Tag Archives: EIC Accelerator 2021

EIC Accelerator Interview Preparation Process: The Importance of the Q&A (Part 2)

This article is the second part of the interview preparation guide for the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity). It provides a perspective on how an applicant, Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME) or startup could prepare for the EIC Accelerator pitch interview but it is not a pre-requisite to succeed in front of the jury.

While there is no official guidance or template on the preparation process for the EIC pitch, most professional grant writers or consultancies have developed their own processes to prepare their clients for a successful Step 3. This series of articles provides an example for such a process.

Introduction

Introduced in 2018, the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC) have created a Jury-system for the evaluation of successful written applications which acts as the final step before the grant approval. This illustrates the desire of the European Union (EU) to fund real companies that not only have interesting projects but also have the desire, confidence and motivation necessary to implement said project. In addition, it allows the EIC to supplement their remote evaluator’s pool with experts in the investment field.

Since most startups have rich experience in talking to investors, giving presentations during pitch events or hosting workshops and seminars themselves, it often comes as a surprise that they need to practise for the EIC Accelerator pitch at all. But consultants understand that this is absolutely necessary since the EIC pitch week differs from a normal Venture Capital (VC) or investor interaction in the following ways.

No Specialised Knowledge

The Jury members might not be experts regarding the technology or might not know the industry dynamics. The EIC Jury is a well-balanced collection of business experts including consultants, angel investors, educators (i.e. business schools), VC partners and entrepreneurs but, while the EIC aims to segment the Jury into thematic groups to facilitate the interview process, one must assume that half or more of the audience neither has previous knowledge about the technology or the market that is being targeted. This also extends to the European Investment Bank (EIB) members which are allowed to sit in and ask questions.

Not Investing Themselves

A second consideration to make is that, while the Jury might contain investors, they are not investing their own money. Usually, startups will be in contact with people who are able to make investment decisions and who are directly benefitting or suffering from a good or a bad funding outcome. This is not the case with the EIC Jury since these generally do not invest in the startups they interview and, if the investment turned out to be poor (i.e. bankruptcy, fraud, failure) then the Jury will face no negative repercussions since the EIC is responsible for the funding approval.

This creates an interesting dynamic where the Jury members have no skin in the game but select companies based on the profile outlined by the EIC (i.e. DeepTech, unicorns, non-bankability, high-risk). This does not mean that their assessments will be lesser than in the private market or that they will not be as stringent as they would be if their own financing or career was at stake but it is worth considering since Jury members might pose different questions compared to conventional investors.

Ambiguous Evaluation Criteria

While many investors have a certain focus (i.e. industry, technology, geography), they all have one primary goal in common: To make a return on their investment within a given time frame while minimizing their risk. But the EIC is turning that on its head with ambiguous criteria that most normal investors would not consider prioritizing: Non-bankability and high-risk.

The EIC aims to close the gap between companies that are too risky to finance and those that have been sufficiently de-risked to warrant substantial Series A investments. As a result, it seeks out companies that are:

  • Non-bankable: A company that can’t leverage financing from other public or private sources (i.e. national grants, bank loans, VC’s, angel investors, etc.)
  • High-risk: A project that is too risky and deters investors.

Why these criteria could be viewed as being ambiguous:

  1. Many of the companies that are funded under the EIC have raised substantial financing above €1M prior to receiving the EIC grant. As such, there is no reason why they could not raise similar financing amounts again even if one-time public grants were a major financing source.
  2. Most companies have access to other grants since there are many options available and a majority of companies apply for more than one grant at a time.
  3. The project must be feasible and the risks must be well-mitigated or it will be rejected by the EIC. The remote evaluators heavily screen for feasibility and a product-market-fit (i.e. traction and willingness-to-pay) which excludes many high-risk projects by default.

Note: The three points above can be argued but it is likely that most EIC Accelerator beneficiaries would have raised financing from other sources if they were rejected by the EIC since they are excellent business cases.

Why These Criteria Still Benefit the EIC

High-Risk Projects

The EIC likely understands that it’s nonsensical to select projects with an unreasonable level of risk (i.e. projects with almost no chance of success) but it does not want to attract easy-to-finance projects, specifically. It uses the term high-risk to inform applicants that they should not be afraid to apply even if they have been rejected by many investors or grants prior because of their risk profile.

This way, the EIC creates a space where highly ambitious and cutting-edge projects gather because they are riskier than others when viewed from an investors perspective. Of course, there will also be applicants who are too high risk and lack the expertise, a product-market-fit or the competence to execute the project but these are filtered in Steps 1 and 2 of the EIC Accelerator evaluation.

Non-Bankability

The EIC wants to be an exclusive financing instrument because it has the goal of turning science into innovation as EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said during her Keynote in 2021:

The so-called European innovation paradox that Europe is a world leader in science and research but that other regions lead on innovation so the EIC will build on the amazing research base in Europe to support disruptive DeepTech and market creation startups. This will be a priority role for the EIC.

Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth

In addition, the EIC aims to de-risk such highly technical projects sufficiently to warrant private industry investments which would have been elusive otherwise. This renders the EIC a catalyst for the European DeepTech ecosystem:

We will crowd in private investment. Private investment in European DeepTech. The 10 billion budget of the European Innovation Council aims to crowd in at least €50 billion from the private sector.

Mark Ferguson, Chair of the EIC Advisory Board

This means that the EIC does not aim to be the first choice for all startups in the European ecosystem but seeks to attract a small group of excellent, DeepTech companies that do not have access to capital. The criteria of non-bankability is a way of selecting for this goal.

In reality, the EIC can never know how easy or difficult it is for a company to raise substantial investments since this highly depends on connections, the geography and the ingenuity of the management team. While it can ask for it in a grant proposal template, it is difficult to investigate statements such as “We are unable to raise private financing from VC’s or local grants due to the following rejections…”. In practice, non-bankability often means:

We will invest unless someone else invests before us.

If a company raises €20M right before the Step 3 interview then it will likely be rejected because the EIC would rather spend their budget on companies that have not reached this point yet. If the company describes the difficulty in raising financing to get the EIC funding (i.e. it is non-bankable) and raises €20M only 6 months after the grant has been approved then this will be a great success case for the EIC to announce. Even if the grant did not affect the €20M funding round (i.e. this is extremely difficult to verify).

Introducing the criteria of non-bankability is thus a great way for the EIC to assure that the financing is allocated where it is able to further the goals outlined by Commissioner Gabriel and EIC Chair Ferguson.

Rejecting Over Funding

The EIC Accelerator process is highly selective and, with approval rates of 67% in Step 1 and 16% in Step 2, it can be said that all applicants successfully reaching Step 3 are excellent. With such an in-depth evaluation process that includes video pitches, pitch decks, support documents and, most importantly, a business plan with a length that is greater than most other grant proposals, it would be almost impossible for bad projects to reach the final stage.

As a result, the EIC Jury is faced with the difficult task: Finding the projects with the highest potential among a pool of excellent businesses. And, while this is a reductive perspective, one can view the task of the Jury in a simplified manner: Reject 50% of the applicants.

The EU and the EIC set the budget ahead of time and, even though it should be statistically possible to see 10% or 90% selection rates In the interviews, it is not a realistic outcome.  The Jury will have to meet a quota that, even if it can deviate slightly, should match the set budget. As a result, many great projects will be rejected.

An applicant would be well advised to have the following attitude to the pitch interviews:

Under no circumstances can I give the jury a reason to reject us.

Even if the EIC would disagree with this statement, it is still a useful approach for the applicant since, although the project and business are great, they will fail if the presenters are not aware of all the factors that can be perceived as negative by the jury.

Limited Time & Forced Decisions

No investor wants to make a short-notice funding decision. With very few exceptions (i.e. Masayoshi Son’s gut investment in Jack Ma’s Alibaba), investors will take their time, perform due diligence over many weeks or months and will have multiple in-person conversations with the company.

The EIC is different in this regard since a Jury has to make a decision based on a 45-minute interview without having performed any due diligence up to this point. Since the remote evaluation has been completed ahead of time, it can be viewed as partial due diligence but the selected evaluators are likely neither experts in due diligence proceedings nor do they have access to the applicants for the request of additional data or feedback. And while the jury members have access to the application documents, there is no guarantee that they have studied them.

Still, the EIC has multiple due diligence mechanisms:

Step 1

Step 1 will identify the general suitability of a project for the EIC Accelerator. With funding rates of 67% in 2021, it is not very selective but aims to only peak the evaluator’s interest. Projects can be approved even though 50% of the evaluators reject them which renders Step 1 a very low threshold.

Note: Choosing a minimum of 3 out of 4 GO’s by the evaluators (i.e. 75% consensus) or switching to a 2/3 threshold (i.e. 66%) might be a better choice but the EIC has not published scoring correlations between all three steps. If no project with 2/4 GO’s has succeeded in Step 2 or Step 3, then it might be a good sign to raise the bar of Step 1 and save the applicants months of work.

Step 2

Step 2 is much more in-depth and is a great way of looking at the project from multiple angles but it suffers from the evaluator’s pool which might not provide the level of due diligence found in a VC firm. Still, it is a very useful way of filtering for the EIC-set criteria.

Step 3

There is a high chance that neither the Jury members nor the EIB representatives have read the Step 1 and Step 2 applications in full. This means that they strongly rely on the pitch event and will have to make a funding decision based on a 45-minute pitch alone. While some might have read substantial parts of the application, the due diligence done by the Jury members ahead of the pitch will likely be a fraction of what a VC firm would perform before making a funding decision.

Post-Approval

The EIC will perform detailed technical, commercial and financial due diligence for the equity component of the grant but this is after the public financing announcement. It is very unlikely that a company would be rejected after the EIC has already announced their identity on its website and social media accounts unless there is a strong reason to do so. Still, it is a formal due diligence process with a great level of depth.

Conclusion

This article presents a perspective on the EIC Accelerator pitch and does not represent the opinion of the EIC or the EC. An applicant should be aware of the conditions the jury interviews will be conducted under and should pitch their project as if it was assessed for the first time. They should also consider the following notes on the EIC jury:

  1. They are likely unfamiliar with the project’s details
  2. They are potentially not experts in the technology or industry
  3. They are not investing their own money or face negative repercussions for a misselection
  4. They make a funding decision based on only 45 minutes of pitching and questioning although they have access to all previous documents if they chose to review them post-interview
  5. They must prioritize criteria set out by the EC and EIC (i.e. high-risk, DeepTech and non-bankability)
  6. The due diligence performed pre-interview was limited

Other Articles


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 likely be on March 23rd 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.

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 Interview Preparation Process: Scripting the Pitch (Part 1)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) has introduced mandatory, in-person interviews in 2018 which marked the first multi-step installation of this financing instrument. For the first time, it was necessary to present and justify the innovation project in front of a jury that consisted of different experts such as coaches, consultants, angel investors, VC partners and others.

With success rates for the EIC Accelerator having historically been well below 5%, the interviews tended to be the last but also the least selective step of the evaluation process. These exhibited success rates ranging between 25-50% (i.e. 50% in June 2021) and, if a startup or Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) was invited, it was likely that they would obtain the grant financing.

Approaches to Pitch Practise

Often, startups that apply to the EIC Accelerator assume that their past experience from event pitches or conversations with Venture Capitalists (VC) or other investors is sufficient to be prepared for the EIC jury. While it is true that this is a great asset to fall back on and presents an invaluable experience, it is often not enough to increase the success chances of a project above the average since this experience is shared among most founders.

Note: A company can succeed in the EIC Accelerator interviews without any practice or preparation but this approach is risky and not recommended.

What to Expect in a Pitch Interview

Previous articles on the pitch interviews can be found here:

In a nutshell, the pitch interview, online or in-person, will consist of a 10-minute pitch by the presenting team (i.e. usually 3 senior and balanced team members) followed by a max. 35-minute-long Questions and Answers (Q&A) session. The topics, considerations and descriptions of such a session are described in the articles above.

To sufficiently prepare for this event, the presenting team has to focus on two distinctly different segments:

  • The pitch: A 10-minute pitch that should be entertaining and use understandable language, simple sentences and easy-to-digest slides while telling an enticing story as opposed to overly complex content.
  • The Q&A: A 35-minute questioning round that can range from pleasant and supportive to unpleasant and critical, depending on the luck and response the presenting team receives.

How to Prepare for the Pitch

The pitch deck that is submitted in Step 2 of the evaluation process will be used for the EIC Accelerator interview week in Step 3. Unfortunately, this pitch deck cannot be changed later on and it is even forbidden to update numbers or names if they are incorrect. The pitch deck has to be used exactly as it was submitted even if the delay between submission and the actual pitch date can amount to three months or more.

This places an additional limitation on the team since, quite often, a detailed script has not been prepared on the day of submission and, during the script-writing process, one might feel that it is necessary to adjust parts of the pitch deck. Since this is not possible, the team and the consultant or professional writer have to work around the pitch deck and deliver a spoken pitch that works well, is clear and explains all aspects of the technology even if the slides do not perfectly match the communicated content.

The general structure of pitch decks has been discussed in the articles linked above but the following presents a more comprehensive list of the slides that can be used:

Note: Not all items need to be part of a pitch deck but they should all be covered by the spoken script to assure a well-rounded pitch.

  1. Problem
  2. Solution
    • Products
  3. Innovation
    • Patents
  4. Customers and customer value
    • Case study
  5. Competitor comparison
  6. Business model
    • Revenue streams
    • Commercial strategy
    • Traction
  7. Market
    • Timing
    • Growth rate
  8. Current state
    • Prototype
    • Past financing
  9. Development tasks
  10. Financial projections
  11. Funding needs
    • Risk
    • Non-bankability
  12. Team
    • Partners
  13. Vision
  14. Why invest in us

There are different approaches to preparing such a pitch deck but two simple strategies for slides can be:

  1. Prepare slides with complex content (i.e. a complicated graphic, concept or text) and spend at least 1 minute per slide.
  2. Prepare short slides that the presenter shows for 10 to 30 seconds and use them for fluent, fast-paced story-telling.

Since the number of slides in the pitch deck document is unlimited, it is advisable to use this opportunity and create a highly visual pitch deck aimed at leading the audience through a story. Based on the two segments above, it can be a good approach to have 75% of slides fall into the second category while the minority of slides are in the first one. This way, the interviewees have enough opportunities to explain the core and complex technical aspects while the shorter slides can be utilised to tell an engaging and entertaining story.

Even though many presenters focus on the 1-minute-per-slide rule, in reality, a 10-minute pitch deck can easily be 20-slides in length if the following durations are chosen:

  • 5 x 60-second slides
  • 5 x 30-second slides
  • 5 x 20-second slides
  • 5 x 10-second slides
  • Total: 20 slides and 600 seconds = 10 minutes

Note: These durations are suggestions and each presenter has to adjust the length to their own personal style. It is also designed for a pitch that is followed by a long Q&A session which allows presenters to show content briefly since the audience can follow up afterwards.

How to Construct Slides

Pitch decks are often a matter of Corporate Identity (i.e. design, content), choices based on the particular technology or market as well as personal taste but the following presents a general suggestion on the types of slides that can be used without delving into their detailed design.

One eye-catching sentence

A single sentence can be displayed on a slide to focus the audience on a core concept of the technology, a problem in the market or anything that the team thinks is important. Such a slide can easily be presented in 10 seconds. An example could be:

“10,000 citizens die every day and there is still no treatment for condition X.”

Very often, audience members are not listening to every word the presenter says but they try to make sense of what they see on the current slide. As a result, showing one large sentence can be a sure way of gaining the jury’s attention and transmitting a key message.

One image or graphic

It can be useful to add multiple short slides with single images or graphics if they illustrate the problem, the benefits of the solution or any other related segments such as the market or traction. The presenter can even speak a single sentence over multiple slides while showing simple graphics to support each point they make. An example can be:

“The problem in the current medical industry is Describe A (skip to the slide with a simple chart or image), Describe B (skip) and Describe C (skip)”.

If this is well-paced and sufficiently understandable then it can be an engaging way of presenting many aspects of a business model, technology or market dynamic.

A complex concept

There is no way of avoiding complicated slides in a DeepTech pitch event since being highly technical is what allowed the project to reach this point in the first place. Any graphic that is shown should be simplified as much as possible but only up to a point where it does not omit key aspects or renders the innovation too simplistic.

It should not contain text that is impossible for the audience member to read (i.e. too much or too small) and it should also not require them to be experts in the field to understand it. To avoid losing the audience after one technical slide, it can be useful to utilise multiple slides and explain the concepts through a story. An example can be to lead into the slides by saying:

“So, how do we accomplish this?”

after the solution has been introduced since this will pick up the audience members that were lost during the technical slide. The graphic can show the magic of what the company does, potentially even directly compared to how it is conventionally performed. Examples can be:

  • Conventional vs. quantum computing
  • Biologically extracting compounds from animals vs. genetic modifications of E. Coli via synthetic biology
  • Manual labour vs. Artificial Intelligence-based automation

A detailed look

There are slides that are difficult to simplify but are not overly complex in nature. There can also be cases where it is advisable to not skip too rapidly because the audience members are especially interested in them. Examples for this can be a market analysis, the business model (i.e. partners, traction, commitments), the competing technologies or the financials. Resting longer on such slides can be essential in gaining the viewer’s confidence and can also be timed in such a way that they are balanced with the fast-paced slides.

Generally speaking, it is advisable to prepare a word-for-word script and practise it until one can deliver a well-paced and natural version of it even if the final result will deviate. One can likewise focus on delivering one key message that needs to be transmitted on each slide.

The only restriction that must be honoured is the length of the pitch: Under no circumstances should it exceed 10 minutes since this will be strictly enforced by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC).

Continuation


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 likely be on March 23rd 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.

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 June 2021 EIC Accelerator Results and the STABL Energy GmbH Success Story

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) has finally completed its first iteration in 2021 despite the delayed launch of Horizon Europe (2021-2027) and only two deadlines in this first year. With the application process having changed dramatically after Horizon 2020 (2014-2020) ended, many professional writers and consultants had to adapt their approach to grant preparations (read: Re-Inventing the EIC Accelerator). With a longer proposal document, new templates, pitch videos, read-only pitch decks and more supporting information being requested, it was an interesting experiment for both the applicants and the European Innovation Council (EIC).

Many Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) and startups have applied to the EIC’s grant and, as has always been the case, only a fraction has been successful. The following article describes one of these success cases as well as the overall statistics of the June 2021 EIC Accelerator call.

The June 2021 EIC Accelerator Call

With the application process having changed dramatically, it comes as no surprise that there were many differences compared to the 2020 cut-offs. One of these differences is that the final statistics for the June deadline are not as clear as they were in 2020 since the new 3-Step process has an obscured number of total applicants.

This is due to the fact that there is no Step 1 deadline and it is unknown how many of the approved Step 1 projects actually applied to Step 2 in June since a significant number might have delayed the application to October 2021. The information communicated by the EIC is also limited with makes a detailed look at the overall statistics difficult.

Nonetheless, with the information that is available today (Linkedin: Nicolas Sabatier and EIC Support), one can conclude that:

Step 1

On May 17th, 67% or 755 out of 1,114 applicants had passed the threshold and received a GO for Step 1. With the Step 2 deadline having been on June 16th, this number continued to increase since at least 1,523 total Step 1 applications had been submitted at this point in time (but not all were evaluated yet). It is unlikely that all Step 1 successes decided to apply to the June deadline since, due to the limited time, many might have postponed the application to October 2021. If the success rate of selected applications has remained the same and 801 applicants eventually applied to Step 2 then an approximate 1,196 applicants have applied to Step 1 with the intention to apply to Step 2 in June 2021, yielding 801 approved projects and a 67% success rate for Step 1.

Note: To calculate a success rate for June 2021, one has to filter the number of applicants who applied to Step 1 and aimed for the June 2021 cut-off. It must also be considered that many rejected companies might not have applied to Step 2 even if they were selected. Since there is no publically available data on this, the numbers given here are estimated.

Step 2

With the deadline having been on June 16th 2021 (it was delayed by 7 days from its original date), the number of applicants amounted to 801. It was later announced that 130 applicants were selected for the interviews, thereby yielding a 16% success rate for this Step.

Step 3

The EIC Accelerator pitch week occurred via remove video calls with the EIC Jury and was conducted in mid-September 2021. Out of the 130 candidates, 65 were able to convince the Jury and succeed in gaining the EIC Accelerator funding. This yielded a 50% success rate for this Step although 24 Swiss applicants were excluded from the process due to the political developments between the EU and the Swiss government.

Step 1-3 Total

With success rates of 67%, 16% and 50% for the respective Steps, the overall success rate for the June 2021 EIC Accelerator was an approximate 5.4% with 65 out of an estimated 1,196 applicants having been successful.

Additional Statistics

Budget

The original budget in the official EIC Accelerator Work Programme (read: The 2021 EIC Accelerator Work Programme) was set at €500M+ but, due to the lack of excellent cases, it was reduced in retrospect (i.e. only €360M+ were allocated to successful candidates). This is a very interesting development since the 2020 applications tended to have far more suitable candidates while budgets were generally too low.

In fact, all 2020 projects with a score of over 13 out of 15 were technically eligible to receive funding, pending the Jury assessment, and the total budgets requested by said projects were, as an example, €1.8B in January 2020 or €2.7B in May 2020. If a Jury assessment were to be applied and only 50% of selected companies were approved, it would still yield budgets that far exceed the 2021 numbers.

It is clear that the EIC Accelerator has become more selective. But it has also become less selective in some ways.

It is more selective since it had an excess budget but deemed most companies to be unsuitable to receive this funding. It has become less selective since success rates have exceeded 5% while 2020 saw rates between 1% and 3%.

A reasonable conclusion to make is that the new barrier for the EIC Accelerator is not the chasing of decimal points (i.e. a 2020 score of 13.7 could be invited to the interviews while 13.6 is not) but the effort applied to preparing the proposal documents for each step. Since many companies have no interest in spending such an extreme effort for almost a year, the pool of serious applicants will be minimized. If this is a good process will remain to be seen but, clearly, the European Innovation Council is not afraid to innovate.

Note: As this was the first cut-off of the new EIC Accelerator, the success rates and budget allocation might differ greatly for the October deadline and those in 2022.

Gender

The EIC has managed to gain a 20% ratio for female entrepreneurs amongst all beneficiaries (i.e. female CEO’s) due to its strict gender equity goals.

Top 3 Countries

Clear winners during this 2021 Call in June were France (18% of the successful beneficiaries), Germany (17%) and the Netherlands (12%).

Type of Funding

92% of successful applicants received both grant and equity financing (blended finance) according to the EIC’s Twitter account but this data does not seem to fit the beneficiaries list. The more accurate and official list of all beneficiaries shows the following statistic:

  • 31/65 blended (48%)
  • 5/65 grant-only (8%)
  • 24/65 grant-first (37%)
  • 5/65 equity-only (8%)

Note: The given statistics of 92% of applicants receiving grant and equity financing would fit if either the 8% grant-only or the 8% equity-only was excluded from the total. Although, this does not seem to yield an accurate statement and is likely an error.

EIC Accelerator Success: STABL Energy GmbH

One of the 11 funded German projects is STABL Energy GmbH which has been among the 5% of selected applicants. During the 6 month process after Step 1 opened in April 2021, they were able to successfully pass all three Steps of the EIC Accelerator evaluation and succeed in securing blended financing under the EIC.

STABL is developing innovative power electronics for Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) and, with their modular approach, they are able to deliver unprecedented benefits to the industry such as higher energy efficiency, software control, unique data services and lifecycle extensions through second-life use cases.

Why STABL was the perfect fit for the EIC Accelerator

STABL is enabling a sustainable, versatile and future-proof energy storage ecosystem that serves all relevant industries such as utilities, renewables and electric transport. As such, it was able to be part of the Green Deal Strategic Challenge and was an ideal fit for the subsegment of Battery and Energy Storage which was amongst the preferred project types (read: EIC Accelerator Work Programme).

In addition, STABL is a startup with high-level partnerships, traction and an excellent management team. The EIC aims to fund ambitious companies such as STABL that have a strong vision and the capability to realise them as well as the ability to change the European technological landscape for the better.

Note: Segler Consulting has supported STABL Energy GmbH for the entire application process.


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 likely be on March 23rd 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.

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:

Delays: Updates on the EIC Accelerators Step 1 Results, Step 3 Interview Dates and More (SME Instrument)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) has opened its doors to Step 1 submissions in early April 2021. After a long wait, the first evaluation results have been published on May 12th 2021 after more than one month of evaluations. While no notifications of these results were sent to applicants, a delayed email signed by Head of Unit Cornelius Schmaltz was sent 2 days later which contained an official letter detailing the results of the Step 1 evaluation.

This article presents a short update on the specifics of the process as conducted by the European Innovation Council (EIC) with respect to the templates, deadlines and further evaluation stages:

  • EIC Accelerator Step 1 results have been released on May 12th 2021 on the EIC’s AI Platform for those who have applied by mid-April 2021.
  • Detailed feedback and a scoring (GO vs. NO GO) from 4 to 6 evaluators are provided for each project giving all applicants the most elaborate information on their submission yet. A detailed analysis of these evaluations will follow in a separate article.
  • The EIC aimed to simulate the past Seal of Excellence (SOE) threshold in Step 1 which means that 2020’s scoring threshold of ’13’ should be as difficult to pass as 2021’s Step 1. This would have meant that 70% of all applicants were rejected but it seems like it was rather only less than 50% being rejected. This would match the previously predicted effort-chances scenario 1 in this article.
  • The official template for Step 2 has already been published but the AI Platform for Step 2 is not ready yet.
  • The Step 2 AI Tool’s Ideation and Development modules will be available as of May 17th 2021.
  • The Step 2 AI Tool’s Go2Market module will be available as of May 21st 2021.
  • The coach selection module will become available on May 25th 2021.
  • In-person coaching support is offered on a first-come-first-serve basis in June 2021 but will be available for all applicants for their submission to the October 2021 deadline.
  • The interview sessions are planned in:
    • September 2021 for proposals submitted to the June 2021 deadline.
    • December 2021 or January 2022 for proposals submitted to the October 2021 deadline.

The Step 3 interviews come with a significant delay and instead of being 6 weeks after the Step 2 deadline, they are pushed back to 3 months after the June cut-off (read: Having a Successful Interview Pitch).


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 likely be on March 23rd 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.

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:

Last-Minute Restrictions of EIC Accelerator Step 1 Submissions

On May 5th 2021, it has been announced that all submissions for Step 1 of the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) application process are closed until June 22nd. This has come as a surprise to many since the call was supposed to be continuously open by design. In fact, it was created in order to have an ongoing application opportunity for applicants independent of the 4 annual application deadlines (or 2 in 2021).

Needless to say, there are a variety of reasons why this decision was made and a number of repercussions for applicants. Without going into further detail regarding the EIC’s insufficient announcements regarding this issue, the following presents a shortlist of updates and notes on this newest change:

  • The Step 1 submissions were suspended in order to allow the IT team to update the platform and add features to Step 1.
  • While Step 2 is not ready for use just yet, a preliminary (but still official) proposal template for the EIC Accelerator’s Step 2 has been published (see this link).
  • Step 2 of the application process will be published on May 17th and submissions will be possible starting June 9th.
  • Over 1,200 Step 1 application’s have been submitted since April.
  • Step 1 submissions that have not been submitted yet will be unable to apply to the June deadline (see here) but still have the opportunity to meet the last 2021 deadline in October.


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 likely be on March 23rd 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.

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 New EIC Accelerators Read Deck (SME Instrument)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) has recently introduced a new type of pitch deck for Step 1 of the evaluation process. This can be viewed as a ‘real-only deck‘ or a ‘read deck‘ since it will not be used for the Step 3 interviews (read: Interview Preparation) but simply acts as a reference for the evaluators.

This is an interesting experiment on the side of the European Commission (EC) since the read deck has no technical restrictions outside of the page limit. This means that this is, for the first time, a PDF document that can be uploaded with full creative freedom with regard to font sizes, formatting, margins, sections and all related aspects.

Depending on how this experiment will turn out, it could be short-lived since it needs only a few bold applicants who exploit the lack of restrictions and aim to upload a full 10-page business plan with small font sizes and slim margins. Technically, such an unconventional Step 1 pitch document would have to be evaluated by the reviewers since it does not violate the application requirements.

It can be expected that strict rules, similar to the ones for the previous full applications, will be enforced after 2021 to avoid such exploitations.

Nonetheless, this article explores some ways the read deck could be treated and how it can differ from the pitch reck. A detailed look at the types of slides to choose (read: Pitch Deck) and information on the pitch interviews (read: Pitch Success) can be found elsewhere.

General Information and Restrictions

  • Must be a PDF
  • 10-page limit
  • Below 10 MB
  • This read deck is not used for the Step 3 pitch interview (“read-only deck”)

Changes for the Pitch Interview Deck

Interestingly, the original pitch deck used in Step 3 has fewer limitations since it does not have a page limit. This is likely due to the nature of its use whereas all applicants know that they will be heavily judged for a ‘bad‘ pitch deck and it is their own responsibility to look good in front of the jury.

This changes with the read deck since the impression made on the evaluators will be without the 10 minute time constraints of the interview and entirely lack a verbal component or live feedback. In fact, the read deck, when compared to the pitch deck, has to stand entirely on its own and must hold up to close scrutiny which is not limited by time pressure.

Slides to Omit

Since 10 slides are valuable digital real estate, the title and ending slides should be omitted. There is no need to account for any social aspects such as introducing the speakers or thanking the audience for listening to the pitch since all this information is available to the evaluator already (read: A Broad Vision).

The same is true for extensive product presentations that can be flipped through like a dia show during the interview but take up too much space in a 10-page read deck. If the presentation of the product critically needs to be in the form of multiple angles or images then this should be reduced to a single slide and the remaining footage can be part of the pitch video. In fact, the video is an excellent choice for the presentation of the product in a comprehensive and visual way.

Changing the Text

Since speakers cannot leave certain aspects of the project to the Questions and Answers part of the EIC Accelerator pitch interviews, the text should be comprehensive. To stand on its own, the traditionally scarce text on a pitch deck should be elaborated for the read deck.

Instead of adding only bullet points and keywords, the read deck should have full sentences on each slide to explain the concepts without leaving any doubt in the reviewer’s mind. Since verbally expressing the traction of the company and their pilot customer is impossible in the Step 1 deck, it should be laid out in a written form.

This is likely the most important aspect of the new read deck since most pitch decks aim to avoid text as much as possible and present a clean and elegant design. The read deck, on the other hand, requires a merger of elegant simplicity and a fully fletched text.

Graphics and Photos

Graphics already used to be an important part of every pitch deck but, even though the read deck will contain more text, graphics also become even more important. While an introduction slide could lean heavily on the speaker’s voice and simply present a small chart as support, the read deck will require graphics to transmit a full concept with little to no support (read: Design Resources).

Illustrations cannot be too minimalistic in the read deck but have to be comprehensive enough to transmit a complex idea. This approach is supported by the fact that there is no time limit. The evaluator can stop at a single slide for 5 minutes or more and let a complicated chart sink in. They can also go back to the chart after they have watched the video and have read the entire application – or right before they give their final verdict on the proposal’s success or failure.

It is advisable to put great thought into this aspect and find a balance between easy-to-digest and enough-to-understand.

Summary

  • Restrictions: 10 slides as a PDF below 10MB
  • Slides to Omit: Remove title and ending slides to save space.
  • Changing the Text: Full sentences to explain all relevant concepts in detail.
  • Graphics: These can be more complex than in a traditional pitch deck since the evaluator can pause indefinitely.


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 likely be on March 23rd 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.

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:

Glitches on the EIC Accelerator’s AI Platform and Changes to the Work Programme (SME Instrument)

In 2021, the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) has been re-launched into its most sophisticated iteration yet. With a new AI Tool, a semi-automated evaluation process and a clear focus on disruptive projects, it has now opened its doors for Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) and startups in the European Union (EU) and associated countries (read: New Process).

Right after the launch of this new platform, many applicants as well as professional writers, freelancers and consultants have noticed that there were still quite a few errors and glitches that showed up. This article presents a shortlist of noticeable areas that were affected by such glitches and also discusses some of the changes to the 2021 Work Programme which differ from the unpublished draft version discussed earlier (read: The Work Programme).

Changes & Glitches

Geographic Restrictions & Diversity

The draft version of the EIC Accelerator Work Programme discussed the requirement for geographic diversity which meant that all applicants applying to the grant would need to be invited to the Step 3 interviews in proportion to the number of received applications (read: Interview Preparation & How To Succeed). This would have been an extreme measure since it could have incentivised countries to prepare many low-quality applications to boost their chances in Step 3 of the process. Luckily, this rule was removed.

Non-Binary Gender

The latest template for the EIC Accelerator’s AI Platform and the draft for Horizon Europe proposals indicated non-binary as an option for the gender selection of the applicant’s CEO (read: The EIC Youtube Leak). This, of course, was an example of the European Union being too progressive for its own good (read: Gender Identification vs. Gender Equality).

The EU’s strong gender equity agenda enforces the funding of 35% female CEO’s under the EIC Accelerator which presents 7-times the number at which female CEO’s would naturally be funded in the program. If a non-binary CEO who was born as a woman was treated like a man with respect to this agenda or, even worse, a transgender person identifying as a woman was treated like a man – the EU would have a political disaster on their hands.

Eventually, the European Innovation Council (EIC) has decided that this political double bind between gender identification and gender equality was too much to handle and reverted back to giving only a single third gender option: Unspecified – which is treated as male and lacks the benefits of choosing female.

TRL Descriptions

The Technology Readies Levels (TRL) and Market Readiness Levels (MRL) have been changed even after the opening of the call on April 9th whereas on Friday, it still stated that TRL6 required 100 customers, while on Monday, it reverted back to only requiring pilot studies and a prototype. This is significant since the change happened after the call was already open which means that many applicants could have applied under false premises (read: TRL Levels Explained).

AI Tool Diagnostics Results

Another change over the weekend after April 9th was that the Diagnostics evaluation feedback by the AI Tools changed drastically. The technical breakthrough scorings were quite easy to ‘max out‘ to the top of the A-chart while breakthrough scientific scores were much harder to increase. On Monday, the scoring difficulty was reversed even though no changes were made to the proposal text.

On Monday, an A in technical scores can have turned into a B while the scientific scores saw the opposite change happen. Once again, there are a number of applicants who might have applied under false premises since the call was already accepting submissions.

Budget & Evaluation

The Work Programme has seen some minor adjustments in the budgeting and evaluation process but these were not dramatic and will not significantly impact the success chances of applicants.

One relevant part of these changes is the automatic coverage of the 30% co-financing of the grant by the equity financing if blended financing is selected. This means that, if an applicant wants to request €5M in equity from the EIC Fund then this will be in addition to the 30% of the grant contribution (read: EIC Fund Behind the Scenes). Applicants also have to estimate the co-financing of their Series A or similar round and identify the outside contributors.

Glitches and Errors

Since the AI Platform for the EIC Accelerator is new, it is expected that bugs and errors will be encountered frequently. Still, there was a discrepancy in the performance between different accounts whereas one account had a smooth opening and saving of the proposal while others were exhibiting long loading times, errors and shutdowns.

One of the most severe glitches observed was the replacement of the Abstract of the proposal by the Solution section which ended up appearing twice in the final proposal. This was an automatic replacement that happened in some accounts over the weekend after April 9th.

For all applicants who have applied early to the EIC Accelerator, it is worth looking back at their submitted application and double checking if their Abstract was affected. If it was, it is advisable to contact support@accelerator.eismea.eu as soon as possible to correct this error so that the evaluation will not suffer from this mistake.


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 likely be on March 23rd 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.

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:

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 likely be on March 23rd 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.

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 likely be on March 23rd 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.

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 likely be on March 23rd 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: