How the EIC Can Incentivise Shorter and Clearer Applications for the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2) – Part 3

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 2 (see also: Part 4 & Part 1). 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: Assessing an Innovation).

Feedback Cycles and Proposal Examples

If the EIC wants to develop direct relationships with the applying SME’s and develop equality amongst applicants then the communication towards such applicants has to be precise and transparent. The EIC has not published examples of how a successful application should look like and is not providing useful feedback to applicants. As a result, applicants are relying on hiring third parties such as consultancies or professional grant writers who have the experience and insight to know what evaluators are looking for.

Without useful feedback by a human evaluator who has taken the time to write a single paragraph for the rejected applicants and without an actual successful proposal example, the EIC will remain a black-box for SME’s and start-ups. The existing manuals for Horizon 2020 are obscure and do not discuss quality writing, business plans and illustrations. Instead, the currently existing manuals give little to no useful guidance to applicants since they focus on discussing environmental-goals and gender equality rather than what a business plan should look like.

A solution to this could be dynamic feedback whereas an evaluator can send a message to the applicants who have the opportunity to respond to a question or critical assessment within a limited time-frame. If this response is reasonable, an evaluator is able to make a more informed decision while data on feedback about evaluators can be gathered internally to identify evaluators that are potentially unqualified or ideally qualified for such applications (i.e. improved match-making).

How an Evaluation Process Could Look Like

Scenario

  • Start: 6,000 applications
  • Funding available: 100 applications

Round 1 (Remote Evaluation)

Upload

  • Applicants provide a one-page executive summary with a 300-word restriction (i.e. graphics with bullet points). This reduces the writing burden significantly, simplifies the evaluation and also reduces the need for SME’s to learn EU-specific terminology which is not market-relevant (i.e. impact, excellence, TRL, etc.).
  • Inside the submission forms, the applicants’ fill out the information on the costs, financial projections, team growth, addressed EU policies (i.e. targets can be linked), gender, GDPR, etc. which can be quickly scanned by evaluators.
  • Applicants also upload a 10 min pitch video with full creative freedom (i.e. slide pitch with voiceover or a fully produced video – read: Preparing a Pitch Video)

Evaluation procedure of Round 1

Instead of evaluating each proposal individually, there are topic-based knock-out rounds whereas 3 keyword-matched candidates are compared with each other and the superior project receives the YES while the other two receive a NO grading. This is done by ranking all 3 projects whereas the winner of the three is determined by assessments from multiple evaluators. If there is a draw, two projects can both receive the YES grading or no project can be selected if it was found that they are all ineligible. An additional evaluator can be added in case results are unusual (i.e. a project is ranked first and last by different evaluators)

This process has the benefit of being very fast to conduct while the applications are quick to prepare (i.e. 3 applications can be assessed in under 2 hours). Since determining universal scores through subjective assessments by randomly selected evaluators is impossible anyways, a knock-out process is just as fair and is similar to the VC-like setting in the interview-stage. All applications receive a 300 word-feedback (100 words from each evaluator) which is presented to the applicants in their formal results.

This round also has the benefit of screening the projects for their impact on EU-relevant targets first while the business plan will only be assessed once the EU has determined that this is the type of project it cares about.

Result: 33% or 2,000 applications are selected.

Round 1b (Optional)

This round is internal and does not require any additional work from the applicants. In round 2, the 2,000 selected applicants are matched-up with each other again and are selected by new evaluators in the same manner whereas the result will be another elimination of two-thirds of the applicants. This is an optional round in case the number of applicants is exceptionally high (i.e. when starting with 6,000 applicants) but it can be omitted if the applications are between 1,000 and 3,000.

All applicants receive additional feedback which is added to the previous feedback (if Round 1 is passed) and made available via the evaluation summary report (ESR). All feedback is cumulative which means that the applicants will always receive more information on improvements the further they progressed through the evaluation.

Result: 11% or 667 applications are selected and are awarded the Seal of Excellence.

This article continues in Part 4 (see also: Part 1 & Part 2).

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.

Want to see all articles? They can be found here.

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



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: