aws Digitalization – Artificial Intelligence

Questions an Answers

Funding for trustworthy, innovative AI projects in Austria.

These FAQs are provided to help address your issues prior to and during your application process and in handling the funding. They provide a general overview without making any claim to completeness and will be regularly updated for your information. Only the aws Digitalization – Trustworthy AI program document is legally binding. These FAQs will be updated as required.

Date: 10/02/2021

1. Overview

Are the FAQs legally binding?

No, they are not legally binding. They merely provide answers to a selection of frequently asked questions.
 

2. Applications

Who can submit a project to the aws Digitalization – Trustworthy AI program?

Eligible applicants include businesses in the pre-foundation phase as well as existing businesses (small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large businesses) based in Austria.


Can research institutions, universities, associations and consortiums apply?

No.


Can multiple companies submit a joint application?

No, only individual companies are eligible for funding. Submissions in consortium will not be accepted.


What is an “innovative company”?

A company working to develop new technologies, with the associated risks. The term also applies to companies that, in the last three years, have invested at least 10 per cent of their operating expenses in research and development. An exact definition can be found in the program document.


What constitutes “existing technical risks”?

A risk of the practical implementation failing for technical reasons. The application must describe exactly where these risks will arise and how they are to be dealt with.


Must the proposed project incorporate technical risks?

Yes. Innovation is a risky undertaking. This funding program is intended to help address these risks. Projects without technical risks will not be supported.


What is experimental development?

Experimental development is often characterized by the development of prototypes, demonstrations or pilot installations. It is a process focusing on the creation of new knowledge and capabilities. Experimental development does not include routine development of existing products and services. An exact definition can be found in the program document.


What is a “startup company”?

A company first listed in the companies register no more than five years previously. An exact definition can be found at the following link: Rechtsgrundlage AGVO, Artikel 22.2 (the legal basis is Article 22.2 of the EU General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER).)


What are “small businesses”?

Companies employing fewer than 50 employees (full-time equivalent) and with an annual turnover or balance of less than 10 million euros. See also the EU definition of SMEs (see Appendix 1 of the GBER).

You can find more detailed information on SMEs in the aws SME info sheet.


Can de minimis aid and GBER funding be combined?

No. Before you submit your funding application, you must decide whether you wish to receive de minimis aid or GBER funding.


If no more de minimis frameworks are available, can you receive funding on the basis of the GBER?

Yes, if unused GBER frameworks are still available.


How can I find out if any unused de minimis frameworks are still available?

You can add up the total de minimis funding amounts promised to your company or group of companies over the last three years (2019-2021). You can find out more details in the aws de minimis info sheet.


Where in the aws Fördermanager do I specify the basis in EU law on which I wish to submit my application?

After the paragraph on “Funding applications” in section 5 of the funding application, you will be able to select your preferred basis in EU law: “de minimis”, “AGVO (GBER) Art. 22” or “AGVO (GBER) Art. 25”.


Which industries are specifically excluded?

Fisheries and aquaculture, agriculture and primary production, banking and other financial institutions, insurance and real estate, regional authorities and legal entities in which regional authorities have either a direct or indirect interest of more than 50%.


What is the maximum permissible proportion of third-party costs for the project?

No more than 49% of the eligible project costs. aws is seeking projects involving self-developed innovations, so the majority of the services must be provided by the company itself. The core knowledge base for the project must already exist or be developed within the company.


Can the core knowledge base for the project be developed by third parties if the total third-party costs remain less than 49%?

No. The core knowledge base for the eligible innovation must already exist or be developed within the company. This will enable the best possible development and lay the foundation for successful market development.


Will projects with external research partners be regarded more favorably?

No.


Can the costs of implementing trustworthy AI (default selection and implementation, communication, training, data analysis, data cleansing, etc.) be funded?

Yes.


How should milestones be planned?

Funding will be disbursed in three tranches. The first and second tranches each comprise 40% and the third tranche consists of 20% of the total funding amount. Please plan for this as per the “integral planning” template.


Are overhead costs eligible for funding?

No. Lump sum compensation for overhead costs is not possible with this funding program.


Is there a key to how personnel and materials costs should be divided?

No. This will depend on the requirements of the individual project.


What does “own contribution” refer to?

At least 20% of the total cost of the fundable project must be contributed by the applicant “in cash”.


Can the own contribution be provided in the form of notional company wages or salary waivers?

No. The own contribution must be demonstrably produced in cash and applied to the project.


What can the own contribution funds be used for?

For eligible costs as defined in the program document.


Can investments already instigated prior to application, such as expenditure on a data processor optimized for AI calculations, be fully funded or subsidized in aliquot portion according to depreciation over the course of the project?

No.


What documents are required for a funding application?

For all applications: 

  • A business plan (as per the template)
  • Integral planning (as per the template)
  • Budget forecast

Existing companies will also require:

  • Annual financial statements for the last two financial years
  • Number of full-time equivalents working at the company or group of companies.

Companies in the pre-foundation phase and not yet listed in the companies register will also require:

  • Photographic ID for each partner.


Must the “business plan” and “integral planning” documents be based on the templates provided?

Yes, these templates are compulsory. This is essential to ensure that all project submissions can be readily compared. 


How many pages should the business plan contain?

No more than 15 pages. This is also specified in the introduction to the required template.


How should the business plan be divided into its various topics?

This may vary for each project. However, please take care to address all the topics indicated by the headings provided.


Can I upload my budgeted balance sheet and projected profit and loss statement as attachments?

Yes. In this case, the business plan should be submitted under paragraph 8.1.3.(a) in summary and (b) with reference to the additional uploaded attachment.


Can documents be handed in later, after the end of the submission period?

No.


Can questions in the application be answered or other documents provided in English?

Yes, documents can be submitted and the project presented in English. aws staff are also happy to provide advice in English. However, management of the funding process including the funding agreement will always be conducted in German.


Is there a checklist for submissions?

Yes, see find a checklist in the download section of the call.


Can this funding be combined with the aws Creative Impact program?

In principle, yes, if the project content is different.
No, not if the same project content is being funded.

3. Artificial intelligence


Does the project need to involve self-developed innovations with trustworthy AI?

Yes.


Must these new AI technologies have been developed by the applicant/s themselves?

No. The use of state-of-the-art technology is, in principle, sufficient. If the specific project requires additional developments, this will increase the degree of innovation.


How critical is the use of AI to the proposed project?

Very critical. aws is seeking projects that can only succeed with the use of AI or in which AI will result in significant improvements to the status quo offered by existing solutions.


Can a research project based on the topic of “implementing trustworthy AI” be submitted?

No, this funding program is aimed exclusively at the commercial development and implementation of actual products, services or business models based on trustworthy AI.


We are already using classic algorithms or an existing software solution, and wish to expand this with an AI system. Should we apply?

  • Yes, if the AI project will enable you to solve an existing problem and/or can become the basis of a new business model.
  • No, if it will result in only a slight improvement and/or no significant new commercial possibilities will be opened up.


What is a data strategy?

A precise plan detailing how data is to be handled.


What should my data strategy look like?

There are many options for developing a data strategy. Please ensure you select a model that suits your project. Examples of model procedures can be found at Datentreiber, Kathrin-Mathis and similar sites.


What constitutes a trustworthy AI?

Trustworthy AIs are legal, ethical and observe the following elements (p. 17 et seq.):

  1. Precedence of human agency and human oversight, e.g. protection of human autonomy
  2. Technical robustness and safety, e.g. resilience to attack and security breach, fallback plan and general safety, accuracy, reliability and reproducibility
  3. Protection of privacy and data governance, e.g. respect for privacy, quality and integrity of data and access to data
  4. Transparency, e.g. traceability, explainability and communication
  5. Diversity, non-discrimination and fairness, e.g. avoidance of unfair bias, accessibility and universal design, and stakeholder participation
  6. Societal and environmental well-being, e.g. sustainability and environmental friendliness, social impact, society and democracy
  7. Accountability, e.g. auditability, minimization and reporting of negative impact, trade-offs and redress.

A similar approach can be found in “AI4People - An Ethical Framework for a Good AI Society: Opportunities, Risks, Principles, and Recommendations”, Floridi et al, 2018, which proposes five principles. The OECD also suggests a corresponding framework.


Why is it important that the AI system be trustworthy?

Because trustworthy systems enjoy greater user acceptance. Without acceptance, many opportunities for AI systems in companies and society cannot be realized.


What does “technical and social robustness” mean?

Measures included in the project must not cause any technical or social damage, but should instead have an exclusively positive economic and social impact.


What does technical robustness and safety encompass?

This term refers to the technical robustness and safety of the AI system as per the guidelines on trustworthy AI.
It does not include general IT security issues such as the use of the latest software versions, backup strategies or protection against internal or external hacking.


Should open standards and interfaces be used in the project?
Yes. The use of open standards and interfaces can significantly improve trustworthiness, interoperability and scalability.


Why is trustworthy AI and its implementation given greater weight than innovation and growth in this program?

Because demonstrating and promoting the confident use of AI is the core focus of the program. A high level of implementation competence significantly increases the chances of success.


What constitutes the “lawfulness” of the AI?

All applicable laws, regulations and norms must be complied with.


What does “ethical principles and values” mean?

The use of AI requires more than just respect for the law. It is also important to consider how to address any socially critical questions and challenges that may arise before the project begins or during its execution. The principles laid out for dealing with sensitive topics such as fairness, racism, discrimination, etc. should be described here.

We recommend referring to the EU guidelines: p. 16 et seqq. These guidelines discuss four ethical principles

1) respect for human autonomy

2) prevention of harm

3) fairness

4) explicability

in detail. See also documents such as “Ethik in KI und Robotik” (Ethics in AI and Robotics), Hanser Verlag, 2019.


How should I “explain” a decision of, for example, a deep learning system?

A specific explanation of a decision, e.g. of machine learning or deep learning systems, is not possible and is the object of current research.

Different explanation pathways are required, depending on the possible consequences of this kind of AI systems decisions. How comprehensive these should be depends on how “critical” the decisions are. See the criticality pyramid and a risk-adapted regulatory system for applying algorithmic systems, p. 177 et seqq. of the Gutachten Deutsche Datenethikkommission (German Data Ethics Commission Report), 2019.

On this basis, one can also determine factors such as what framework conditions, system boundaries, and levels of (human) oversight are required for these decisions to be made. These must also be communicated transparently.


How can we implement “trustworthy AI” in our company?

The evaluation list for trustworthy AI is a practical checklist for addressing this issue at www.aws.at/ki.

Documents such as the white paper “Building the organization for scaling AI”, 19/02/2020, by www.appliedai.de explain how to get from a basic AI strategy to a system embedded in the organization.


Do the guidelines for achieving trustworthy AI have to be used in funded projects?

Yes.


Which guidelines for trustworthy AI are suitable?

This decision depends on the project, so long as the core elements for a trustworthy AI as per the program document are satisfied.


Where can I find guidelines for trustworthy AI?

The Ethics guidelines for trustworthy AI provide guidelines and checklists for the actual implementation of this concept. 
Link to a comprehensive collection of guidelines. When selecting guidelines, consider practical usability in the context of your project.


Can we also use our own guidelines for trustworthy AI?

Yes, so long as the core elements of trustworthy AI as per the program documentare satisfied. These guidelines must be set out in the business plan.


Where can I find examples of AI applications and who is currently active in this field?

Overviews can be found in documents such as the AI Landscape. Further examples can also be found on the Industry 4.0 Austria platform or at Lisa Vienna – Life Science Austria. You can see for yourself how and where the principles of trustworthy AI are explicitly addressed.


Can Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics” be used as guidelines for trustworthy AI?

No.

4. Project selection and the jury process


How will projects be selected to present to the jury?

All applications submitted by the due date will be assessed against the formal criteria of the program (see the checklist in the download section of the call at www.aws.at/ki).

All projects that meet these formal criteria will be evaluated and ranked according to the four criteria of innovation, growth, trustworthy AI and implementation. The best projects will be selected for presentation to the jury.


Does the funding amount requested affect the likelihood of success?

No. Successful projects are chosen according to the selection criteria specified in the call, see the program document under paragraph 7.3.


When will I know if my project has been selected for presentation to the jury?

The time frame of the selection process is published on the aws website under aws Digitalization – Trustworthy AI www.aws.at/ki.


How does the jury procedure work?

The selected project team will be invited by aws to present their project to the jury. Applicants can assume that the jury is already familiar with the project. Each proposed project is allocated ten minutes for the presentation and ten minutes for questions from the jury. The jury will make an assessment based on the evaluation criteria, determine a ranking and submit a jury recommendation.


Will the jury presentation take place online or in person?

The presentation to the jury will take place online.


Which members of the project team should participate in the jury presentation?

The most important members of the team should participate, so that all the jury’s questions can be thoroughly answered. This will generally involve 2-4 people.


When will the results of the jury presentation be announced?

The time frame of the selection process is published on the aws website under aws Digitalization – Trustworthy AI www.aws.at/ki.


Will projects related to coronavirus or originating in the health sector be preferred?

No. All projects will be evaluated on the basis of the criteria outlined in the call.

5. Invoicing and disbursement


During what period will expenditure be considered eligible?

Incidental costs can only be accepted during the project period, i.e. between the project start date and the project end date. The project period will be specified in the funding agreement.


As of what date will expenditures be funded?

Expenditures will be considered eligible (see the program document, paragraph 6.1) from the moment the agreement is signed and for the duration of the project period. Only costs incurred after the date of acceptance will be funded. Costs incurred prior to the date of acceptance may NOT be submitted. For example, if the funding agreement is accepted on 01/02/20xx, but rent has been paid from 01/01/20xx à rental expenses incurred prior to 01/02/20xx are not eligible for funding.


Can a service be eligible for funding if the service was provided prior to the date of acceptance, if the invoice is submitted after that date?

No, the service provision as well as invoicing and payment must all occur within the accounting period.


What do I do if it turns out that a project cannot or should not be continued?

Options include:

  • terminating the project by submitting a request for termination to aws
  • Alternatively: an altered replacement project (pivot) may be submitted to aws for approval, together with a justification of the change.


Can the costs of implementing trustworthy AI (default selection and implementation, communication, training, data analysis, data cleansing, etc.) be funded?

Yes.


Are overhead costs eligible for funding?

No. Lump sum compensation for overhead costs is not possible with this funding program.


Are rental costs and other ongoing expenses eligible for funding?

Yes, so long as these expenses are incurred in relation to the project and amount to more than €150 net. A project reference must be submitted.


Only expenses explicitly associated with the project are eligible for funding. How do I verify this?

You must document the costs associated with the project, e.g. establishing a dedicated cost unit and posting details of the share of the costs.

On request, you must submit the invoice relating to the cost unit together with an explanation of the system, e.g. how are the rental costs associated with the project calculated?


Can costs for patents be invoiced?

No. Eligible expenditures must be relevant to experimental development, so patent costs are not eligible as these are attributable to the implementation of commercialization.


Are startup costs eligible for funding?

No. Eligible expenditures must be relevant to experimental development, so startup costs are not eligible as these are part of the implementation.


Are travel expenses eligible for funding?

Yes, in principle, if the travel is clearly relevant to an experimental development, e.g. driving to a pilot project. Travel costs must amount to a minimum of €150 (net) in order to be eligible for funding.


How should travel expenses be recorded in the settlement files?

Travel expenses should be calculated as a collective item, which must amount to at least €150 (net). Costs for transport, overnight accommodation, etc. should not be itemized individually. The evidence should be collated and submitted as a PDF file (including expense allowances).


Is there a key to how personnel and materials costs should be divided?

No. This will depend on the requirements of the individual project.


Within the course of a project, the distribution of staffing, materials and third-party expenses may differ from the funding agreement. What do I do in this case?

So long as the changes ensure that the original goal of the project can be further or better achieved, and the agreed funding amount is not exceeded, the proposed expenses can be redistributed between personnel, materials and third-parties.

