would say that if you have fewer than ten people, it’s not a viable option. That said, for the sort of high-tech, research intensive, high growth companies that Cambridge is famous for, FP7 can be a useful source of funds. ARM for instance funded much of its early development work under earlier EU framework programmes. ARM’s business model is very collaborative, so the EU rules fitted very well with their aspirations. The company was a major participant in European programmes over a long period. FP7 is also a good route for spin-out companies, as they can access the network of contacts and FP expertise of a major university or institution, which can be very helpful. 7) What are the biggest challenges for your company going forward? VAT! We work in a large number of countries, and we have to account for VAT in each one according to its own rules. It’s a major headache! Travel also brings problems. Stansted Airport is convenient, but the M11 suffers a lot of hold-ups. Recently I missed my plane and had to travel to a different city. A £100 taxi bill and four hours sleep is not the best way to prepare for a workshop. We also face the challenge of customers who despite being world class academics, just can’t cope with everyday technology – someone recently faxed us a booking form, but put it in upside down so all we received was a blank sheet of paper! 8) What has been your biggest achievement as a company so far? Gaining international acceptance. I’ll be in Helsinki next week, having been invited by a Government Agency to lecture to research organisations. In the next few weeks I’m also going to Switzerland, Sweden and Poland. We also regularly get about a third of our attendees at the Cambridge workshops coming from outside the UK. It’s amazing but very gratifying that we are recognised as experts right across Europe, despite being a just a small company from St Ives! 9) What are your plans for the company? We are still growing, and are extending our presence in other European countries. We are currently promoting our workshops in Italy in collaboration with the University of Pisa – there are workshops running there in December, February and April which anyone is welcome to attend. We will expand into more new territories in 2009. 10) What three pieces of advice would you give to anyone considering getting involved with FP7? One – think long term. FP7 is not a quick fix and you should be considering what it will bring you and where you want to be in five to ten years time. Two – be prepared to share. FP7 projects are collaborative, and you must be prepared to take part in a two-way process of learning and sharing. Three – do your homework. Attending a Singleimage workshop should definitely be part of your preparation. You can’t be half-hearted about FP7 – it needs a lot of legwork before you can get started, but the long-term outcomes will make the effort worthwhile.