Managers under the spotlight - Ovidiu Mihăilă, Founder, fundingloop

Can you tell us about your career journey? Why did you choose the field of EU funding and why did you choose to work from Switzerland?

From an early age, I felt a certain magnetism in working within diplomatic environments – I therefore naturally chose the option of studying at the Faculty of European Studies, in Cluj-Napoca, at Babeș-Bolyai University. It is the place where I understood key-information about EU’s institutions, policies, and mechanisms, and started considering a career in the field. After graduation, I briefly worked with the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs before transitioning to a management consultant role for Swedish and Polish firms. During that time, I became more and more engaged with the non-reimbursable funding landscape. Afterwards, from 2012, I worked with Bitdefender’s research teams to secure funding for disruptive advancements in cybersecurity.

I moved to Canton of Vaud back in 2017 and, after falling for Switzerland’s fairy-tale landscapes and, resonating more and more with the Swiss lifestyle, I decided to open an office in Lausanne in 2020. It was an inspired decision that has since delivered significant impact and positive results, validating my choice of Switzerland as my HQ and the EU & VC funding sector as my specialty.


What are the key objectives and responsibilities of your position in relation to securing EU funding for businesses?

In my capacity as a funding advisor, I focus on two key-objectives for securing EU funding with my clients.

Firstly, I specialise in the conceptualisation and design of funding scenarios. With over 15 years of experience in securing funding for diverse business requirements - including the acquisition of tangible and intangible assets, human resources and innovation - I've learned to create effective scenarios that maximise the chances of obtaining the needed funding, but more importantly, to use the funding to its maximum potential within the client’s particular set-up.

My second key-objective is simplifying the complexity of the funding process. I am committed to making this journey as straightforward, transparent, and prompt as possible. By handling the nuances of proposal preparation and project implementation, I ensure my clients can keep their focus on crucial operations such as driving innovation or commercial scaling-up.

In a nutshell, my role aims to make the EU funding landscape less daunting and more accessible, allowing businesses to quickly and easily innovate and grow, with the funding we secure.


How do you identify and assess potential EU funding opportunities for businesses? What criteria do you consider?

Identifying and assessing potential EU funding opportunities requires a strategic approach, as it involves aligning a company's unique needs with the requirements of specific funding programmes.

Our methodology typically consists of two stages: analysis and advice, which are tailored to each client's unique circumstances. These stages are crucial as they provide insights into the business's current status and trajectory, and aid in understanding the most appropriate funding instrument.

On the supply side, the EU supports a diverse range of initiatives through various funding instruments, such as Horizon Europe, the Digital Europe, EIC, and Eureka-Eurostars, to name a few. By translating these complex funding guidelines into clear, actionable steps, we simplify the process for our clients. We aim to maximise the benefits, while minimising the operational and strategic loads it may impose.


What would be your advice for Swiss investors that want to access EU funds in tech/innovation field?

Be bold! With an abundant funding environment, leveraging these resources can significantly accelerate the market entry of your innovations. Why? It creates competitive advantage as it can significantly speed up the development and commercialisation of your innovative products or services. Just pay attention to correctly balance opportunities and risks as is important to consider the potential impact on your business operations, strategy, and flexibility. And most importantly, act now: the tech/innovation field is fast paced. The sooner you act, the quicker you can capitalise on these opportunities. Don't hesitate to seize the moment and leverage these resources to fuel your growth.


Could you share some examples of successful EU funding projects that you have been involved in? What made these projects successful?

Gladly, as I find that some of these examples might be a very good source of inspiration.

Bitdefender, a world-renowned security software provider, was committed to enhancing its detection capabilities, particularly by better understanding and profiling the behaviour of Dark Web users. To address this, Bitdefender researchers planned to develop the Dark Web Identity (DARWIN) technology using deep-learning methods, combined with feature engineering know-how. Acting as the funding advisor for Bitdefender, we suggested a scenario which involved funding for innovation within the form of a non-reimbursable grant. Working together with the research team, we focused on highlighting the innovation-driven nature of DARWIN Project and its impact for the organisations and experts that are fighting cybercrime. As a result, non-reimbursable funding was obtained, which provided the necessary financial resources for the development of the technology.

The Step FWD team intended to advance their accelerator into a facility that not only incubates start-ups but propels them towards substantial growth. This strategy involved securing supplementary funding to broaden the scope of support extended to emerging entrepreneurial teams. Collaboratively, we designed the foundation for the enhanced “StepFWD Together” accelerator.

Acknowledging the critical need for additional financial support and expertise, I proposed applying for grants from Innovation Norway. Trusted by Step FWD and having the Startup Norway team on board as project partners, we prepared and submitted a comprehensive proposal. After several months, we received the news that our initiative had secured the necessary funding to forge ahead.


In your experience, what are some common mistakes or pitfalls that businesses should avoid when applying for EU funding?

I will focus on those which are really important, and I will start with applying for funding only for the sake of the money and not because of needing the funding – I’ve seen this on multiple situations and the outcomes were adverse. Then, a superficial assessment of the operational and financial eligibility prevents any prospect of successfully getting funding, along with last-minute applications, incomplete or inaccurate budgets or overestimation of costs.


What’s your current hobby?

I find it hard to pick just one hobby, so I will say that it’s a mix of multiple activities such as hiking, enjoying the summer sunsets by the Léman Lake, driving the mountainous Swiss passes or simply reading both fiction or non-fiction books.


What’s your favourite book? /Or Who is your favourite author? (your choice)

I hope that not limiting to one specific book might be inspiring for the readers too, so for the non-fiction I will mention Grit by Angela Duckworth and Ken Segall’s Insanely Simple while in fiction, I really enjoy the works of Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Murakami and Flaubert.