The EIC Accelerator funding (grant and equity, with blended financing option) by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC) is one of the multiple programs available to Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) and startups. It awards up to €2.5 million in grant and €15 million in equity financing per project (€17.5 million total) and applications are often supported by consultants, professional writers or freelancers.
Still, there are alternative options for project financing available under the EIC framework.
EIC Funding Programs
The EIC’s funding programs can be complex and there is limited structured information that can support and guide a selection process. There are different funding arms (i.e. EIC Pathfinder, EIC Transition, EIC Accelerator), different topics (i.e. Challenges), varying budget allocations (see EIC Budget 2023), different funding modes (i.e. grant, equity, mixed) and even different application systems (i.e. written applications, videos or interviews).
To reduce the complexity, this article aims at providing a guide for selecting the right EIC financing.
The three flagship EIC grant funding programs are EIC Pathfinder, EIC Transition and EIC Accelerator. For an explanation of the differences between them, please view this article: EIC Funding Framework
The core selection criteria for the EIC funding options are (1) the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of the innovation, (2) the topic or industry, (3) the number of applicants and (4) the financing needs and investor availability.
Technology Readiness Level (TRL)
To decide between EIC Pathfinder, EIC Transition and EIC Accelerator, the prospective applicant must first identify the level of their current technology according to the TRL’s:
- basic principles observed
- technology concept formulated
- experimental proof of concept
- technology validated in lab
- technology validated in relevant environment
- technology demonstrated in relevant environment
- system prototype demonstration in operational environment
- system complete and qualified
- actual system proven in operational environment
While the descriptions for the TRL’s are rather vague, the general cornerstones are easily differentiated when considering that TRL5 accounts for validating the key technology in a test setting while TRL6 accounts for the testing of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in a customer environment (i.e. actively testing the prototype)
After identifying an applicants TRL, it is then straightforward to make a decision regarding the funding program whereas:
- EIC Pathfinder starts at min. TRL1 and ends at max. TRL4
- EIC Transition starts at min. TRL4 and ends at max. TRL5-6
- EIC Accelerator starts at min. TRL5-6 and ends at max. TRL9
The EIC’s Work Programme is renewed and adopted each year which means that the budgets and thematic topics will change annually.
Why is the budget relevant?
The total budget defines how much funding is available in any given year and for any given cut-off. If 1,000 applicants compete for €100 million then it will be more difficult than if 100 applicants compete for €1,000 million since the average funding per project increases.
It is advisable to identify the general competitiveness of a funding program prior to planning an application which includes the number of total applicants, the number of winning projects and the overall budget size (see 2022 Results).
Why are the topics relevant?
In general, there are always “Open” and “Challenge” Calls for the respective funding arms whereas the former is available to all types of technologies and industries while the latter is only available to specific projects that fulfill certain criteria.
To elaborate, topics or Challenges are a specialized focus of the respective funding program whereas the total budget is divided into multiple buckets. While the “Open” bucket is available to all applicants, the “Challenges” bucket is only available to those who fulfill the criteria regarding the technologies and industries outlined in the Work Programme.
In practice, it is always preferable to apply to the “Challenges” if possible since it can be less competitive while providing higher success chances.
This can be illustrated in a simple example:
The EIC Accelerator budget for 2023 is €1.1 billion in total but it is divided into the “Open” call with €611 million and the “Challenges” with €523 million. The strategic challenges for the EIC Accelerator in 2023 are (see 2023 EIC Budget):
- 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
From a statistics perspective, there are likely fewer companies that fall into these particular topics while there is a high probability that the majority of applicants are only eligible for the Open call.
It is therefore advisable to identify the current topics for each funding program prior to preparing a submission. Considering that resubmissions are a common occurrence in case of rejections, it is likewise preferred to apply in a timely manner to account for at least 3 Step 2 submissions in the case of the EIC Accelerator (see Resubmissions).
Consortia vs. Single Applicant
The EIC Accelerator is a single-applicant instrument which means that only a single entity is receiving the funding and must be located in the EU or a country associated with Horizon Europe. For EIC Pathfinder and EIC Transition, the applicants can either be single entities or consortia consisting of multiple entities.
Financing Needs and Availability
Each funding program has a dedicated budget and a general budget amount per project. For the EIC Accelerator, the general funding allocations are a maximum of €2.5 million for grant funding and €15 million for equity funding while the average ticket sizes are generally below the maximum.
For the last cut-off of 2022, the average ticket size for all projects (incl. grant-only, grant-first, equity-only and blended finance) was €6.03 million (see 2022 EIC Accelerator Results).
For EIC Pathfinder, the limits for projects are €3 million and for EIC Transition they are set to up to €2.5 million per project.
It is therefore beneficial to also assess the funding needs of the project beforehand to assure that the amount of funding that can be granted will allow the project to reach its desired endpoint.
It should also be assured that sufficient follow-up or co-financing is available in relevant cases. For the EIC Accelerator, the projects requesting grant-only, equity-only and blended financing are generally required to demonstrate that additional financing is available.
For grant-only applications which are only requesting funding up to TRL8, the funding to reach TRL9 should be justifiable. The EIC reserves the right to cancel ongoing grant projects in case a lack of additional financing is jeopardizing the project (see Cancelling Funding).
For applications that include equity components such as blended finance, the EIC expects applicants to secure outside investors for a co-financing round. While such rules can change on a year-by-year basis, it is important to be aware of them to meet and manage expectations.
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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).
Any more questions? View the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section.
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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: