How the EIC Can Incentivise Shorter and Clearer Applications for the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2) – Part 2

Information for readers: The following is a description of a proposed evaluation process but it does not, in any way, reflect the current way EIC Accelerator applications are evaluated. For this, please read this article.

This article is a continuation of Part 1 and is followed by Part 3 and Part 4. It describes a proposed evaluation process for the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) and investigates the potential mechanisms that can be used by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC). The way an official proposal template is structured and its general restrictions clearly define the workload of both successful applicants and evaluators which makes a re-structuring the most powerful tool available to change the overall submission experience for all stakeholders from the written application, over the pitch video to the final interview (read: Pitch Deck vs. Proposal).

Written, Visual and Pitch Applications

In 2020, applicants have asked themselves why they were evaluated in one way for step 1 (i.e. written application) while the focus is completely different in step 2 (i.e. a VC-style interview). Being successful in step 1 does not, in any way, guarantee success in step 2 and most remote evaluators for the proposal are likely neither VC’s, investors or successful entrepreneurs yet their resource-intensive assessment is still used as the main elimination method.

To facilitate the application process, the most work-intensive steps should come last while the fastest evaluation steps should be in the beginning. The 30-page application is by far the most difficult while a short application, a pitch video or a live-pitch require less work. The EIC Accelerator stages should reflect that and have the simplest tasks in the beginning and the most complex efforts in the end. A tiered hierarchy of effort would exhibit to the following order:

  1. Executive summary, pitch deck or pitch video (i.e. easy to produce in a few days)
  2. Short application or interview (i.e. prepared in a few weeks)
  3. 30-page application (i.e. requires weeks and months)

This list of stages also reflects the reliance of startups on consultants whereas step 1 and 2 can easily be achieved by an SME’s management team while step 3 requires a very specific skill-set that is often not found inside startups. If the EIC wants to simplify the application process then the stages should reflect this hierarchy of effort.

The structure of applications and their general limitations define how competitive, difficult and selective the overall process is. The type of the application will define the skill set that is needed to succeed and if the EU wants to avoid funding grantrepreneurs or companies that are only good at grant writing then a full written proposal should not be the first barrier to entry but could be the last or omitted entirely.

Limitations for Proposal Templates

The template restrictions (i.e. page numbers, margins, font size) will define the skills needed in order to apply to the EIC Accelerator which means that the EU has significant control over the entire process. The following is a list of general ways proposals can be simplified while still allowing them to be content-rich.

Separate Subsections

Splitting the main applications into multiple files to simplify the enforcing of restrictions is more useful than a single 30-page PDF-file where restrictions are almost impossible to enforce (i.e. using a font-size of 9 pt instead of 11 pt). These individual files can be in the form of an executive summary, one-pagers (i.e. one for impact, one for excellence, etc.), isolated graphics (i.e. uploads of images with restricted word-counts) or text boxes (i.e. with automatically enforced word-counts). Form-fields can also be an essential part of this approach since financials, expected hiring, costs, future financing rounds can all be part of a questionnaire on the Funding and Tenders platform rather than being in a single application document.

Enforced Word-Count

Limiting the word-count per page will automatically encourage applicants to use illustrations and graphics to visualise their innovation, value chain, financial projections, etc. which are much faster to evaluate than a block of text. When combining a page-limitation with a word-limitation per page, applications will start to heavily incorporate graphics instead of long texts and keep only the essential text parts.

This approach has the additional benefit of allowing companies to rely more on graphic design and visualisation which are skills much more commonly found in even small startups rather than extensive grant writing experience. Graphics are also more useful for a company since they can be reused in presentations and portfolios with while grant writing is not necessary in most cases.

This article continues in Part 3 (see also: Part 1 & Part 4).

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: