The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) by the European Commission (EC) and European Innovation Council (EIC) funds European Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) and startups.
The provided funding per project can reach €17.5 million in total (€2.5 million in grant and €15 million in equity) and there are a variety of freelancers, professional writers and consultants who can help assess the project’s success chances and perform the submission.
This article presents a short list of areas that can make a candidate stand out and gain a positive assessment in the EIC Accelerator evaluation.
1. Sexy Topic
The EIC is a public institution and is fully subject to political, technological and social trends. For better or for worse, it gives preferential treatment to certain industries and technologies which are en vogue or are gaining significant public approval. While some of these causes and technologies are always welcome, specific focus areas are updated annually and outlined in the current Work Programme (see 2023 Challenges).
In 2023, the EIC Accelerator Challenges are:
- Novel biomarker-based assays to guide personalised cancer treatment
- Aerosol and surface decontamination for pandemic management
- Energy storage
- New European Bauhaus and Architecture, Engineering and Construction digitalisation for decarbonisation
- Emerging semiconductor or quantum technology components
- Novel technologies for resilient agriculture
- Customer-driven, innovative space technologies and services
But the topic selection is not limited to the EIC Accelerator Challenges outlined above since certain themes such as environmental protection, certain medical technology, artificial intelligence, energy, climate mitigation and others are evergreen and will always have a “wow-effect” on evaluators.
If the problem to be solved by the EIC Accelerator project is immediately understandable and evidently has a high impact then it will have higher chances of success compared to an obscure solution to a problem that is significant but not well understood outside of the industry.
Every evaluator will be aware of climate goals, cancer treatments, autonomous vehicles, quantum computing, green hydrogen, lithium-ion batteries and similar high-profile topics which means that they will have an easier time understanding the problem and the solution.
2. Impressive and Unique Technology
For the EIC Accelerator, there is no way around the fact that a project must have an impressive technology. No matter how interesting the problem and solution are, a simple App or an easy-to-copy hardware device bought from external manufacturers will likely have low success chances.
While there are always cases that slip through the cracks and get funded under the EIC Accelerator even though they are not an ideal fit (see Breaking the Rules), they are an exception and not the norm.
It must be clear to the evaluator that the technology is unique, hard to copy and perfectly designed to address the identified market pain point. For the EIC Accelerator, a sophisticated technology background is beneficial.
3. Easy to Understand
The EIC is using thousands of remote and anonymous evaluators who are underpaid considering the workload of the proposal assessments which limits the incentives to become an evaluator since neither prestige nor financial gain are presented as value propositions.
This creates a self-selection process for evaluators and limits the scope of who would be interested in and available for this type of work. It is not guaranteed that each complex technology and business case will have experts in the field available for an assessment. It is more likely that at least one evaluator tasked with grading an application will be uninformed or uneducated on the subject.
This leads to a double bind where an EIC Accelerator project should be complex enough to be impressive but cannot be so complex that the evaluator does not understand how it solves all of the problems outlined in the application.
This is exacerbated by the limited space found in key application sections where the 1,000 characters to quantify all Unique Selling Points (USP)’s or innovativeness might not be enough in some cases.
No matter what the project is about, it should be understandable to the layman and especially the problem and solution should be clear and easily understood.
4. Clear Commercial Strategy and Traction
Even though Step 2 of the EIC Accelerator is dubbed “The Business Plan” with a Go2Market section that is more comprehensive than most other sections, it is often the commercial strategy that is neglected by evaluators.
This can be a hint that many evaluators have a University or research background or can be based on the vague phrasing of the evaluation criteria (see Evaluation Criteria).
As a result, there is often a lack of understanding regarding the commercial plan and the nature of what is represented as commercial traction in the Step 2 evaluation. This can seem like a blessing for pre-revenue startups or companies lacking a commercial plan but it can lead to a reality check once the company is invited to the Step 3 interviews.
The Step 3 Jury members have a very strong commercial focus and will often identify within a few minutes what Step 2 remote evaluators have missed over days of looking through an application.
The commercial strategy should be clear and justified. If distributors are needed then they should be verifiably on board and their reach should be quantified. If the company wants to start marketing and sales, it should be explained why customers will buy from them, ideally through commitments and Letters of Intent (LOI).
While the Step 2 evaluators will likely miss the nuances and risks associated with market entry, the Step 3’s EIC Jury will not. It is beneficial to enter the Step 3 interview with a strong commercial plan outlined in the Step 2 proposal.
5. Great Team and Corporate Identity
Not every company has a LinkedIn profile with thousands of followers, a YouTube channel and an active Twitter account. The same is true for EIC Accelerator beneficiaries since not having a social media presence does not exclude a company from receiving funding.
Still, in the same way a person without any social media or online representation will appear odd, a company that has no website, uses Gmail accounts and has no social media accounts at all will seem dubious to investors.
This is aggravated by the fact that no due diligence is done prior to the successful passing of all three application steps of the EIC Accelerator. So, if the Step 3 Jury is suspicious of the claims of a company regarding staff size, experience, current customers and other metrics, it can impact a funding decision.
Since setting up a website and social media accounts is very easy and cheap, it is recommended to create a corporate identity across all sites including logos, a design theme for the pitch deck and private-domain email addresses for at least the CEO and the person who creates the account on the Funding & Tenders Portal and EIC Platform.
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These tips are not only useful for European startups, professional writers, consultants and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) but are generally recommended when writing a business plan or investor documents.
Deadlines: Post-Horizon 2020, the EIC Accelerator accepts Step 1 submissions now while the deadlines for the full applications (Step 2) under Horizon Europe are:
- Step 1 (short proposal)
- open now
- Step 2 (business plan)
- 1st cut-off: -
- 2nd cut-off: -
- 3rd cut-off: -
- 4th cut-off: October 19th 2023 (extended)
- Step 3 (interview)
- 1st cut-off: -
- 2nd cut-off: -
- 3rd cut-off: October 2nd to 6th (extended)
- 4th cut-off: November 27th to December 8th
The Step 1 applications must be submitted weeks in advance of Step 2. The next EIC Accelerator cut-off for Step 2 (full proposal) can be found here. After Brexit, UK companies can still apply to the EIC Accelerator under Horizon Europe albeit with non-dilutive grant applications only - thereby excluding equity-financing.
Contact: You can reach out to us via this contact form to work with a professional consultant.
EU, UK & US Startups: Alternative financing options for EU, UK and US innovation startups are the EIC Pathfinder (combining Future and Emerging Technologies - FET Open & FET Proactive) with €4M per project, Thematic Priorities, European Innovation Partnerships (EIP), Innovate UK with £3M (for UK-companies only) as well as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants with $1M (for US-companies only).
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by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting
General information on the EIC Accelerator template, professional grant writing and how to prepare a successful application can be found in the following articles: