How the EIC Can Incentivise Shorter and Clearer Applications for the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2) – Part 4

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 3 which is preceded by Part 1 and Part 2. 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).

Round 2 (Commercial & Financial Assessment)

Applicants are informed of their proposal evaluation and receive their first feedback. The applicants that have passed all 2 steps of the internal evaluation (i.e. 1-1b) are invited to provide a business plan focusing on their work packages, financials, team, metrics, go-to-market strategy, partner description, value-chain and revenue expectations. At this point, the EU policies, the product explanation, the past accomplishments, the environmental impact and similar parts do not need to be addressed further and the proposal will be fully dedicated to commercial aspects.

This round, again, follows a knock-out approach whereas the best out of 3 business plans will be able to move to the final assessment round. One major difference form the normal EIC Accelerator remote evaluations is that the pool of evaluators consists of angel investors, VC’s and successful entrepreneurs. This group of evaluators must have been specifically vetted and verified before allowing their participation since their assessment of a realistic business plan must be sound and held to the same level of quality as in the following pitch interview.

Since the feedback cumulates, each applicant now has a very useful resource to further improve their project (i.e. up to 3 sets of feedback from the evaluation rounds 1, 1b and 2).

Result: 3.7% or 222 of applicants are selected.

Round 3 (Pitch Interview)

Just like the EIC Accelerator in 2018-2020, a pitch interview either in-person or via a video call is held to further select the applicants and to identify the companies who will receive the financing.

Result: 100 applicants or 1.7% are selected by the jurors for the respective funding.

Benefits & Problems of this Approach

As with all bulk evaluation processes, the proposed methodology likewise has flaws that can lead to problems or unfair situations but these issues are expected to be on the same level as any other previously implemented procedure.

Pro

  • Applicants can successfully apply alone even with no in-house grant writers or experience
  • The effort of preparing the application rises with the chance for success (not vice versa)
  • Evaluators can quickly compare applications rather than grading each one individually
  • Internal knock-out rounds can be repeated in case of high application volumes
  • Business plans are only evaluated by commercials experts while random evaluators can be used for the bulk pre-screening in Round 1 to assure EU policy-alignment
  • Excellent feedback is provided to all applicants for each of the evaluation steps in a cumulative manner

Con

  • Unfair matchups could lead to excellent projects being knocked-out in early rounds (Mitigation: Allowing multiple YES or all NO gradings)
  • Re-submissions might be viewed less favourably by evaluators and could always be knocked-out (Mitigation: Do not disclose to evaluators if a project is re-submitted and do not choose the same evaluators)
  • The first level of screening in Round 1 could incentivise projects with poor business models to pass through which reduced the quality of projects overall (Mitigation: Abbreviated commercial aspects should be part of the executive summary and the submission forms)

Conclusion

The described evaluation process for the EIC Accelerator is a proposed method for the quick screening of large numbers of applications and presents tools (i.e. elimination rounds, different evaluator-pools, short applications) to allow a direct project comparison instead of relying on complicated scoring systems. It also fixes the issue of potentially having non-commercial experts evaluate financial metrics and business plans which can be funnelled to a specialised pool of evaluators.

The most important aspect of this system is that the difficulty of the applicant’s effort increases gradually (i.e. step 1 is easy while step 2 and step 3 are difficult) without the risk of having to put extensive work into an application without even meeting the minimum success criteria. Depending on how well the EIC vets the respective experts in Step 2, the quality of the interview attendees is expected to be higher and immediate dismissals of participants could easily be avoided.

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: