Investing in Well-Funded Projects: How the EIC is Breaking its Own Rules (EIC Accelerator)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC) awards up to €2.5 million in grant and €15 million in equity financing per project (€17.5 million total) to startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME).

It is advertised as a risk-taking DeepTech fund that nurtures European innovation and allows companies that are early stage and too high risk for private investors to gain substantial financial investments and scale up to reach the market.

Startups often rely on consultants, professional writers or freelancers to help them assess their success chances since it is well-known that success rates for the EIC Accelerator are as low as 5% (see 2022 Results).

The EIC Accelerators Mission

The 2023 Work Programme 2023 explains the mission of the EIC Accelerator as follows (see Work Programme Analysis):

“The EIC Accelerator focuses in particular on innovations, building on scientific discovery or technological breakthroughs (‘deep tech’) and where significant funding is needed over a long timeframe before returns can be generated (‘patient capital’). Such innovations often struggle to attract financing because the risks and time period involved are too high. Funding and support from the EIC Accelerator is designed to enable such innovators to attract the full investment amounts needed for scale up in a shorter timeframe.“

This means that the EIC Accelerator, especially in the case of grant contributions, is designed to:

  • Fund DeepTech with high capital needs
  • Bridge the funding gap until revenues can be generated
  • Support projects that are too risky to attract private capital
  • Signaling to investors that a project is investable

This describes the ideal case for the EIC Accelerator since any technology that does not fit such criteria but has a groundbreaking and disruptive product would be financed through private markets. The EIC is a special vehicle to support high-risk and high-reward projects rather than to invest in “safe bets” which is not its role.

Breaking the Rules

An interesting exception to this mission has occurred in 2022 and, while this is likely not the only exception, it is an obvious one since it seems to be so far removed from the scope of the EIC that it warrants a discussion.

Note: The name of the company is omitted since this article is focusing on the EIC’s decision-making process and not on any individual beneficiary. Every company funded under the EIC Accelerator is likely well deserving and presents an impressive technology and business case irrespective of the EIC’s original mission. The exact cut-off and industry are likewise obscured.

What Is DeepTech?

The company is operating a software platform used in varying industry applications. Generally speaking, software products exhibit higher difficulty in receiving financing from the EIC Accelerator compared to hardware products due to the lower capital requirements and, generally, the higher availability of funds from private investors who expect faster Return on Investments (ROI) from software products compared to lengthy DeepTech developments.

This was likewise true for the software company in question which, by 2021, had already raised over €24 million in financing. Among EIC Accelerator beneficiaries, this is at the higher end of past funding amounts since most companies at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 5-7 are struggling to raise substantial capital.

The company then applied to a Step 2 cut-off in 2022 of the EIC Accelerator for grant-only support. This is an interesting choice since grant-only applications are for a maximum amount of €2.5 million which is dwarfed by the already raised amount in excess of €24 million.

It could have made more logical sense from the EIC’s perspective if the company had difficulty raising a follow-up financing round and required a co-investment from the EIC Fund in the form of equity. This would have translated to blended financing or equity-only support rather than grant-only.

Furthermore, justifying the need for grant support by the EIC is not helped by the fact that the company already has substantial revenues.

A Drop In The Ocean

The EIC Accelerators’ mission is to bridge the financing gap for companies that have difficulties leveraging sufficient funding and are “stuck” in the valley of death between rounds due to lacking investor interest.

This particular software company could not be further from that mission since it had significant revenues, had raised substantial funding and does not obviously meet the general DeepTech case found in capital-intensive hardware projects.

A Role for the EIC

It could still be argued that the grant investment was essential to de-risk the project and to attract additional private financing. But, this would be questionable since the company has high staff numbers with a high burn rate that does not match the financing via grant-only support.

This new financing would be capped at €2.5 million since this is the maximum amount provided by the EIC grant and, since every company has to fill out and justify form fields regarding their difficulty in raising that financing, it should be expected that the same was true for this particular company.

The question becomes – what difference would this grant make for a company in that position? According to the EIC’s mission, it would be to help them if they “struggle to attract financing” or help to “attract full financing”.

As will be evident below, neither option is applicable.

Why Funding From Other Sources Was Not Available

Contrary to the EIC’s mission, funding was clearly available and de-risking the project with a comparatively small grant seemed unnecessary.

The application deadline for the Step 2 submissions is generally multiple weeks ahead of the Step 3 interviews which creates a waiting period between the steps. Right within that time frame, the company raised an additional €25+ million which it announced a few weeks before the Step 3 interview on its website.

This means that the company has raised at least 10-times as much funding as they would request a month later in front of the EIC Jury. It also meant that there was no role for the EIC to play since equity was not requested, funding was available and private investors were willing to invest already.

The EIC Jury was likely aware of the funding round and, even if this was not the case, the due diligence following the successful approval of the EIC Accelerators Step 3 would have identified this fact.

150+ Rejectees

This article is not designed to call out any particular company which is why the name was omitted. A company receiving the EIC Accelerator grant is always a cause for celebration and it shows that it has a timely, disruptive and excellent innovation.

What this article is about is the investigation of the EIC’s decision-making progress.

For the respective Step 2 deadline, 200+ companies were invited to the Step 3 interviews while 150+ companies ended up being rejected. All 150+ rejectees have successfully passed Step 1 and Step 2 which means that they are excellent innovation and business cases.

Some of them have likely resubmitted their applications and obtained the EIC Accelerator funding at a later date (see Resubmissions).

The question becomes: Were there no companies among the 150+ rejectees that fit the EIC’s mission more than the company discussed in this article?

Conclusion: Hypocrisy or Poor Communication?

It is important for the EIC to address cases that are outliers from the general scope of the EIC Accelerator to build trust with the ecosystem and to clearly manage the expectations of future applicants. This likewise extends to the large number of consultancies that are often the first stakeholders to interact with prospective applicants and must make accurate recommendations.

In conclusion, there are a variety of potential motives for this funding decision. The company was largely US-funded and the EIC could have tried to add financing to manufacture a closer relationship to the EU. Equity financing would be preferable but it appears that the beneficiary rejected that by applying for grant-only support.

Another likely explanation is that the Step 3 Jury selects the most investable companies irrespective of the EIC’s mission. The most investable companies are low-risk, have a good business model, have high scale-up potential, have existing revenues and have significant investor interest.

In contrast to the typical DeepTech case.

This article was last modified on Jan 23, 2023 @ 20:46

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: (early 2024)
    • 2nd cut-off: -
    • 3rd cut-off: -
    • 4th cut-off: -
  • Step 3 (interview)
    • 1st cut-off: -
    • 2nd cut-off: -
    • 3rd cut-off: -
    • 4th cut-off: January 29th to February 9th 2024 (extended again)

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:

A Quick FTO Guide for EIC Accelerator Applicants in a Rush

2023 Budget Allocations for EIC Pathfinder, Transition and Accelerator

Developing the Unique Selling Points (USP) for the EIC Accelerator

Explaining the Resubmission Process for the EIC Accelerator

A Short but Comprehensive Explanation of the EIC Accelerator

EIC Accelerator Success Cases

Deciding Between EIC Pathfinder, Transition and Accelerator

A Winning Candidate for the EIC Accelerator

EIC Accelerator Interview Preparation Process: Scripting the Pitch (Part 1)