If the changes are:

  • less than 40%: the changes must be specified and justified in the report.
  • greater than 40%: an application with justification for the changes, and including the updated cost structure, must be submitted to aws via Fördermanager. The report must detail the approved changes.

Care must be taken to ensure that third-party costs do not account for the majority of the modified use of funds (max. 49%) and that the project is not implemented primarily by third parties, as it must be predominantly implemented by the funding recipient.


Do I need to submit timesheets to aws?

No. Our program management focuses on results, and the disbursement of funds follows the successful achievement of milestones.


Are lump sum overhead costs (overheads) eligible for funding?

No.


What personnel costs are eligible for funding?

Only verified actual incurred costs approved within the scope of the funding agreement are eligible for funding. Personnel costs must be verified in the relevant payroll accounts and with evidence of payment.


Can personnel costs for the founders of a startup be eligible for funding?

Yes, although the maximum eligible costs with the FWF (Austrian Science Fund) senior post-doc clause valid at the time of the funding confirmation may be eligible for funding. The current personnel costs clause can be found here: https://www.fwf.ac.at/de/forschungsfoerderung/personalkostensaetze


Can employees who are not funded by other budgets be invoiced as personnel costs?

Yes, to the extent that they have worked on the actual project. The applied methodology, e.g. cost unit accounting, must be explained and, if appropriate, verified.


How can the personnel costs be verified?

Personnel costs must be verified by means of the payroll accounts of all invoiced individuals for the entire billing period, and evidence of payments to the employees and relevant bodies (tax office, social security, etc.) must be provided.


Do I need to calculate hourly rates for the personnel costs invoicing?  

No.


In terms of personnel costs, what does it mean that “the funding authority [can] demand a detailed breakdown of the activities carried out”?

If there is any doubt about the activities performed, then the system of personnel accounting for the project must be justified in detail and the activities carried out must be traceably documented.


When do the invoicing and milestone documents need to be supplied?

No more than two months after the respective end of the project term.


Are there in-depth explanations of the invoicing?

Yes, in principle the corresponding provisions of the guidelines are used, where other provisions are not specified in the agreement, the program document, or the policies.
Please note the explanations in the invoicing template.


How should personnel costs be invoiced?

In principle, invoicing should occur on a monthly basis (see guidelines above). The invoice must specify the name of the person and the invoicing period. The relevant extract from the payroll accounts (https://www.wko.at/service/steuern/lohnkonto.html  must be supplied for the corresponding time period.


When must settlement offers be received?

Whenever it is most expedient according to the principles of thrift and the efficient allocation of resources. In individual cases, the internal tender procedures of the companies involved may be used. These provisions must be made available in the event of an audit or further inquiry, together with the tender received.


What does it mean when the fee note says “...a detailed description of the working hours spent”?

This refers to an informative and traceable description of the actual services provided and time spent. This also forms the basis for a possible third-party comparison, i.e. the expenditure must represent market rates and be verifiable.


Can the cost of catering at functions be eligible for funding?

Yes, if the event is primarily attended by external individuals and the content of the event supports the experimental development of the project. e.g. service design or technical workshops with potential customers.

No, if the function is internal and/or serves general marketing, sales or information functions.


Can internal services be invoiced?

Only if appropriate evidence can be supplied, and this must be subject to third-party comparison (the arm’s length principle).


Can costs for SAAS (Software as a Service) solutions be eligible for funding?

Yes, if these tools are required in the context of the project for the development and implementation of trustworthy AI, and the cost per invoice is greater than €150 (net). These expenses must be clearly distinguished from general (not related to the project) company activities.


Can invoices under €150 be submitted?

No. Exception: in the case of travel, the expense invoice may include individual amounts of less than €150 provided the sum total exceeds €150 (net), and is then invoiced as a single item.


How fixed is the time frame of payments as per the milestone plan?

The relevant payment tranches are specified in the funding agreement. These can only be altered in justified cases, once an amendment to the agreement has been applied for and approved.


When will these payments be disbursed?

Once the conditions specified for each milestone have been completed, documented and positively evaluated as per the “disbursement of funds” section of the agreement.


How will the funds be disbursed?

Funds will be paid directly into the bank account nominated by the company or entrepreneurial team.