Insights from the EU Science & Innovation YouTube Leak (EIC Accelerator, SME Instrument) 

With the 2021’s EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) program being adopted shortly, many startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) are eagerly waiting for the call to open (read: EIC Accelerator Introduction).

Most consultancies and professional writers have likely already gathered significant information on the new template and process but the latest video leak from the EU Science & Innovation YouTube Channel (here, here and herethey were ‘public’, then ‘private’ and are now ‘unlisted’) gives great insight into the details (read: The 2021 Work Programme). The Questions and Answers session served as a training for National Contact Points (NCP) and presented hour-long meetings with a variety of key stakeholders including developers of the AI Tool and Stéphane Ouaki, the chair of the investment committee of the EIC Fund (read: An Inside Look into Equity Financing).

The following presents a shortlist of the insights given in the meetings as they relate to the EIC Accelerator. EIC Pathfinder and Transition sessions are also available but are not covered by this article.

Attention: Since this information was presented informally, some of these points might be inaccurate or are subject to change over the coming weeks. The information was given in mid-March 2021.

  • The Step 1 pitch video will be fully uploaded to the platform and not be submitted as a link.
  • No template for the pitch deck will be given but a guide for the video.
  • The pitch deck from Step 1 will not be used for the Step 3 interview.
  • The challenge/topic will be chosen in Step 2 and not in Step 1.
  • The AI Tool for Step 2 will be ready in mid-April 2021.
  • In the long-term, the EIC envisions consultants to become part of their platform (for a fee, of course). The platform also contains Venture Capitalist’s (VC) and loan agencies.
  • Involvement of NCP’s will be stronger with them receiving the application once submitted but this can be optional.
  • The Step 1 threshold will likely be at the same level as the previous score of 13 (30-40% success rates) under Horizon 2020 (read: Interpreting the ESR).
  • The remote (expert) evaluators have not been briefed yet since the Work Programme is not legally adopted.
  • New investment guidelines for the EIC Fund will be published at the end of March 2021.
  • The due diligence for equity investments aims at a 3-4 month duration.
  • The due diligence looks closely at the capital structure of companies and, if an exit seems complex or impossible, it will not invest.
  • The equity investments from the EIC fund were presented and showed a majority of funds moving towards MedTech (28%) as well as France as the main beneficiary for equity financing (31 beneficiaries – Israel as the second most-funded has 17).
  • General steps for the EIC Fund’s due diligence process were presented in 9 steps (letter, contact, compliance, recommendation, discussion, decision, term sheet, agreement, signature).


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 March 16th 2022, June 1st 2022 and October 5th 2022 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.

Want to see all articles? They can be found here.

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



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:

Gender Equality Targets in the Age of Gender Identification (EIC Accelerator)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) is a competitive funding program by the European Commission (EC) and has always been heavily affected by European Union (EU) policies. Examples for this are the requirements to meet sustainability targets, address societal challenges and other recent developments such as the Green Deal and strict gender equity goals (read: EIC Accelerator 2021 Work Program).

Gender Equity Targets

Especially the latter has been strongly advertised by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and has proven to be very beneficial for female entrepreneurs (read: Being a Female Entrepreneur) since their normal funding rates of under 5% were effectively increased to 35% or higher (read: EIC Impact Report).

Such a strictly followed target has a tremendous impact since a female Chief Executive Officer (CEO) will have a slight but important advantage over a male CEO which can, due to the tight competition at the EIC Accelerator interviews, make the difference between being funded successfully and being rejected (read: EIC Pitch Week).

This not only affects the startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) applying for grant financing in the EU but is also impacting the focus of professional writers and consultancies since female CEO’s who are excellent and have a great project now have a lower risk profile than their male counterparts if all other variables are matched.

Unfortunately, this special advantage for women, in addition to the newly introduced coaching support for female entrepreneurs, might be shorter-lived than anticipated.

EU Definitions

In the past, the designation of the CEO’s gender in the Funding & Tenders Portal was optional and could be omitted since undisclosed was presented as an alternative option.

In 2021, the newest Horizon Europe grant proposal template changes this and asks their applicants to select their gender among the choices of male, female and non-binary. While, previously, the selection of undisclosed was effectively equal to choosing male when it comes to the evaluation process, it is difficult to imagine that choosing non-binary will have the same effect.

Gender identification and non-binary genders have emerged in recent years with more political power and influence than gender equality and feminism itself which is why this new option might radically change the EIC’s female CEO targets over the coming decade. After all, in today’s times, policies and political opinions are only one viral social media campaign away from being changed overnight.

In an official report by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers from June 2020, the term non-binary is defined as follows:

“An umbrella term for people whose gender identity is not encompassed or represented by ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Non-binary identities are varied and can include people who identify with some aspects of binary identities, while others reject them entirely.”

By simply introducing this option to the evaluation process of a financial instrument such as the EIC Accelerator, the EU might have opened the door for exploitation since gender identity is explicitly not based on biological sex or the time spent within a certain identity. To clarify this, the EC defines gender identity as follows:

“A person’s gender identity is defined as each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of their own gender, whether as a man, a woman or non-binary, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth.”

When the beneficial treatment of female CEO’s was announced, it was also made clear that the respective person would have to be in the CEO position for a longer timeframe and not be elected CEO just for the purpose of the EIC Accelerator submission. This covered the obvious weakness of the gender-targets and allowed female CEO’s to receive the benefits as they were intended.

Non-Binary Applicants

By including non-binary genders and by defining gender as, in the EC’s words, a “deeply felt […] experience” without limiting the time spent within that identity, the EC could be opening the door to a reshaping of the playing field. If the status of non-binary becomes equal to the status of a female due to political pressures, then there could be an incentive for all-male CEO’s to designate themselves as non-binary since being non-binary does not need to come alongside a certain lifestyle, look or behaviour.

In fact, being non-binary is subject to no restrictions or societal norms by design.

Conclusion

Of course, such a development is pure speculation and most male CEO’s would have no interest in explaining their gender in front of a jury even if a multi-million grant is at stake. Although, to think that no CEO would make that decision even after a previous rejection is unlikely as well if any critical jury question can simply be dismissed by saying “I would prefer not to discuss my gender identity“.

It will be interesting to see how the EC is handling this new development since balancing a culture of inclusion and social rights with clear-cut targets such as gender equity might not be possible in the long-term. When it comes to democratic government organisations, political pressure will always win over old policies which means that excellent female entrepreneurs should seize their opportunity to apply to the EIC Accelerator now as long as high funding rates of 35% are still enforced.


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 March 16th 2022, June 1st 2022 and October 5th 2022 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.

Want to see all articles? They can be found here.

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



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:

The 2021 EIC Accelerator Work Programme and Newest Updates (SME Instrument Phase 2)

Update 1: The EIC Accelerator Work Programme 2021 was published on March 17th 2021.

Update 2: The EIC has presented the latest news in a YouTube leak which reveals information not found in the published Work Programme.

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) is being re-invented and is transitioning from its initial pilot phase into a fully-fledged investment arm of the European Commission (EC) and European Innovation Council (EIC). With the launch of the EIC Accelerator in 2021 having been announced for March 18th 2021, this article discusses the most important aspects of the new Work Programme (read: EIC Accelerator Introduction).

The new Work Programme includes a different application process, additional evaluation steps and significant technical changes that are relevant for both Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) and startups as well as for professional writers and consultants focusing on preparing successful grant applications (read: Hiring a Consultant).

While the official template for the proposal documents is not published yet, conclusions regarding their set-up can be drawn from the evaluation criteria themselves. All information given in this article is still preliminary but is expected to accurately reflect how the EIC Accelerator will look like under Horizon Europe (2021-2027).

1. General Changes

1.1 Open Calls vs. Strategic Challenges

The EIC Accelerator will follow the previous SME Instrument’s strategy of imposing certain topic restrictions on applicants whereas all applicants will remain eligible for Open Calls but only select projects can apply to the Strategic Challenges. Accordingly, each funding arm will receive its own budget and be subject to specific guidelines with respect to the types of companies that are selected as well as their impact on the EU’s key policy targets.

1.2 Scoring & Ranking System

While the EIC Pathfinder and the EIC Transition will still include scoring and ranking systems, the EIC Accelerator will entirely omit such evaluation methods and solely rely on YES/NO gradings for every step. As discussed in a previous article (read: Analyzing Success Rates for Each Step), this might lead to a non-transparent evaluation process whereas rankings will have to be established internally since this is the only way of controlling the number of beneficiaries.

If there were truly neither thresholds nor rankings then there would likely be an excess of applications successfully progressing to the third evaluation step since the previous EIC Accelerator instalment already saw 30+% of all companies reaching the quality threshold of 13. Only a subsequent ranking process was able to reduce that number to a manageable amount for the interview stage.

1.3 UK Participation

After Brexit, the UK will participate in the EIC Accelerator grant but will not be eligible for equity financing (read: The United Kingdom under Horizon Europe). This, of course, is not to the detriment of UK companies since non-dilutive grants are increasingly sought after and there is no additional risk of receiving an equity-counter-offer that would replace the requested grant.

2. The Application Documents

2.1 Step 1: The Short Application

This first stage will require the preparation of a 5-pager to summarize the project in written form, a 3-minute pitch video and the conventional pitch deck which will later be used for the Step 3 interview.

≥ 5-Pager: The 5-pager does not currently have an official proposal template yet but conclusions can be drawn from the Evaluation Summary Report (ESR) criteria in the newest EIC Accelerator work packages (not shown here). The document will likely focus on the Excellence and Impact of the technology with very broad questions regarding its key aspects and why the EU should be interested in the project (see DARPA’s Heilmeier Catechism). The Implementation will receive less attention and only address the quality of the team and the overall risk level of the project (read: Assessing an EIC Accelerator Project).

The EU has additionally given hints at the 5-pager template through its public tender for an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven writing support tool which further illuminates the direction it will take. All in all, the 5-pager should be viewed as a compressed version of the previous full application with a stronger focus on being impressive rather than being detailed or feasible (read: Identifying a Broad Vision).

≥ Pitch Video: The 3-minute pitch video will likely have no restrictions and give full creative freedom to the applicants (read: Pitch Video Production) but it should be treated as a project pitch that is addressing all criteria rather than an advertisement (read: Pitch Video Resources).

≥ Pitch Deck: The pitch deck will likely follow the exact same structure as the previous installations of the Step 3 interviews (read: Pitch Deck Creation).

2.2 Step 2: The Full Application

Once Step 1 is passed, the applicants will be invited to submit a full application to the evaluators which will likely be a 20-30 page document that includes the business plan, financials, work packages as well as annexes that contain information on the company (read: EU Work Packages).

2.3 Step 3: The Remote or In-Person Interview

This step will follow the same structure as previous interviews (read: Preparing for an Interview & The Biggest Mistakes).

3. The Application Process

The application process will likely see great changes with the introduction of an online tool supported by an AI-interface similar to web-based word processors, a re-invented Funding and Tenders Portal as well as the introduction of freezing periods for unsuccessful applicants. It is evident that the EIC has put great thought into increasing the quality of applications but also into filtering out low-quality projects early.

3.1 AI Tool

Similar to GoogleDocs, this web-interface is meant to be used for the writing of the proposal and should give useful assessments and guidelines to support the process. The exact details and its release date are not clear yet but it could be a valuable way of providing immediate feedback to low-quality applications.

3.2 Freezing Periods

≥ Two Attempts: The general approach is to give rejected companies a second attempt while they will be blocked for 12 months from further submissions if they cannot succeed in a respective evaluation Step on their second try. The rules are more complex when it comes to the rejections in Step 3 but all applicants should assume that two attempts are all they will have available and that no submission should be wasted.

Consultants and professional writers often receive inquiries from companies who have applied to the EIC Accelerator on their own but failed, prompting them to seek support from an expert. This was always a great option for startups because there was no risk in preparing an application in-house since professionals could still be hired down the road (read: Should you apply on your Own? & Getting Good at Grant Writing).

Unfortunately, this is currently changing since the risk of failing is now associated with being blocked from any further applications for at least one year and maybe even indefinitely when it comes to a particular company or project. It is expected that many applicants will now seek professional help before even applying on their own to minimize their risk while there could also be a large number of unsuccessful companies seeking out writing support with one out of two rejections already received (read: EIC Accelerator Consulting Industry).

≥ Virgin Projects: Since such freezing periods are a new concept, there will likely be a new focus among professional writers and consultants on virgin projects which have not applied to the EIC Accelerator yet and have a lower risk for rejection. This is expected to become a major factor since success-fees and -rates are key for consultancies while investing time and resources into a project with only one remaining attempt can become an unreasonable risk.

Undoubtedly, the latter risk consideration will prompt consultancies to adjust their pricing model specifically for one-time EIC Accelerator rejectees. As with everything, good intentions can backfire and the EIC’s radical changes to the evaluation process, depending on how they will unfold, could end up harming the startups and SME’s they aim to support.

4. The Evaluation Process

Without scoring, without a transparent ranking system and with automated AI-tools, the evaluation process will change drastically. In the past, the pool of evaluators used for the assessment of applications has frequently faced criticism but the new installation of the EIC Accelerator might mitigate this depending on how the changes will be implemented. One major improvement is the introduction of concrete feedback for rejected applicants, although its exact nature is unknown at this point.

4.1 Step 1

Two evaluators will decide, unanimously, if the application is approved or rejected. If their opinions differ, two new evaluators will be added and the application will be successful if only one of them approves all evaluation criteria. This means that a proposal can win Step 1 if the result is 2/2 or if it is 2/4, provided the approvals are given for all evaluation criteria.

4.2 Step 2

Three evaluators will assess all criteria as in the previous EIC Accelerator installation. They will now also gain access to automated data analysis tools to cross-reference metrics and collect relevant data but the details for this AI tool are not known yet.

4.3 Step 3

6 jurors will evaluate the pitch and have access to all previous applications and feedback. They can also suggest lower grant amounts to be offered in case TRL8+ activities are detected or make a counter-offer consisting of equity financing but they are unable to provide more funding than has been requested (read: Technology Readiness Levels & How the EU Funds TRL’s).

5. Strategic Challenges (Topics)

Outside of the open calls, the newly introduced topics will focus on (1) the green deal, (2a) digital technologies and (2b) health care.

For (1) the Green Deal, 50% of companies invited to the Step 3 pitch have to address (a) batteries and energy stage, (b) green hydrogen and (c) renovation (read: A Proposal Narrative). For (2a) digital technologies and (2b) health care, 40% of interviewees have to address each sub-topic.

Open calls and specific topics will be available in parallel which means that companies have to decide which call they apply to.

5.1 The Green Deal Strategic Challenge (1)

The Green Deal will aim to target the following environmental goals in a similar fashion as the dedicated cut-off in May 2020 (read: The Green Deal EIC Accelerator):

  • Climate mitigation
  • Clean, affordable and secure energy
  • Clean industry & circular economy
  • Efficient building and renovating
  • Sustainable and smart mobility
  • Fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system’s
  • Preserving and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Zero pollution and a toxin-free environment

Specifically, the following technologies and areas are sought after under the 2021 EIC Accelerator Strategic Challenges for the Green Deal:

  • Batteries and Energy Storage: Strategic battery value chain • critical raw materials • recycling • chemical as well as physical storage (including ultracapacitors) • stationary and transport applications.
  • Green Hydrogen: Produce and store renewable hydrogen • different scales • centralized to on-demand • stationary and transport applications.
  • Renovation: Accelerate the growth of the renovation market • energy-efficient buildings • innovative technologies • financial schemes or business models.
  • Low-carbon Industry: De-carbonisation of industries • electrification • circularity • industrial symbiosis • industrial processes • carbon capture storage • digitisation of industrial processes.

5.2 The Digital Technology Strategic Challenge (2a)

≥ Digital technologies: Information and communications technology (ICT) • advanced high-performance computing • edge computing • quantum technologies • cybersecurity • artificial intelligence • block-chain • cloud infrastructure technologies • Internet of Things (IoT).

5.3 The Healthcare Strategic Challenge (2b)

≥ Healthcare technologies: AI-driven diagnostics • point-of-care (POC) diagnostics • cell and gene therapy (esp. cancer) • novel biomarkers for clinical prognosis • patient stratification/monitoring • bioprocessing 4.0 (digitalisation) • healthcare intelligence services • e-health solutions.

6. Ambitions to Control the Outcome

While the evaluation of all EIC Accelerator applicants is expected to be fair and prioritize the Excellence of the project, it is undeniable that there are policies in place that will fix the outcome. These are coming in the form of gender targets, societal impacts and related EU political agendas (read: EU Policies).

≥ Gender Outcomes: 40% all EIC Accelerator interviewee’s in Step 3 of the evaluation process must have female Chief Executive Officers (CEO) while 35% of all funded businesses must meet this criterion (read: Why it’s Great to Be a Woman). To facilitate this, special coaching will be given to female founders and the pool of evaluators, while 40% are already female, will be expanded to meet a 50% female share.

Considering that, without outcome-interventions by the EC, only <5% of beneficiaries had female CEO’s, this new target is an exceptional change but it is not clear how exactly the first two evaluation steps are affected by this Step 3 quota (read: The EIC Accelerator Performance Report).

≥ Sustainable Development: Amongst other targets, the EIC wants to support impact-oriented companies out of which 90% have to address sustainable development goals such as the Green Deal or similar targets. It is not clear how this focus will affect the EIC Accelerator.

≥ Geographic Diversity: A staggering change to the Step 3 pitch is that each EU member state and each associated country has to be represented in the interview stage with a number that is proportionate to the total number of applicants in earlier steps. This means that, for the first time, the EIC Accelerator is imposing geographic restrictions on its beneficiaries. This can be a double-edged sword since it has long been shown that some countries easily meet the 13-score funding threshold (i.e. 50% of applicants) while other countries have a more difficult time (i.e. 10%).

Countries that prioritize quantity over quality will be unfairly rewarded while countries that prioritize quality are being punished. It is still unclear at this point how strictly this rule will be enforced (read: Pre-Requisites for an EIC Accelerator Application).

7. Technical Changes

7.1 Coaching

3 days of coaching will be provided to all successful Step 1 applicants but at the costs of €1,000 per coaching day for the EC. The coaches will likely be external contractors and it is not clear how their experience could contribute to the preparation of the Step 2 application or to the practice of a successful Step 3 pitch.

7.2 Seal of Excellence (SOE)

SOE’S are awarded based on the Impact and Excellence criteria while the Implementation (i.e. risk-level and need for EU support) will be the determining factor to decide if the project is funded or if it is rejected (read: Evaluation Summary Report Analysis).

7.3 Applicants

Applicants can now, for the first time, be natural persons instead of only being Value Added Tax (VAT)-registered companies as long as an SME or Small-Mid Cap is formed prior to signing the EIC Accelerator contract. Of course, the natural person has to be a citizen of the EU or of an associated country (read: Associated Countries).

7.4 Equity

Next to direct equity investments by the EIC Fund in financing rounds initiated by the SME’s themselves (read: Inside Look into EIC Fund), convertible notes and other debt-related funding can be provided to beneficiaries. It is also finally clear that the obscure 30% co-financing of the EIC Accelerator grant can be financed through a parallel equity investment-request, thereby requiring no existing funding sources or revenues to fill the gap.

Direct equity applications without the request for grant support are now possible for applicants although the evaluation and proposal submission will differ.

Equity components can also be postponed by first opting for a grant application (i.e. grant-first) and later re-applying directly for equity-support.

7.5 The Pitch Video

This document will likely be submitted through a link since the cloud storage-needs and the requirement of government institutions to store files long-term would exceed existing capacities. One important repercussion of this decision is that, if startups can self-host their videos, enforcing a 3-minute restriction is extremely difficult since it is not possible to have an automated restriction as it exists for PDF page-limitations (read: Pitch Video Types).

The fairest way of implementing this would be to have direct file uploads to the EU platform and an automated time-trimmer to assure that all applicants only have 3 minutes to work with. If the EIC is using an AI-tool for the proposal development then introducing cloud video-hosting is only a minor challenge.

7.6 Timelines & Feedback

The Step 1 call will be open continuously and have no specified deadline. It will approximately take 4-6 weeks to receive feedback on the Step 1 5-pager whereas both successful and rejected applications will receive comments from the evaluators. For the Step 2 full application, the feedback is expected to be received 5-6 weeks from the cut-off date.

A 4-6 week feedback cycle for Step 1 does seem underwhelming since it is supposed to be a screening Step and not act as a full assessment. The estimated timing will potentially be different in practice and could be as fast as 2-3 weeks.

Face-to-face interviews will be 8-9 weeks after the Step 2 cut-offs (read: Deadlines) while 6 jury members will be responsible for the questions and assessments. EIC Fund associates can also join the pitch but they will not be in a position to ask questions or influence the evaluation result. The interview results will be ready within 2-3 weeks.

7.7 Reimbursement Advances

For short innovation life-cycles, SME’s can apply for a reimbursement advance that matches the grant condition but has to be paid back. With a 70% maximum contribution of €2.5M, the EU can provide financing that has to either be paid back (interest-free) or is converted into equity after a certain time period. The exact nature of the funding opportunity will be published soon but it will likely be at the discretion of the jury members who can directly assess the innovation life-cycle and time-to-market to make a recommendation.

7.8 Budget

Initial communications by the EC suggest that there were meant to be 3 cut-offs for Step 2 in 2021 but they then were reduced to two deadlines. The budget is already set and will be distributed across all topics. As of today, the total budget for 2021 is €1.109BN while the open calls have a €602M budget and the strategic calls share a €507M budget. Considering two parallel calls, namely the open call and the strategic challenges, this would give each cut-off an approximate budget of €554M which is significantly higher than even the COVID-relief and Green Deal cut-offs in 2020 (read: COVID and Green Deal 2020).

7.9 Inclusion of Small-Mid Caps

Historically, the SME Instrument and the EIC Accelerator have focused on SME’s, exclusively, but this will change under Horizon Europe. While SME’s are subject to specific size-restrictions that include the number of employees (max. 250), turnover (max. €50M) and balance sheets (max. €43M), Small Mid Caps can exceed these amounts. While restricted to only equity investments under the EIC Accelerator, companies can be 499-employees in size.


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 March 16th 2022, June 1st 2022 and October 5th 2022 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.

Want to see all articles? They can be found here.

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



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:

Why it’s Important to Have a Diverse Grant Strategy (EIC Accelerator, SME Instrument) – Part 2

This article is a continuation of Part 1 and describes a perspective as to how startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) should view grant applications. Since especially the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) is highly competitive and templates can be difficult to work with, care should be taken in pursuing a diverse financing strategy (read: EIC Accelerator Introduction). Especially when working with professional writers or consultancies, it is useful for applicants to have an understanding of the place grants can have for a business.

Post-Project Fund Raising

Irrespective of a single grant being secured or not, any startup should be in contact with some private investors such as Venture Capitalist’s (VC) since they will eventually need to raise post-project financing rounds during their scaling process. The EIC Accelerator, in particular, is even preferring companies that can proactively onboard VC’s on their own which is why it can be a requirement (read: Insight into EIC Equity Financing).

The reimbursement rate is also a factor to consider since often a grant issuer is only funding certain percentages of the presented costs and seeks justifications detailing how the remaining financing will be allocated (i.e. a 70% rate for the EIC Accelerator). Such a scenario makes co-financing a must for pre-revenue startups and should underline how the reliance on a single grant is not the best strategy.

Different Project Focus

Many companies start with one idea and end up pivoting multiple times until the market, timing and innovation match up perfectly. Especially events such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic have led a variety of companies and research institutes to switch their focus because they either saw a significant opportunity on the horizon or had to abandon a project out of necessity.

Grants can be a low-stakes tool to test out a new idea or concept and can be used to pivot into a new market or technology that would not be feasible otherwise. A company can identify its core value proposition and propose a variety of application cases to different funding providers whereas the project that gains traction first will win.

Private over Public Financing

While grants from public sources are lucrative, they tend to be significantly smaller than private funding especially when it comes to innovative for-profit businesses. Grants are an interesting opportunity but should not be an exclusive strategy since it can have additional benefits to onboard a strategic investor or be part of accelerator programs that bring a significant amount of experience to the table.

Like most grants, the EIC Accelerator is lacking in that regard and it should be considered that financing itself is not the only benefit of forming investor relationships since simple decisions can make or break a startups success. Government bodies who issue grants can provide valuable coaching support but, due to their strong reliance on having politicians rather than entrepreneurs in leadership positions, they will always be inferior to private financiers who have a long-term interest in the founder team.

Changing EU Policies

Grants can be fickle especially when it comes to policy-driven opportunities that are recent or en vogue. A perfect example is the Green Deal in the European Union (EU) which has been launched in 2019 and has received a tremendous financing budget in a short time span that even disrupted existing grants (read: Green Deal EIC Accelerator Call). In the same vein, many funding arms in the EU have started to switch towards coronavirus-friendly projects during 2020 due to the emerging pandemic (read: Corona-Virus Call).

Such erratic changes can be a double-edged sword since they can be either beneficial or detrimental to applicants depending on the respective funding increasing or running dry overnight. Private investors are usually less affected by such changes since they are not subject to policies and are not required to operate in the publics best interest albeit regulations can still affect them.

Competing Projects

Lastly, the European Commission (EC) aims to fund innovative projects but, due to the tracking on the Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS) database, it is also aware of competing projects that receive funding which can jeopardize a companies success chances in case a competitor has received a grant before. This can be entirely independent of the validity of the business model and can be purely based on the subjective reason that the EU aims to only fund an innovation once. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule but it is wise to identify past grant financing projects before applying with a new project.


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 March 16th 2022, June 1st 2022 and October 5th 2022 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.

Want to see all articles? They can be found here.

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



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:

Why it’s Important to Have a Diverse Grant Strategy (EIC Accelerator, SME Instrument) – Part 1

Public grants are a popular avenue for Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) and startups since they often provide a simple application process to receive substantial financial support. One of the distinct benefits of grant funding is its often strong policy-focus while commercial and financial factors of the business tend to be faced with less scrutiny compared to a private investor’s due diligence.

Since substantial grants tend to be available for non-profits, for-profits, early-stage companies or research institutes alike, many view them as a valuable part of their financing strategy. With a variety of consultancies and professional writers offering grant writing services and template support, it is often a given that any company will pursue this area at least once in its lifetime (read: Outsourcing an Application).

The EIC Accelerator

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) follows a single-beneficiary process, provides up to €17.5M in grant and equity financing, allows the use of an online submission process and has a strong support system through the European Innovation Council (EIC) and consultancies which makes it ideal for innovation startups (read: EIC Accelerator Introduction). If the highly selective eligibility criteria are met, any company can apply and potentially prepare a successful grant application (read: Assessing a Project).

Still, companies should not solely rely on a single grant application as their exclusive fundraising source but treat it as part of a larger financing strategy. This article presents a list of considerations that need to be made when targeting a grant and the role it can play for a company.

Competitive Evaluation Process

Many governments frown at the term free money (i.e. view the US government’s grant page) but a non-refundable grant given out to private entities or citizens in exchange for writing a document is as close to free money as possible. Of course, what the government would like its applicants to understand is that, while the money seems free, it is by no means easy nor is it for everyone.

Every grant has a success chance which is simply the number of successful beneficiaries divided by the number of applicants that apply per deadline. Some grants are less competitive while some are extremely competitive and all applicants should be aware of their realistic chances (read: Impact Report). It is therefore prudent to not rely on a single grant application for the simple reason that the grant might not be secured.

Uncertain Timeline

The more popular a grant program is, the longer the evaluation process takes and the more likely it is that a multi-stage process will be instantiated to increase the funding barriers. This means that not only will evaluations be delayed but there will also be different evaluation processes to go through as is the case with the former SME Instrument (today: EIC Accelerator) which grew in complexity over the past 4 years (read: Stages of the EIC Accelerator).

Creating an excact financial plan that includes a future grant is impossible since the timing will likely be off even if the grant is secured on the very first submission. Government bodies are extremely slow when it comes to bureaucratic processes which is why the EIC Accelerator’s equity investments have been delayed for over a year even after they were granted (read: Equity Controversy).

Any grant that has a success rate of under 50% should be an optional part of a companies financial strategy which is why grant applications should be pursued as part of a larger roadmap including private funding sources.

Reusing Materials

The effort placed into preparing a grant application should not be wasted by only using it for a single financing option. Once the documents have been created, they can be restructured and used as business plans for investors, marketing materials, content for social media and for any other pitching opportunity that presents itself.

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 March 16th 2022, June 1st 2022 and October 5th 2022 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.

Want to see all articles? They can be found here.

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



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:

Freelancers: The Other Side of the Consulting Industry (EIC Accelerator, SME Instrument)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) is a competitive funding program supported by a variety of consultancies and professional writers in the EU. Due to the high EU budgets and demand from Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) and startups, there are diverse business models that have emerged in the industry (read: The EIC Accelerator Industry).

Inside this sector, one of the often-overlooked factors is the use of freelance writers by large consultancies. These are contracted for the writing of proposals, the editing of re-submissions in case a proposal was rejected and also for the pitch preparation (read: Structuring a Pitch Deck). It is common for a consultancy that is focusing on grant writing to have a network of such on-demand freelancers at their disposal and this talent pool often greatly exceeds the numbers of in-house writers.

The Need for Freelancers

Most prospect EIC Accelerator or Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) applicants are not aware of how writing is commonly outsourced and generally expect to be working with a single consultancy once a contract is signed but this is not always the case. The decision as to which writer (i.e. internal or external) will take on an application largely depends on the capacities of the respective consultancy but also on budgetary factors.

From an economic perspective, most full-time employees of a consultancy are better utilized in the management and editing of proposals rather than in the writing itself. This is due to the fee’s that are normally paid to freelancers which can be much lower compared to those of a full-time employee. This system is a very useful way for consultancies to increase their own capacities but also for having a diverse pool of expertise at their disposal.

Why Freelancers are Working On-Demand

Such a set-up is typically a win-win scenario for both the freelancers and the consultancies since the former have a need to find work while the latter requires additional capacities from highly qualified experts. SME’s that wish to apply to the EIC Accelerator with the help of a consultancy likewise benefit from a broad pool of expertise while no excellent project has to be rejected due to a lack of capacities.

There are distinct reasons as to why this industry can operate in such a way and they are largely originating from the freelancers themselves who happily work in a remote capacity as on-demand talent. The following presents a shortlist of why this is the status quo and what could trigger a future change in this sector.

1. Freedom

One of the biggest reasons as to why freelancers choose to work as independent contractors is their general desire for more freedom in their working relationships. This can be due to a variety of factors such as a preference for working alone, the ambition to build up diverse revenue streams or also the inability to comply with office-work requirements such as relocating to a certain region, language-barriers or related obstacles.

Another often overlooked factor of freelancing is also the ability to decline projects and to select clients carefully. This is especially important in a highly competitive sector such as innovation grant writing since many startups who are determined to apply for the grant lack the prerequisites to be successful. The general eligibility requirements by the European Commission (EC) and European innovation Council (EIC) can give companies false hope in judging their own success chances if only the EIC Accelerator template is used as a basis.

While a full-time employee has to do the work they are told and lacks the freedom to make independent decisions, a freelancer can always decline projects and allocate their time according to their own needs.

2. Work Focus

A consultancy has to do a variety of tasks outside of providing their actual service and these additional areas come in the form of marketing, legal obligations, project management and administration. Freelancers often lack the time and resources to fulfil all of these additional requirements since providing a service such as professional grant writing is already a full-time occupation. Adding client contacts, project assessments and contractual processes to the list of tasks is often overloading an individual writer.

3. Visibility

Most freelancers have no visibility in the industry, lack the opportunity to meet clients, are inexperienced in finalising contracts, do not operate based on customer-first principles and are unfamiliar with the client assessment process (read: Assessing a Project). As a result, they are usually pigeonholed as writers who lack the skillset to expand beyond this occupation.

It is also often the case that writers rely strongly on editorial support from senior consultants when preparing a project since not every writer has the expertise to develop strategies for complex projects or has a learning-oriented approach to their work which would allow them to growth over time.

4. Dynamic Industry

Innovation grants and especially the EIC Accelerator are constantly evolving with changing proposal templates, evaluation processes via the European Agency for SME’s (EASME), submission requirements and even the eligibility thresholds for startups themselves (read: Proposed 2021 Process). In a dynamic industry like this, placing time and effort into administrative and operational tasks such as information gathering and communication with other experts is a must but often exceeds the capabilities of freelancers.

With uncertain future conditions, fluctuating demands and no guarantees with respect to the continuation of a grant program, most writers are preferring to collaborate with a consultancy and have a simplified work-load as well as a higher level of security even if this is to the detriment of their professional growth.

How The Industry Could Change

The current state of the EIC Accelerator grant writing industry is well-balanced and in no need for a change but there are some ways that could improve the standing of writers and also enable more transparency for startups and SME’s. The first step in such a scenario would be to bring the self-employed writers themselves out from the background and enable them to gain more visibility which can lead to them developing direct client relationships without the reliance on large consultancies.

This approach would allow writers who are exceptional at their craft to focus on writing while they can build closer customer relationships and be more dedicated to each individual project rather than writing many grant applications per deadline (read: EIC Accelerator Cut-Offs).

For this purpose, every freelancer should develop the skills of going beyond what is required since each project and client can present unique circumstances that have to be addressed. Instead of only performing the minimum amount of effort, a writer should be dedicated to the common goal they share with their client which includes working on improving the proposal’s evaluation rather than only meeting contractual terms.

Are you a freelancer? Feel free to sign up here: Freelancer Database.


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 March 16th 2022, June 1st 2022 and October 5th 2022 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.

Want to see all articles? They can be found here.

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



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:

Investigating EIC Accelerator Success Rates for Each Stage (SME Instrument)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) is undergoing a transformation in 2021 (read: Proposed Evaluation). The former 2-step process (application and pitch interview) which has been active for almost 4 years is gaining a third step (video pitch and mini-application) which can have a variety of effects on its funding thresholds (read: EIC Accelerator Introduction).

The Horizon 2020 Process

In the past, it was clear that Step 1 (long application) was the most difficult stage to pass through with success rates being well below 10% and with many weeks having to be invested in the preparation of the respective documents. On the other hand, Step 2 (pitch interview) was comparatively easy with success rates of approximately 50% and much shorter preparation times.

For startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME), it was clear that the likelihood of receiving the grant financing improved the further one was in the process since the success rates were increasing for each step. To facilitate the application, many applicants relied on professional writers and consultancies to support them in working with the official proposal template.

In the old evaluation process, the funnel for the selection of EIC Accelerator applicants can be visualised as follows:

Note: 100 Applicants (Y-axis) are chosen as a base and 5 EIC Accelerator winners are selected for the sake of simplicity. The length of Step 1 (X-axis) is twice the length of Step 2 to reflect the amount of effort needed to prepare the documents.

In contrast, the newly introduced third step could change that dynamic since the three steps under Horizon Europe (2021-2027) could have entirely different thresholds. Depending on how these are distributed, it can render the EIC Accelerator an excessive time investment or can make the grant more appealing to startups.

Evaluation Thresholds under Horizon Europe

Based on the European Agency for SME’s (EASME) and the European Innovation Council’s (EIC) decision as to how proposals are scored and ranked as well as how their thresholds are determined, the success chances per step can vary greatly. Unfortunately, there is currently no definite way of predicting if the new Step 1 (the mini-application) will have a high or low success chance compared to Step 2 (the long application).

In the same vein, the interview and pitch evaluations could shift from the past model since performing them remotely presents an opportunity to execute more pitch evaluations at scale to screen companies. This could likewise lower the interview success rates significantly and change the dynamics of the application process (read: Pitch Interview Preparation).

From a participants perspective, the EIC should prioritize matching the effort an SME has to invest in an application with their success chances. This means that having a low-effort application with a high success rate followed by a high-effort application with low success rates would be frustrating for applicants since they will have wasted a lot of time and resources.

The central question is how much effort a rejected applicant had to place into an application and if this effort was proportional to their success chances. If the first two steps have success rates of 90% while the last step has a 5% success chance then the amount of time wasted is enormous. If the first step has a 5% success rate while the remaining steps select 90% of applicants each then this would be time well invested.

Visualising Scenarios

To visualise the difference scenarios, a pyramid-type funnel is used for the selection thresholds of each step. To simplify the representation of such scenarios, the following considerations apply:

  • A 3 Step evaluation is used to select 5 successful beneficiaries from 100 starting applicants. This yields a 5% success rate for the grant.
  • The selection thresholds are chosen as 50% or 20% to account for low- and medium-success stages. 50% * 50% * 20% = 5%
  • Since the effort per evaluation step will vary greatly, the long application in Step 2 is at least twice as difficult as either Step 1 or Step 3. For all 3 Steps, the following effort-relationship is represented on the X-axis: [1-2-1]

The result is the following overview whereas the Y-axis is proportional to the number of applicants and the X-axis corresponds to the effort that is placed into an application. The area of the pyramid represents the number of applicants (Y-axis) weighted by the effort (X-axis) they apply. The more “bulky” a pyramid is, the more time the rejected applicants will waste due to the chosen thresholds.

Analysing the Scenarios

In these three scenarios, it is evident that scenario 3 would be the best for applicants since the first and most selective step will require a low amount of effort. In the same vein, the second scenario is the worst outcome for applicants since they would invest a significant amount of effort into their applications while the chances drop towards the last step.

From the evaluator’s perspective, there is always a trade-off for the simplification of the application documents since an application that is too simple might be unsuitable for a grant selection while an application that is overly complex will waste both the applicant’s and the evaluator’s time.

Nonetheless, the EIC should aim to prioritize scenario 3 since this will greatly reduce the entry barrier for startups whereas they will know, with little effort, if the EIC Accelerator is suitable for them or not.

Unfortunately, the 2021 process will likely follow scenario 1 since it will be a simple extension of the 2020 process with only the addition of another step. This scenario would match the previous process since the 50% rates for Step 1 and 20% for Step 2 yield the combined 10% for the old Step 1.

In addition, the EIC and European Commission (EC) have decided to reintroduce thematic topics which are separate funding arms within the EIC Accelerator and will have different budgets, evaluator pools and levels of competitiveness. This will further increase the overall complexity of the evaluation process and can impact the effort-to-success ratio of each Step’s selection.

Future Predictions

The assumptions for the graphics presented above are limited and are only acting as a way of conceptualising challenges that applicants might face under the future EIC Accelerator.

Another interesting direction the EIC could move towards is the removal of the full application (Step 2) whereas all applicants could directly join a remote evaluation after passing the mini-application in Step 1. This is especially feasible for equity-applicants since the due diligence that follows the successful selection can replace the in-depth financial documentation of Step 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 March 16th 2022, June 1st 2022 and October 5th 2022 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.

Want to see all articles? They can be found here.

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



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 Success Rates and Feasibility Studies (SME Instrument)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) is a competitive program targeted at innovative Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) and startups. Under the name SME Instrument, it was active for many years and provided a financial support system over two phases – Phase 1 and Phase 2. The former consisted of a small grant of €50,000 while the latter is identical to the EIC Accelerator today (read: EIC Accelerator Introduction).

With the last Phase 1 deadline having been in September 2019, startups today do not have the option to first apply for this seed-grant which was a great opportunity to nourish early-stage startups and allow them to fully assess a project through a feasibility study. Such a study was not only useful to analyse the validity of an innovation or business model but also acted as a springboard to prepare the information-dense Phase 2 (EIC Accelerator) proposal since it requires extensive market studies, customer descriptions and a full business plan that includes the workpackages for the grant support (read: EIC Accelerator Workpackages).

This was a very useful setup and its effects were evident in the statistics collected on the Phase 1 & Phase 2 applicant success cases throughout 2018 (read: Impact Report). In the statistical report, it was found that the chances of receiving the SME instrument Phase 2 funding were 4.1% if no Phase 1 was secured beforehand while the chances rose to 6.8% with a completed Phase 1 project. This means that just having received and completed a Phase 1 project significantly increased the success chances of grant applicants (i.e. a 65% increase).

This increase, of course, can be due to a variety of reasons and the following article presents a shortlist of effects a Phase 1 project could have on a successful Phase 2 evaluation as well as strategies to emulate this advantage for the EIC Accelerator.

Description of the Pilot Results

The most obvious reason as to why the Phase 2 application is improved after a completed Phase 1 is that such projects likely have a comprehensive description of their respective pilot studies. Since the Phase 1 report includes content on the project’s feasibility, the corresponding sections of the proposal template can be filled with suitable content. This includes the documentation on the technical feasibility, test results and the descriptions of use-cases in the relevant environment.

When writing a Phase 2 application like the EIC Accelerator, it can often happen that pilot tests are neglected or not described with great detail. To remedy this, the obsolete Phase 1 feasibility studies have incentivised applicants to elaborate on them in-depth which is likely a contributing factor for the increased success rates.

Financial and Commercial Feasibility

The Phase 1 study directly requests validations of the feasibility from a commercial and financial point of view which can easily be overlooked when writing a business plan. Key factors in this validation process are the customer demand, willingness-to-pay, expected margins and a general analysis of the opportunity which can dramatically enhance the quality of an application.

Having a separate section describing such a detailed feasibility assessment is beneficial and can be neglected if the EIC Accelerator template does not directly ask for it. Even if no Phase 1 project has been funded prior, professional writers and consultants can still benefit from adding the respective section to an application.

Budget Allocation

Workpackages are a critical part of every EIC Accelerator application but they can be tricky since companies do not usually define their development work in such a distinct manner (read: Work packages). As a result, it is easy to rush the workpackage creation and its budgeting as a mere afterthought but this can make the respective implementation less believable or too vague. The Phase 1 feasibility study did remedy this since it requested information on the project’s future, required developments and budgets which could be directly used to inform the EIC Accelerator application.

Proposal Quality

In General, the narrative of the proposal is critical and the vision should be in full alignment with the expected impact, the innovation and the project itself (read: Assessing a Project). If a company has spent 5-6 months in preparing a report for Phase 1, they have likely further refined and aligned key cornerstones of an application (read: A Proposal Narrative). This can enhance every single proposal section since the Freedom to Operate (FTO), the timing, the introduction, the hiring needs, the Key Performance Indicators (KPI), the broader impact, etc. are all highly relevant but are often only briefly addressed.

The quality of a proposal is enhanced in relation to the amount of attention that is placed on its details. This is perfectly supported by a Phase 1 feasibility study which aids in just that – giving the applicant time and a structure to fill in the blanks.

Evaluators’ Bias

Lastly, there is always a bias from the evaluator’s position since seeing that a project has successfully completed Phase 1 will make Phase 2 more appealing to them. From their perspective, the applicant has already succeeded in a highly competitive application process, has completed the stringent documentation responsibilities and has delivered a final report. This element of ‘social proof’ has an effect on the reader and, in and of itself, is expected to increase the evaluation score (read: Buzzwords for the EIC Accelerator).

How to Use this Information

First of all, the absence of a Phase 1 option under the EIC Accelerator program should not be a reason to neglect the points listed above (read: Biggest EIC Accelerator Mistakes). A feasibility study or pilot project can be conducted independently, can come from other funding sources or be performed directly with customers. Taking the time to describe the past milestones, the results of extensive R&D and presenting technical as well as commercial and financial information to validate the project should be prioritized when planning an application.

Some documentation on the now obsolete Phase 1 process can be found in the official template for the feasibility study (here) and the Grant Agreement Contract (GAC).


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 March 16th 2022, June 1st 2022 and October 5th 2022 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.

Want to see all articles? They can be found here.

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



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:

The Reliance of EU Startups on Consultancies for the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) is an innovation funding program that provides up to €17.5M to startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME). It is very attractive for eligible companies since it allows single-applicants to directly apply online and participate in the program with little to no help from third parties (read: EIC Accelerator Introduction).

Since the evaluation is performed by the European Agency for SME’s (EASME) and European Innovation Council (EIC), it appears to be the ideal framework for the European Commission (EC) to directly help excellent companies in the region.

Or so it seems.

Insufficient Documentation & Transparency

Unfortunately, many applicants who investigate the EIC Accelerator process and proposal template find that the official documentation is not entirely helpful. Instead of presenting what a good business case should be, the European Union (EU) focuses on communicating its goals for policies, gender equality, finding startup unicorns and describing innovation from a political perspective.

As a result, prospective applicants turn to professional writers and consultants since they are concerned that “they do not know what the EU wants to hear” (read: Hiring a Writer). They recognize early in the process that the EIC Accelerator is a policy-driven element, spearheaded by politicians as the primary decision-makers while entrepreneurs take an advisory role.

Becoming Entrepreneur-Friendly

The EIC is making progress in becoming more entrepreneur-friendly by aiming to be Venture Capital (VC)-like and presenting itself as a true start-up ecosystem in the EU via equity investments, pitch-oriented evaluations and expert entrepreneurs for critical evaluation steps. Unfortunately, while the EIC aims to simplify the application process, the direction the EIC Accelerator is moving towards is becoming less and less applicant-friendly.

This is not only evident in the recent equity-affair whereas granted applicants from 2019 have only received part of their equity financing in 2021 (read: Interview with EIC Fund Member) but also in the addition of more and more evaluation steps (read: Proposed 2021 Process).

Making the Application Process More Difficult

In 2018, in-person pitch interviews were introduced as an additional layer to the formerly 1-step evaluation procedure and 2021 will see the EIC Accelerator become a 3-step process which will, for the first time, include video submissions (read: Pitch Video Types). This not only increases the workload for all applicants but also requires a broad skill set which is not commonly found in DeepTech startups (i.e. design, video production, storytelling, marketing).

This clearly is a contradictory approach by the EU since adding steps to the process will increase the reliance of grant applicants on consultants and professional writers instead of reducing it (read: The Grant Writing Industry).

Understandably, the EIC is in a double bind. It wants to attract excellent companies and help them to apply without hiring external help but, by attracting an excess of applicants, it has to increase the evaluation barriers since the budget is limited. This, in combination with a less transparent evaluation process (read: Applying Early to the EIC Accelerator), leaves innovative companies no choice but to rely on external partners more than ever before.


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 March 16th 2022, June 1st 2022 and October 5th 2022 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.

Want to see all articles? They can be found here.

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



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:

The EIC Accelerator Grant Consulting Industry (SME Instrument)

In order to apply to the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing), many startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) are looking for expert consultancies or professional writers to facilitate the ever more complex evaluation process (read: Proposed 2021 Application Process). Navigating the grant writing industry and finding a great partner to hire can be difficult but this article is aiming to shed light on the intricacies of how exactly this sector operates (read: EIC Accelerator Introduction).

Consultancies & the EU

The European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Agency for SME’s (EASME) seek to facilitate the evaluation process for innovative companies and enable them to apply autonomously but, if more and more evaluation steps with cryptic proposal templates are being added, applicants have no choice but to seek consultancy support (read: Relying on Consultancies).

The EIC Accelerator grant writing industry is characterized by a high demand from startups and, with some exceptions, increasingly selective consultancy firms. As a result, an important task that is placed on consultancies and writers is the assessment of the innovation project ahead of a potential collaboration since the requirements for written, video and in-person evaluations are becoming more and more demanding (read: Assessing a Project & Writing Internally).

Consultancy Business Models

Within this framework, there are a variety of models that consultancies follow ranging from the indiscriminative “we take everyone” to the selective “we wouldn’t even take half of the beneficiaries” approach. The reason for this discrepancy is that consultancies, like all business, have to think of their bottom line. Inevitably, this means that each company has to consider how their fee-structure can remain profitable over time and how they can maximize funded projects while compensating for projects that do not end up receiving a grant.

The general approaches are to either charge high retainer fees and low success-fees or to charge low retainer fees and very high success-fees. Variations of this approach are also found in offering extensive project-assessments via multi-day workshops, additional consulting for market scaling or through the addition of project management services for funded projects.

Regardless of what the model is, applicants will always carry the risk of investing their time and attention into a project irrespective of how the service is paid for. In the end, opportunity costs are a hidden factor in work-intensive grant applications even if the writing is outsourced to expert consultants. With the newly introduced freezing periods, this opportunity cost is increased further and startups or SME’s are better advised to judge the expertise and dedication of a consultancy rather than its business model.

Scaling vs. Quality

Scaling a consultancy business within a competitive grant like the EIC Accelerator or the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program can be difficult since expertise can easily be diluted while talented experts on grant writing can be hard to find (read: Hiring a Consultant). Due to the high degree of fluctuation between the numbers of applicants per deadline, the capacities of consultancies at scale could also start to exceed the demand of excellent projects which means that they might onboard clients out of necessity rather than out of confidence.

The way most consulting companies mitigate such risks is by diversifying its revenue streams and by employing only a core team of full-time experts with clearly defined responsibilities while most of the writing is outsourced to a pool of freelancers. This can be, of course, a double-edged sword as well since having the freedom to decline clients can also lead to the possibility of onboarding more clients since scaling a consultancy over freelancers is a lucrative business model albeit to the detriment of success rates.

Still, such business models have found their own validity in the industry since there are plenty of startups who, after having been told that a grant application would be too high risk, are still determined to move on regardless.

Good vs. Bad

This assessment does not mean that large consultancies are inferior to small consultancies or vice versa. On the contrary, it sheds light on the fact that the size or business model of the consultancy is less important than its modus operandi and its internal incentive-structure. The traits exhibited by excellent consultancies are selectiveness, transparency and dedication but these are entirely independent of the business model and scale. They are only evident in direct communication with the consultants themselves.

Every prospective grant applicant should know who exactly will write the proposal, who else will be involved (i.e. editor, pitch-expert, designer, videographer) and if the team will be changed throughout the duration of the contract. This, in addition to requesting an in-depth project assessment beforehand, can prevent a negative experience for the startup or SME since a consultancy that cannot be transparent in this regard or lacks certainty will likely place less focus on each respective client (read: Assessing an Innovation).

Conclusion

In summary, each prospect EIC Accelerator grant applicant should pose the following questions to a consultancy prior to beginning a collaboration:

  • How does our company compare to the businesses that typically receive EIC Accelerator funding (i.e. industry, team, innovation)?
  • Who will be writing the proposal and will the writer be exchanged throughout the process?
  • Who will be our fixed contact point at the consultancy for the duration of the project?
  • Has our project been sufficiently vetted prior to beginning a collaboration?
  • Does the writer understand the intricacies of our innovation project and business model?


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 March 16th 2022, June 1st 2022 and October 5th 2022 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.

Want to see all articles? They can be found here.

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



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:

Professional Grant Proposal Writing for the EIC Accelerator and Horizon Europe Programs (SME Instrument)