How to Prepare for an EIC Accelerator Pitch Interview (SME Instrument Phase 2) – Part 1

The pitch interviews for the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) have been introduced quite recently but they are expected to remain a pillar of the evaluation process moving forward (read: Pitch vs. Proposal). With the jury consisting of mostly Venture Capitalists (VC) and angel investors, the focus of the interview is very commercialisation-oriented meaning that each applicant must understand their go-to-market strategy in and out (read: Why Companies Fail).

The European Commission (EC) and European Innovation Council (EIC) do not give clear guidance on pitch preparation in their documentation or the official template which makes smart in-house practise a must. The following presents a shortlist of the steps to take before the interview and how a successful EIC Accelerator pitch interview could be facilitated. It is important to assess each pitch individually and that things that are omitted on this list might be relevant in specified cases (i.e. bringing a hardware prototype, preparing a video, etc.).

When working with a professional writer or consultant, it is ideal to use the opportunity to extensively practise the pitch with them in the days and weeks leading up to the interview. In the end, “Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training” (Archilochus, 680-645 BC). Since you already know the specific restrictions of the interview, you can now use this knowledge to perfectly prepare your impact ahead of time and make use of all the resources at your disposal.

1. Restrictions

  • Limited time: 10 min pitch & 30 min of questioning
  • Limited attention: Jury has to go through multiple interviews per day
  • Limited knowledge: The Jury does not need to know the project or proposal
  • Limited responsibility: The Jury will not invest their own money but only need to help the EU reject excess projects

2. How to Prepare for the Pitch

2.1 Learn from Past Pitches

One of the easiest ways of gaining insight into past pitch sessions is to look through the list of recently funded beneficiaries and contact the companies to inquire about their experience (read: EIC Accelerator Results). This can be very useful since the prospective pitch participant can pre-select companies based on their region or industry to gain very customized information and increase their own success chances. Many companies will happily provide a list of questions and tips to help their fellow startups or Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) out.

Another great method is to contact professional writers or consultancies specialised on the EIC Accelerator or VC-like pitch events. If a writer has not been hired prior, it can still be useful to have a few practise calls with consultants in order to assure that all the speakers have all the support they need. Common questions, reasons for rejections or issues can be prepared for so that the applicant is not caught off-guard during the pitch (read: Reasons for Rejections).

2.2 Practise

It seems very obvious to advise companies to practise their pitch thoroughly but it is still skipped too often. The reason for that is that practising the pitch itself is just one part of the preparations and it can fall to the sidelines if too many other things are prioritized. Reading the pitch, researching topics, creating handouts, discussing the pitch and all related activities are not actual pitch practise – they should only be supplementary.

Practising the pitch means to simulate a real-life scenario (i.e. having a live audience or a remote-call audience), to have a stopwatch ready and to present the pitch from start to finish including the 30 min of questioning from critical but unaffiliated listeners. Practising means to actually go through the pitch and gain feedback on the speaker’s performance.

2.3 Open Pitch Sessions

Over a 2 week period, a company’s management team can meet every second or third day and have one full practice call whereas they can use the remaining days to prepare supporting documents, research relevant topics and improve their scripts. This will also allow them to exchange the audience for every call and gain fresh and difficult questions for each run which will present a perfect preparation for a real-life scenario.

If a company is affiliated with VC’s, accelerators, startup networks or industry mentors then there will likely be seasoned experts available who would be interested in supporting a promising startup – this could even lead to new investment opportunities in the future. The same goes for companies that already have a substantial audience on social media sites such as Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook whereas the pitch, if not under confidentiality, can be presented to a live audience with an open questioning in the end.

This article continues in 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.

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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: