Proposed Application Process for the EIC Accelerator 2021 (SME Instrument Phase 2)

Attention: A new article is available detailing the changes for the 2021 EIC Accelerator Work Program.

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) will be reinstated in 2021 with a higher budget, a new structure and a different evaluation process. For startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME), it is important to be prepared for these changes and to understand what requirements will have to be met for the new templates and a successful EIC Accelerator grant submission.

The exact details of the process, as defined by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC), are not known yet but the general structure for an EIC Accelerator application will likely be similar to the following steps:

Step 1: Short Application & Pitch Video

Each project will begin with a short application that contains a proposal of only a few pages and also includes a pitch video that will likely focus on the founders, the innovation and the business model. The details of this step are not exactly known yet but it does add an extra layer of skill to proposal writing which is in the form of audio/video production and editing (read: Making a Video).

Depending on the restrictions of the video (i.e. what is allowed and what is not), its general competitiveness can vary greatly since larger companies with marketing departments and content creators would have a clear benefit over small DeepTech business that only employ technicians and developers. Restrictions imposed on the videos could level the plane field by disallowing the use of graphics and animations but such a process would be almost impossible to enforce by the remote evaluators.

In some way, this development is great for applicants since less effort is needed to apply for the first step while the final evaluation stage (i.e. the pitch interview in Brussels) is now already part of step 1 (i.e. the video). On the flip side, by adding another evaluation step to the process, applicants will likely have less confidence in the overall success of their application.

Step 2: Long Application

The next stage will likely be the conventional, long application which will be a detailed representation of the project, its business plan and the overall impact. Read: Visual Representation of a Proposal

Step 3: Jury Interview

The last step is expected to follow the same jury-interview model as the EIC Accelerator 2018-2020 while certain changes might be implemented as well. Read: Pitch Deck vs. Proposal

General Changes

Scoring System

Instead of providing Evaluation Summary Reports (ESR) with detailed scores between 1 and 15 as well as up to two decimals, the new EIC Accelerator in 2021 will likely use simple YES or NO gradings to assess each evaluation step. The exact details of this approach are not published yet but it will likely lead to a less transparent evaluation process and increase the perception of black box decision-making.

Freezing Periods

It is expected that freezing periods will be introduced to restrict the number of re-submissions. These can be complex depending on the stage of the initial rejection but it is anticipated that each applicant will at least have two opportunities to hand in a successful grant application.

Seal of Excellence (SoE)

SoE’s will likely remain part of the evaluation results but it is currently unknown how exactly they will be awarded since no scores are expected to be given.

Topics

Thematic topics with specific budgets and goals will be reintroduced as they have already been part of the SME Instrument in previous years. These topics will present parallel calls under the EIC Accelerator and each applicant can decide to what specific topic they want to apply to. Topics will likely vary greatly in competitiveness, evaluation and their budgets wich will make careful planning essential.

Conclusion

The new process aims to create a fairer evaluation and also reduce the work-load associated with the exceedingly larger numbers of incoming EIC Accelerator applications but it could lead to new and unforeseen problems. The number of companies receiving a YES in step 1 and 2 might exceed the capacity for the step 3 interviews since it has long been a reality that a large number of projects would reach the funding threshold (i.e. a score of 13) but had to be cut off.

If all companies that receive a YES in step 2 must be invited to an interview then this could lead to week-long evaluations that significantly overload the evaluations. If no scores are given but only a pre-defined number of applicants is making it towards step 3, then the evaluation process would be very non-transparent since it is unclear how the projects were ordered and on what basis since YES and NO should be the only criteria and not BETTER or WORSE.

At this stage, all applicants, consultants and professional writers will have to await the official publication of the EIC Accelerator 2021 Work Programme which will provide answers to the most pressing questions.

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 January 12th 2022, April 6th 2022, June 15th 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.

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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: