Project Management and the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2)

Project management is a central part of every Research and Development (R&D) project but it is especially important when considering the strict budgeting and tracking under the EIC Accelerator blended financing program (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing). Managing a specific project, a task and performance indicators are three core aspects of the overall process whereas the European Commission (EC) and the European Innovation Council (EIC) require constant updates on such aspects to assure the continuing progress of the beneficiarie’s development work (read: EIC Accelerator Introduction).

When hiring a professional writer or consultancy, project management is often simplified through coordination and support activities but startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) should be aware of the bureaucracy involved in a funding project by the European Union (EU). The following presents a shortlist of the tracking and organisational-aspects for such a grant project that is relevant for both the application (i.e. as part of the annotated EIC Accelerator template) and for successful grant beneficiaries who have received a positive evaluation (read: Finding EIC Accelerator Results).

The individual aspects of a development project can be classified into three tiers with project management at the top (i.e. top-down delegation), the task management at the center (i.e. development work) and the tracking of daily, weekly or monthly Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) at the bottom (i.e. individual metrics). This order only presents one out of many ways to structure project management but it can be useful for companies new to the strict tracking requirements in the EU or those who lack experience in executing long-term development projects.

Managing a Project

Project management traditionally requires the use of cornerstones such as initiation, planning, execution, controlling, monitoring and closing which assures that all essential tasks are performed with clear responsibilities. As a first step, the responsibilities should be distributed according to a hierarchy with one main project leader at the top who acts as the supervisor and a manager for each project segment. This will be important for the tracking since accountability is the most secure way of assuring that deadlines, budgets and targets are achieved in a timely manner.

Each segment (i.e. initiation) can likewise have a concrete description, budget, timeline, outcome and means of documentation so that the person in charge has a clear overview of their responsibilities throughout the project. In the pitch interview (read: The Pitch Interview), it can also be a question that the jurors will ask since the financials, implementation and development tasks are important considerations for the selection of beneficiaries (read: Pitch Preparation).

Managing a Task

Each project will have to be split into the specific tasks that require execution and the EC prefers the use of designated Workpackages (WP) (read: Work Packages). These are individual segments of the developments arranged by their area of focus and their expected timeline. As an example, a WP can be focusing on software development while another WP deals with hardware developments or marketing activities.

WP’s are only one way of structuring R&D work but the important thing to consider is that specific tasks, budgets and deadlines must be designated clearly and be actionable enough to allow execution. Such tasks can use the SMART-acronym as it clearly defines how goals should be specified and treated in order to maximize the success chances of the development work. S-M-A-R-T stands for:

  1. Specific: A task has to be specific so that the activities are clear for experts, engineers or software developers and can be executed. Instead of discussing general ways of achieving a goal (i.e. “to develop a production process”), it should give specific methods (i.e. “to implement X until Y is reached and integrate peripheral technologies such as Z”)
  2. Measurable: Quantification is key in defining development tasks since such markers will be used in both tracking and project execution. Unit numbers, quality markers and other measurable items should be listed.
  3. Assignable: Each task must not only have a person responsible but also be easily assignable so that delegation is possible. If a task is specific and quantified then it will be simple to select an employee who has the right skillset for its execution but a vague task would not be easily assignable.
  4. Realistic: Tasks have to be feasible since it is not only the responsibility of the company to execute and track the development work but also to achieve their goals in the end. it has to be assumed that no follow-up financing is available and that the project plan has to be executed as-is. As such, realism has to take the center stage so that tasks are ambitious but not impossible.
  5. Time: From the start, the timing, deadlines and delivery dates have to be clearly defined so that structure is given to the entire project.

Key Performance Indicators (KPI)

KPI’s are a part of each project but are a more company-centric metric rather than exclusively relating to R&D. KPI’s can focus on all aspects relevant to the business which can or cannot be part of the development tasks. As an example: Active users, revenues or obtained patents can be KPI’s while these metrics do not need to be part of EIC Accelerator WP’s.

The EIC Accelerator utilises milestones and KPI’s in its official annotated proposal template and these can be used to provide a commercial view on the WP themselves (i.e. connecting tasks with business metrics). A specific goal such as reaching a certain number of active users on a platform can be added as a KPI or milestone to a WP so that it is not only clear What and How but also Why tasks are performed.

KPI’s can be chosen according to the management team’s core vision for the company but they usually provide a shortlist of goals that have to be reached for the business to succeed (i.e. the number of suppliers, customers, revenues, server connections, datasets, hardware prototypes, etc.). These will then give the project management and each individual task a certain realism from a purely commercial and growth perspective. Updates on KPI’s can be provided on a monthly or weekly basis to the financing provider so that transparency is assured throughout the project.

Summary

  • Managing a Project: Creating a clear hierarchy of responsibilities in a top-down approach for the entire project
  • Managing a Task: Developing individual tasks for each development step while following the SMART principle
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPI): Adding realistic and commercial reasoning to the development tasks via milestones and KPI’s

These tips are not only useful for European startups, professional writers, consultants and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) but are generally recommended when writing a business plan or investor documents.

Deadlines: Post-Horizon 2020, the EIC Accelerator accepts Step 1 submissions now while the deadlines for the full applications (Step 2) will be on June 16th 2021 and October 6th 2021 under Horizon Europe. The Step 1 applications must be submitted weeks in advance of Step 2. The next EIC Accelerator cut-off for Step 2 (full proposal) can be found here. After Brexit, UK companies can still apply to the EIC Accelerator under Horizon Europe albeit with non-dilutive grant applications only - thereby excluding equity-financing.

Contact: You can reach out to us via this contact form to work with a professional consultant. 

EU, UK & US Startups: Alternative financing options for EU, UK and US innovation startups are the EIC Pathfinder (combining Future and Emerging Technologies - FET Open & FET Proactive) with €4M per project, Thematic Priorities, European Innovation Partnerships (EIP), Innovate UK with £3M (for UK-companies only) as well as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants with $1M (for US-companies only). 

Any more questions? View the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section.

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by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

General information on the EIC Accelerator template, professional grant writing and how to prepare a successful application can be found in the following articles: