Freelancers: The Other Side of the Consulting Industry (EIC Accelerator, SME Instrument)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) is a competitive funding program supported by a variety of consultancies and professional writers in the EU. Due to the high EU budgets and demand from Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) and startups, there are diverse business models that have emerged in the industry (read: The EIC Accelerator Industry).

Inside this sector, one of the often-overlooked factors is the use of freelance writers by large consultancies. These are contracted for the writing of proposals, the editing of re-submissions in case a proposal was rejected and also for the pitch preparation (read: Structuring a Pitch Deck). It is common for a consultancy that is focusing on grant writing to have a network of such on-demand freelancers at their disposal and this talent pool often greatly exceeds the numbers of in-house writers.

The Need for Freelancers

Most prospect EIC Accelerator or Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) applicants are not aware of how writing is commonly outsourced and generally expect to be working with a single consultancy once a contract is signed but this is not always the case. The decision as to which writer (i.e. internal or external) will take on an application largely depends on the capacities of the respective consultancy but also on budgetary factors.

From an economic perspective, most full-time employees of a consultancy are better utilized in the management and editing of proposals rather than in the writing itself. This is due to the fee’s that are normally paid to freelancers which can be much lower compared to those of a full-time employee. This system is a very useful way for consultancies to increase their own capacities but also for having a diverse pool of expertise at their disposal.

Why Freelancers are Working On-Demand

Such a set-up is typically a win-win scenario for both the freelancers and the consultancies since the former have a need to find work while the latter requires additional capacities from highly qualified experts. SME’s that wish to apply to the EIC Accelerator with the help of a consultancy likewise benefit from a broad pool of expertise while no excellent project has to be rejected due to a lack of capacities.

There are distinct reasons as to why this industry can operate in such a way and they are largely originating from the freelancers themselves who happily work in a remote capacity as on-demand talent. The following presents a shortlist of why this is the status quo and what could trigger a future change in this sector.

1. Freedom

One of the biggest reasons as to why freelancers choose to work as independent contractors is their general desire for more freedom in their working relationships. This can be due to a variety of factors such as a preference for working alone, the ambition to build up diverse revenue streams or also the inability to comply with office-work requirements such as relocating to a certain region, language-barriers or related obstacles.

Another often overlooked factor of freelancing is also the ability to decline projects and to select clients carefully. This is especially important in a highly competitive sector such as innovation grant writing since many startups who are determined to apply for the grant lack the prerequisites to be successful. The general eligibility requirements by the European Commission (EC) and European innovation Council (EIC) can give companies false hope in judging their own success chances if only the EIC Accelerator template is used as a basis.

While a full-time employee has to do the work they are told and lacks the freedom to make independent decisions, a freelancer can always decline projects and allocate their time according to their own needs.

2. Work Focus

A consultancy has to do a variety of tasks outside of providing their actual service and these additional areas come in the form of marketing, legal obligations, project management and administration. Freelancers often lack the time and resources to fulfil all of these additional requirements since providing a service such as professional grant writing is already a full-time occupation. Adding client contacts, project assessments and contractual processes to the list of tasks is often overloading an individual writer.

3. Visibility

Most freelancers have no visibility in the industry, lack the opportunity to meet clients, are inexperienced in finalising contracts, do not operate based on customer-first principles and are unfamiliar with the client assessment process (read: Assessing a Project). As a result, they are usually pigeonholed as writers who lack the skillset to expand beyond this occupation.

It is also often the case that writers rely strongly on editorial support from senior consultants when preparing a project since not every writer has the expertise to develop strategies for complex projects or has a learning-oriented approach to their work which would allow them to growth over time.

4. Dynamic Industry

Innovation grants and especially the EIC Accelerator are constantly evolving with changing proposal templates, evaluation processes via the European Agency for SME’s (EASME), submission requirements and even the eligibility thresholds for startups themselves (read: Proposed 2021 Process). In a dynamic industry like this, placing time and effort into administrative and operational tasks such as information gathering and communication with other experts is a must but often exceeds the capabilities of freelancers.

With uncertain future conditions, fluctuating demands and no guarantees with respect to the continuation of a grant program, most writers are preferring to collaborate with a consultancy and have a simplified work-load as well as a higher level of security even if this is to the detriment of their professional growth.

How The Industry Could Change

The current state of the EIC Accelerator grant writing industry is well-balanced and in no need for a change but there are some ways that could improve the standing of writers and also enable more transparency for startups and SME’s. The first step in such a scenario would be to bring the self-employed writers themselves out from the background and enable them to gain more visibility which can lead to them developing direct client relationships without the reliance on large consultancies.

This approach would allow writers who are exceptional at their craft to focus on writing while they can build closer customer relationships and be more dedicated to each individual project rather than writing many grant applications per deadline (read: EIC Accelerator Cut-Offs).

For this purpose, every freelancer should develop the skills of going beyond what is required since each project and client can present unique circumstances that have to be addressed. Instead of only performing the minimum amount of effort, a writer should be dedicated to the common goal they share with their client which includes working on improving the proposal’s evaluation rather than only meeting contractual terms.

Are you a freelancer? Feel free to sign up here: Freelancer Database.

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 June 16th 2021 and October 6th 2021 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: