The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) is a competitive program targeted at innovative Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) and startups. Under the name SME Instrument, it was active for many years and provided a financial support system over two phases – Phase 1 and Phase 2. The former consisted of a small grant of €50,000 while the latter is identical to the EIC Accelerator today (read: EIC Accelerator Introduction).
With the last Phase 1 deadline having been in September 2019, startups today do not have the option to first apply for this seed-grant which was a great opportunity to nourish early-stage startups and allow them to fully assess a project through a feasibility study. Such a study was not only useful to analyse the validity of an innovation or business model but also acted as a springboard to prepare the information-dense Phase 2 (EIC Accelerator) proposal since it requires extensive market studies, customer descriptions and a full business plan that includes the workpackages for the grant support (read: EIC Accelerator Workpackages).
This was a very useful setup and its effects were evident in the statistics collected on the Phase 1 & Phase 2 applicant success cases throughout 2018 (read: Impact Report). In the statistical report, it was found that the chances of receiving the SME instrument Phase 2 funding were 4.1% if no Phase 1 was secured beforehand while the chances rose to 6.8% with a completed Phase 1 project. This means that just having received and completed a Phase 1 project significantly increased the success chances of grant applicants (i.e. a 65% increase).
This increase, of course, can be due to a variety of reasons and the following article presents a shortlist of effects a Phase 1 project could have on a successful Phase 2 evaluation as well as strategies to emulate this advantage for the EIC Accelerator.
Description of the Pilot Results
The most obvious reason as to why the Phase 2 application is improved after a completed Phase 1 is that such projects likely have a comprehensive description of their respective pilot studies. Since the Phase 1 report includes content on the project’s feasibility, the corresponding sections of the proposal template can be filled with suitable content. This includes the documentation on the technical feasibility, test results and the descriptions of use-cases in the relevant environment.
When writing a Phase 2 application like the EIC Accelerator, it can often happen that pilot tests are neglected or not described with great detail. To remedy this, the obsolete Phase 1 feasibility studies have incentivised applicants to elaborate on them in-depth which is likely a contributing factor for the increased success rates.
Financial and Commercial Feasibility
The Phase 1 study directly requests validations of the feasibility from a commercial and financial point of view which can easily be overlooked when writing a business plan. Key factors in this validation process are the customer demand, willingness-to-pay, expected margins and a general analysis of the opportunity which can dramatically enhance the quality of an application.
Having a separate section describing such a detailed feasibility assessment is beneficial and can be neglected if the EIC Accelerator template does not directly ask for it. Even if no Phase 1 project has been funded prior, professional writers and consultants can still benefit from adding the respective section to an application.
Workpackages are a critical part of every EIC Accelerator application but they can be tricky since companies do not usually define their development work in such a distinct manner (read: Work packages). As a result, it is easy to rush the workpackage creation and its budgeting as a mere afterthought but this can make the respective implementation less believable or too vague. The Phase 1 feasibility study did remedy this since it requested information on the project’s future, required developments and budgets which could be directly used to inform the EIC Accelerator application.
In General, the narrative of the proposal is critical and the vision should be in full alignment with the expected impact, the innovation and the project itself (read: Assessing a Project). If a company has spent 5-6 months in preparing a report for Phase 1, they have likely further refined and aligned key cornerstones of an application (read: A Proposal Narrative). This can enhance every single proposal section since the Freedom to Operate (FTO), the timing, the introduction, the hiring needs, the Key Performance Indicators (KPI), the broader impact, etc. are all highly relevant but are often only briefly addressed.
The quality of a proposal is enhanced in relation to the amount of attention that is placed on its details. This is perfectly supported by a Phase 1 feasibility study which aids in just that – giving the applicant time and a structure to fill in the blanks.
Lastly, there is always a bias from the evaluator’s position since seeing that a project has successfully completed Phase 1 will make Phase 2 more appealing to them. From their perspective, the applicant has already succeeded in a highly competitive application process, has completed the stringent documentation responsibilities and has delivered a final report. This element of ‘social proof’ has an effect on the reader and, in and of itself, is expected to increase the evaluation score (read: Buzzwords for the EIC Accelerator).
How to Use this Information
First of all, the absence of a Phase 1 option under the EIC Accelerator program should not be a reason to neglect the points listed above (read: Biggest EIC Accelerator Mistakes). A feasibility study or pilot project can be conducted independently, can come from other funding sources or be performed directly with customers. Taking the time to describe the past milestones, the results of extensive R&D and presenting technical as well as commercial and financial information to validate the project should be prioritized when planning an application.
Some documentation on the now obsolete Phase 1 process can be found in the official template for the feasibility study (here) and the Grant Agreement Contract (GAC).
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:
January 11th 2023(only EIC Accelerator Open) March 22nd 2023
- June 7th 2023
- October 4th 2023
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:
- EIC Accelerator Interviews: Pitch Deck vs. Proposal Documents (SME Instrument)
- Choosing a Good Project for the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- The EIC Accelerator Budget: Grant vs. Blended Finance (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- EIC Accelerator – Introduction and Blended Finance (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- EIC-Accelerator Writing: Providing the Missing Link (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- The Biggest Mistakes When Applying to the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- Identifying a Broad Vision for an EIC Accelerator Project (SME Instrument Phase 2)