The EIC Accelerator by the European Commission (EC) and European Innovation Council (EIC) awards up to €2.5 million in grant and €15 million in equity financing per project (€17.5 million total).
Startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) often rely on consultants, professional writers or freelancers to support them in preparing impactful grant applications due to the many difficult aspects that have been introduced in 2021.
The EIC Accelerator grant financing (with blended equity option) is a highly selective funding program and, due to the high degree of subjectivity combined with a pool of anonymous and remote evaluators, rejections are a very common occurrence (see Resubmissions).
Due to the difficulties that the EIC encounters in creating an efficient and affordable evaluation process, it is often a necessary evil to use evaluators who are not experts in a field or are too busy to read the entire application carefully.
As a result, each evaluation can contain criticisms that are wrong or simply reveal ignorance regarding core industry functions. This, of course, does not mean that evaluators are always wrong since there are many projects that do not fit the program and are rightfully rejected because of a lack of innovation, company traction or a poor business model.
This article focuses on projects that are a great fit for the EIC Accelerator but are, often unfairly, rejected by a close margin in Step 2 of the application process (see Evaluation Criteria).
It also focuses on the second step of the process since Step 1 is very easy to pass and any rejection in this stage is a clear sign that a company has little appeal to the EIC or has not prepared a diligent application.
The rebuttal is a special section of the proposal template that allows applicants to (1) respond to the evaluation of the previously rejected proposal and (2) explain what is different about the current application. This is an essential section since it will be prominently displayed on top of the proposal as it is viewed by the evaluators and the reviewers might focus their assessment largely on the rebuttal rather than reading the entire application as closely as the first reviewers did.
Evaluations can be frustrating since the reviewers can make critical mistakes in their evaluation by misquoting LOI’s, misreading FTO’s, claiming that data is missing even though it was present or simply making logical flaws in their arguments which are easily identified through critical thinking.
Yet, the EIC is generally declining any re-evaluations for applicants who complain of material mistakes made by the evaluators and just refers them to the rebuttal in the next application deadline. But of course, if a company has been rejected twice, it will have to wait another 12 months until they are able to re-apply.
Note: There are rare exceptions where the EIC will allow Step 2 proposals to be re-evaluated in case the evaluators made a critical mistake regarding the rules of the EIC but it is extremely rare and decided on a case-by-case basis.
Crafting the Rebuttal
1. Read the Evaluation Summary Report (ESR)
The first step in crafting an impactful rebuttal is to read the ESR carefully. Based on the score obtained in the evaluation, it will be evident if a rebuttal can make a positive impact or not since a narrow rejection will be more malleable while an overwhelming rejection will not be.
Step 2 of the EIC Accelerator provides 9 individual GO criteria which are distributed over 3 evaluators and 3 topic areas, namely:
- Scale-Up Potential
- Level of risk, implementation, and need for Union support
If an ESR signifies that an application has obtained 1 out of 9 possible GO criteria (i.e. 8 NO GO) then no rebuttal will be likely to convince future evaluators. In fact, the lower the number of GO gradings is, the more the main Step 2 proposal must be improved to compensate for the lacking presentation.
The higher the number of GO criteria is, the less the application needs to be adjusted and the more can be conveyed through a rebuttal.
There are a variety of tips regarding the improvement of the main proposal which can be found in the articles on this website (see Articles).
2. Extract the Criticism (and Sometimes Praise)
Every ESR will contain criticism. It is even a common occurrence that an evaluator provides a GO grading but still introduces critical points that place the project in a negative light. While it would be convenient to ignore such harmless criticisms, one must still address them in the rebuttal since these will raise doubts in the next evaluator’s minds.
It is important to go through the entire evaluation and carefully mark every single negative point. Less important but still useful is searching for positive remarks by the evaluators that have additional weight attached to them.
An example could be that an evaluator identifies themselves as part of the customer group, a scientific researcher in that field or suggests they have any other source of insider knowledge which gives credibility to their positive assessments.
Such statements should be highlighted in the rebuttal, if positive.
In the case of narrow rejections, it is very often one evaluator who continually criticizes the project while the remaining two evaluators remain positive. Nonetheless, all criticisms must be addressed irrespective of the GO or NO GO criteria.
3. Highlight the Good
A powerful start to any rebuttal is to first highlight the positive. This, of course, is generally reserved for projects that have been rejected narrowly with 7 or 8 out of 9 possible GO’s. The first sentence can then stress that the response was overwhelmingly positive with a few minor criticisms by a single evaluator who did not fully understand the project.
It should then be followed, if available, by positive remarks from an evaluator with insider knowledge. Highlight how an evaluator who has insider information immediately grasped the impact of the product while an evaluator who was unaware of the industry used, as an example, Google for a quick search which led to misinformed comments.
If an evaluator added a powerful quote, it should be added to the rebuttal since it can preempt the following evaluators with a perception of high quality.
4. Highlight the Ignorance
Since the thousands of EIC evaluators are subject to only minimal due diligence and their work is generally underpaid with an increasingly high workload, the evaluations are often not of the highest quality.
In general, the tone of the rebuttal should be professional and polite with an objective view of what was missing and the changes that have been made. It should also objectively clarify misunderstandings or criticisms that were encountered in the ESR.
Still, there is a place to highlight the ignorance of particular evaluators if they made obvious logical flaws. This can be in cases where an evaluator mentioned a competing product but misrepresents the product offering, misquotes a Letter of Intent (LOI), calculates a fictitious case study but makes a numerical error or simply presents an argument based on publicly available data which, after investigation, was incorrect.
In such cases, the rebuttal should use every chance to state that this evaluator was factually incorrect. It is beneficial to make clear and logical arguments why this evaluator was wrong.
The rebuttal should also point out whenever information that the evaluator claimed was missing was already part of the previous submission. This casts additional doubt on their critical comments.
It has the impact of (1) showing future evaluators that the previous negative assessment was wrong and (2) communicating to evaluators that they should think deeply before criticizing the project since they must be sure to not make logical errors.
Still, the rebuttal should be fair even to the critical evaluators so as to not antagonize future evaluators but, in all likelihood, the new evaluators will be on your side if the rebuttal uses logic to dismantle previous criticisms – even if it is harsh.
5. Add Minimal Changes
For close rejections where the number of critical points is limited and the score in Step 2 amounted to 7-8 out of 9 GO’s, it is sufficient to leave the majority of the proposal as is and simply make minor adjustments based on the feedback.
Such changes can be the introduction of new deliverables, milestones, patent information, visual data, case studies or any other points that were identified as lacking by the evaluators.
Often, it is sufficient to introduce very small additions since the new evaluators generally want to see that changes have been made rather than requiring the changes to be extensive.
In contrast, an application that has received a low score in the Step 2 evaluation will likely have to introduce substantial changes and often requires reshaping of key sections of the application such as the features & use cases, competitors, value chain, market and work plan.
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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:
- Step 1 (short proposal)
- open now
- Step 2 (business plan)
- 1st cut-off: -
- 2nd cut-off: -
- 3rd cut-off: -
- 4th cut-off: October 19th 2023 (extended)
- Step 3 (interview)
- 1st cut-off: -
- 2nd cut-off: -
- 3rd cut-off: October 2nd to 6th (extended)
- 4th cut-off: November 27th to December 8th
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).
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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: