This article is a continuation of Part 1 and presents a guide for practising the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) pitch interview by the European Commission (EC) and European Innovation Council (EIC). Resources regarding the general questioning of the pitch and why companies fail can be found here (read: Why Companies Fail) while information on the pitch itself can be found here (read: Pitch vs. Proposal).
2.4 The Basics
It should be assured that the presenters speak fluent English and are also able to understand questions even if the person asking the question has a strong accent (i.e. French, German) or a quiet voice. The speakers should be easy to understand and also quickly pick up on what the jury is asking them so that no time is wasted on confusing clarifications and hand gesturing (i.e. understanding the concern behind the question).
2.5 The Day of the Pitch
Allow the presenting team to get ready for the interview and do not schedule any operational tasks before the pitch so that the presenter’s minds are fully focused on the event. Meet with the entire team early in the morning and focus on going through the big picture (i.e. the vision and key messages) since the details and small things should have all been clarified in the weeks before. Focusing on the big picture means to look at each slide of the script and to identify what the key ideas are that you seek to communicate.
Example: On slide number 2, I want the audience to see how X is a significant market problem and to understand the gravity of the consequences for the EU if this remains unsolved. On slide 10, the jury has to realise that our commercial strategy is solidified through Y since we have already partnered with Z1 and Z2 beforehand.
Without obsessing over the small things (as you did in the past weeks), you can just focus on the big picture and make sure that your pitch is clear, simple and convincing.
2.6 Difficult Questions
While this has already been mentioned before, practising difficult pitch questions is key in refining the answers given in the EIC Accelerator interview. The most important part to remember is that there will be more questions than answers and that not having the time to answer a question can be as bad as to answer it poorly.
When practising the difficult questions (i.e. ideally with people unfamiliar with the project), the answers have to be fast, on the spot and precise. The answers can be perfected later on but it is imperative that they are treated as real-life jury questions the first time around so that the speakers never get into the habit of saying “Well, let me think about this first” or giving minute-long, wordy answers. Try practising with 10-second answers (use a stopwatch) and then move on to the next question right away since, during the preparation time, collecting many questions and practising rapid-fire answers is key. Refinements can be done after the pitch practice is over.
2.7 Know the Application
If the pitch presenters for the EIC Accelerator interview have written the application themselves then this point can be neglected but if the writing was outsourced to consultants or delegated – the speakers must know the application in and out. This might not be relevant in case the jury members have not read the application but if even one of the jurors is familiar with it, very targeted questions could quickly expose a presenter’s lack of knowledge.
Re-reading the entire application and memorizing relevant numbers, strategies and partners should not replace the actual pitch practice but it has to be done as part of the preparations.
2.8 Cover All Areas of Expertise
Lastly, it is important to select the presenters carefully based on their role in the company and their area or level of expertise. Having three marketing experts as presenters might make for well-polished pitch but will likely be disastrous for the questioning. Likewise, having only engineers present without a financial or sales expert can have similarly devastating consequences. The general rule is, bring your top management team (i.e. CEO, founders, owners) and assure that their expertise is very well-balanced. In addition, women are always welcome (read: Women and the EIC Accelerator).
- Restrictions: The jury’s time, attention and previous knowledge will be limited
- How to Prepare for the Pitch
- Learn from Past Pitches: Directly asks past beneficiaries or expert consultancies about their experience
- Practise: Practise the pitch with a stopwatch and an external audience
- Open Pitch Sessions: Aim to have a broad audience for your practice
- The Basics: Clear communication with fluent English
- The Day of the Pitch: Only focus on the pitch and your key messages
- Difficult Questions: Practise rapid-fire answers (10-second rule)
- Know the Application: Have at the key quantifiers and partners memorized
- Cover All Areas of Expertise: Make sure that the presenters have a balanced background
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) are January 11th 2023 (only EIC Accelerator Open), March 22nd 2023, June 7th 2023 and October 4th 2023 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:
- EIC Accelerator Interviews: Pitch Deck vs. Proposal Documents (SME Instrument)
- Choosing a Good Project for the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- The EIC Accelerator Budget: Grant vs. Blended Finance (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- EIC Accelerator – Introduction and Blended Finance (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- EIC-Accelerator Writing: Providing the Missing Link (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- The Biggest Mistakes When Applying to the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- Identifying a Broad Vision for an EIC Accelerator Project (SME Instrument Phase 2)