EIC Accelerator Interview Preparation Process: Scripting the Pitch (Part 1)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) has introduced mandatory, in-person interviews in 2018 which marked the first multi-step installation of this financing instrument. For the first time, it was necessary to present and justify the innovation project in front of a jury that consisted of different experts such as coaches, consultants, angel investors, VC partners and others.

With success rates for the EIC Accelerator having historically been well below 5%, the interviews tended to be the last but also the least selective step of the evaluation process. These exhibited success rates ranging between 25-50% (i.e. 50% in June 2021) and, if a startup or Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) was invited, it was likely that they would obtain the grant financing.

Approaches to Pitch Practise

Often, startups that apply to the EIC Accelerator assume that their past experience from event pitches or conversations with Venture Capitalists (VC) or other investors is sufficient to be prepared for the EIC jury. While it is true that this is a great asset to fall back on and presents an invaluable experience, it is often not enough to increase the success chances of a project above the average since this experience is shared among most founders.

Note: A company can succeed in the EIC Accelerator interviews without any practice or preparation but this approach is risky and not recommended.

What to Expect in a Pitch Interview

Previous articles on the pitch interviews can be found here:

In a nutshell, the pitch interview, online or in-person, will consist of a 10-minute pitch by the presenting team (i.e. usually 3 senior and balanced team members) followed by a max. 35-minute-long Questions and Answers (Q&A) session. The topics, considerations and descriptions of such a session are described in the articles above.

To sufficiently prepare for this event, the presenting team has to focus on two distinctly different segments:

  • The pitch: A 10-minute pitch that should be entertaining and use understandable language, simple sentences and easy-to-digest slides while telling an enticing story as opposed to overly complex content.
  • The Q&A: A 35-minute questioning round that can range from pleasant and supportive to unpleasant and critical, depending on the luck and response the presenting team receives.

How to Prepare for the Pitch

The pitch deck that is submitted in Step 2 of the evaluation process will be used for the EIC Accelerator interview week in Step 3. Unfortunately, this pitch deck cannot be changed later on and it is even forbidden to update numbers or names if they are incorrect. The pitch deck has to be used exactly as it was submitted even if the delay between submission and the actual pitch date can amount to three months or more.

This places an additional limitation on the team since, quite often, a detailed script has not been prepared on the day of submission and, during the script-writing process, one might feel that it is necessary to adjust parts of the pitch deck. Since this is not possible, the team and the consultant or professional writer have to work around the pitch deck and deliver a spoken pitch that works well, is clear and explains all aspects of the technology even if the slides do not perfectly match the communicated content.

The general structure of pitch decks has been discussed in the articles linked above but the following presents a more comprehensive list of the slides that can be used:

Note: Not all items need to be part of a pitch deck but they should all be covered by the spoken script to assure a well-rounded pitch.

  1. Problem
  2. Solution
    • Products
  3. Innovation
    • Patents
  4. Customers and customer value
    • Case study
  5. Competitor comparison
  6. Business model
    • Revenue streams
    • Commercial strategy
    • Traction
  7. Market
    • Timing
    • Growth rate
  8. Current state
    • Prototype
    • Past financing
  9. Development tasks
  10. Financial projections
  11. Funding needs
    • Risk
    • Non-bankability
  12. Team
    • Partners
  13. Vision
  14. Why invest in us

There are different approaches to preparing such a pitch deck but two simple strategies for slides can be:

  1. Prepare slides with complex content (i.e. a complicated graphic, concept or text) and spend at least 1 minute per slide.
  2. Prepare short slides that the presenter shows for 10 to 30 seconds and use them for fluent, fast-paced story-telling.

Since the number of slides in the pitch deck document is unlimited, it is advisable to use this opportunity and create a highly visual pitch deck aimed at leading the audience through a story. Based on the two segments above, it can be a good approach to have 75% of slides fall into the second category while the minority of slides are in the first one. This way, the interviewees have enough opportunities to explain the core and complex technical aspects while the shorter slides can be utilised to tell an engaging and entertaining story.

Even though many presenters focus on the 1-minute-per-slide rule, in reality, a 10-minute pitch deck can easily be 20-slides in length if the following durations are chosen:

  • 5 x 60-second slides
  • 5 x 30-second slides
  • 5 x 20-second slides
  • 5 x 10-second slides
  • Total: 20 slides and 600 seconds = 10 minutes

Note: These durations are suggestions and each presenter has to adjust the length to their own personal style. It is also designed for a pitch that is followed by a long Q&A session which allows presenters to show content briefly since the audience can follow up afterwards.

How to Construct Slides

Pitch decks are often a matter of Corporate Identity (i.e. design, content), choices based on the particular technology or market as well as personal taste but the following presents a general suggestion on the types of slides that can be used without delving into their detailed design.

One eye-catching sentence

A single sentence can be displayed on a slide to focus the audience on a core concept of the technology, a problem in the market or anything that the team thinks is important. Such a slide can easily be presented in 10 seconds. An example could be:

“10,000 citizens die every day and there is still no treatment for condition X.”

Very often, audience members are not listening to every word the presenter says but they try to make sense of what they see on the current slide. As a result, showing one large sentence can be a sure way of gaining the jury’s attention and transmitting a key message.

One image or graphic

It can be useful to add multiple short slides with single images or graphics if they illustrate the problem, the benefits of the solution or any other related segments such as the market or traction. The presenter can even speak a single sentence over multiple slides while showing simple graphics to support each point they make. An example can be:

“The problem in the current medical industry is Describe A (skip to the slide with a simple chart or image), Describe B (skip) and Describe C (skip)”.

If this is well-paced and sufficiently understandable then it can be an engaging way of presenting many aspects of a business model, technology or market dynamic.

A complex concept

There is no way of avoiding complicated slides in a DeepTech pitch event since being highly technical is what allowed the project to reach this point in the first place. Any graphic that is shown should be simplified as much as possible but only up to a point where it does not omit key aspects or renders the innovation too simplistic.

It should not contain text that is impossible for the audience member to read (i.e. too much or too small) and it should also not require them to be experts in the field to understand it. To avoid losing the audience after one technical slide, it can be useful to utilise multiple slides and explain the concepts through a story. An example can be to lead into the slides by saying:

“So, how do we accomplish this?”

after the solution has been introduced since this will pick up the audience members that were lost during the technical slide. The graphic can show the magic of what the company does, potentially even directly compared to how it is conventionally performed. Examples can be:

  • Conventional vs. quantum computing
  • Biologically extracting compounds from animals vs. genetic modifications of E. Coli via synthetic biology
  • Manual labour vs. Artificial Intelligence-based automation

A detailed look

There are slides that are difficult to simplify but are not overly complex in nature. There can also be cases where it is advisable to not skip too rapidly because the audience members are especially interested in them. Examples for this can be a market analysis, the business model (i.e. partners, traction, commitments), the competing technologies or the financials. Resting longer on such slides can be essential in gaining the viewer’s confidence and can also be timed in such a way that they are balanced with the fast-paced slides.

Generally speaking, it is advisable to prepare a word-for-word script and practise it until one can deliver a well-paced and natural version of it even if the final result will deviate. One can likewise focus on delivering one key message that needs to be transmitted on each slide.

The only restriction that must be honoured is the length of the pitch: Under no circumstances should it exceed 10 minutes since this will be strictly enforced by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC).

Continuation


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) will be on January 12th 2022, April 6th 2022, June 15th 2022 and October 5th 2022 under Horizon Europe. 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: