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Lessons from the EIC Accelerators Pitch Video Shooting (SME Instrument)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) has recently introduced pitch videos into the evaluation process which presents a new challenge for professional grant writers, freelancers and consultancies (read: New Application Process). While there are no official guidelines or templates for the process of shooting a pitch video, this article looks at some brief lessons learned from preparing such videos with clients in a remote fashion.

Information on how to structure a pitch video (read: Video Selection), how to script the video (read: Video Scripting) and how to remotely organize the shooting (read: Video Shooting) can be found elsewhere.

1. The Video Script is Everything

One of the restrictions of the EIC Accelerator pitch video is the length which is limited to only 3 minutes. This can be a surprisingly difficult challenge if the footage recorded by the Step 1 applicant, a Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME) or startup, is very difficult to shorten without losing the storyline or making certain sections non-sensical.

Having a clear script that goes over all relevant sections of the project and is brief but succinct is important since it allows to cut out segments without impeding the overall story. Since it is advisable to always record more than the needed footage, cutting the length of content becomes an important task for the proposal writer.

If a great script has been prepared in advance, the video editor can always fall back on it and never needs to worry about the 3 minutes not telling a cohesive story. Not being able to include every single part of the project’s story is to be expected but the script should be holding up even if certain parts are omitted in the final cut (read: Story Lines).

2. Simple Tips for Pitch Recordings Go a Long Way

Applying SME’s and startups need sufficient guidance for the video recording. A video editor or videographer might take certain things for granted but these aspects could be entirely foreign to the management team of a technology company.

Every consultant or freelancer should present their clients not only with a pre-written script and instructions as to which members should partake in the shooting but also prepare guidelines for best practices. Information on ideal camera choice, settings (framerates, ISO, shutter speed, etc.), lighting and background setup can easily increase the video quality.

A limitation to this is the presentation of the CEO and the management team in general since preparing extra coaching for an exciting and enthusiastic video will likely be exceeding both the time and resources one should spend on the video. Still, giving some guidance as to how to transmit personality and excitement can be very helpful.

3. Small Editing Techniques are Key

Just cutting recorded footage together is one way of preparing the video but small additions such as stock footage, effects, titles and similar techniques can significantly increase the quality of the content.

Every applicant can assume that all the selected evaluators will watch the videos from start to finish at least once but this does not mean that boring videos will make the same impression as entertaining ones.

Having a professionally produced video is by no means a requirement but producing an entertaining video does not require professional production quality. Understanding what the listener wants to know as well as making sure that there is a start, a middle and an end while constantly keeping the viewer’s attention is key.

The thought after watching the video should be: “Wow, the project seems really interesting and the team seems great!“. A video that is bland and uninviting might make the first impression of the team less favourable since motivation, alongside competence, is an important criterion in the evaluation as well (read: Design Resources).

4. Adapting to the Client

Every client is different and has a different starting point when it comes to content creation. Some have extensive footage available and routinely do interviews or pitch their products in video format while others have been in stealth mode and have never recorded a single second of footage. This project diversity likewise extends to the video structuring and editing process since two projects can require different coverage durations for their unique segments.

The same is true for the technology itself since not all projects can be easily translated into video format. Showing how an Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm looks in an appealing manner is nearly impossible while demonstrating a hardware production process or data visualisation tool lends itself far more readily to the video format.

Time and geographic constraints are other determining factors since many teams are operating remotely and there might be a lack of time or accessibility to collect all the needed footage. A laboratory might be empty and in sleep mode until the regional COVID-19 lockdown is completed while team members could be busy with core business activities.

Summary

The following key lessons apply to the EIC Accelerator pitch video shooting for Step 1 of the evaluation process:

  • Scripting: Having a solid script prepared will make sure that the final video has a distinct storyline.
  • Guidance: Most applicants will need help with the pitch recording and this should be provided by the consultant or writer.
  • Editing: This will be valuable in order to give the footage a semi or fully professional look and grab the viewers attention.
  • Adapting: Every startup or SME has different footage available and different capabilities which means that guidelines must be adapted if needed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. General Changes

1.1 Open Calls vs. Strategic Challenges

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

1.2 Scoring & Ranking System

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

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

1.3 UK Participation

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

2. The Application Documents

2.1 Step 1: The Short Application

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

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

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

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

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

2.2 Step 2: The Full Application

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

2.3 Step 3: The Remote or In-Person Interview

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

3. The Application Process

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

3.1 AI Tool

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

3.2 Freezing Periods

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

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

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

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

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

4. The Evaluation Process

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

4.1 Step 1

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

4.2 Step 2

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

4.3 Step 3

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

5. Strategic Challenges (Topics)

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

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

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

5.1 The Green Deal Strategic Challenge (1)

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

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

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

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

5.2 The Digital Technology Strategic Challenge (2a)

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

5.3 The Healthcare Strategic Challenge (2b)

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

6. Ambitions to Control the Outcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Technical Changes

7.1 Coaching

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

7.2 Seal of Excellence (SOE)

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

7.3 Applicants

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

7.4 Equity

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

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

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

7.5 The Pitch Video

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

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

7.6 Timelines & Feedback

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

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

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

7.7 Reimbursement Advances

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

7.8 Budget

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

7.9 Inclusion of Small-Mid Caps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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

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

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

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

The Need for Freelancers

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

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

Why Freelancers are Working On-Demand

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

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

1. Freedom

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

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

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

2. Work Focus

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

3. Visibility

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

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

4. Dynamic Industry

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

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

How The Industry Could Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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

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

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

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

Or so it seems.

Insufficient Documentation & Transparency

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

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

Becoming Entrepreneur-Friendly

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

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

Making the Application Process More Difficult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

How to Select an EU Grant Financing Program such as the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument) – Part 3

This article is a continuation of Part 2 and describes a list of considerations to be made by startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) that seek to raise grant financing from the European Union (EU). One of these options is the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC) which is highly suitable for innovative companies and has a strong support network of professional writers and expert consultancies (contact a professional writer here).

8. Country Restrictions

Which countries can apply?

Country restrictions have to be considered whenever they could be applicable. As an example, there are funding programs by the EU where only a certain country can apply while others are open to non-EU countries (i.e. Tunesia, Israel, Ukraine) such as most Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe programs (read: Countries for the EIC Accelerator).

There can also be specific restrictions imposed due to special circumstances such as Brexit. Since the United Kingdoms (UK) participation in Horizon Europe was unclear throughout 2020 and 2019, UK applicants were only allowed to apply for grant financing under the EIC Accelerator but not blended financing since the EIC did not want to take equity stakes in foreign entities. Such potential issues have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

9. Submission Process

How is the submission process for the grant applicants?

The requirements for grant applications can vary greatly and have to be assessed based on their submission types, evaluation process and document requirements. Such variations have to be explored for each case but the general scopes for grant application can be summarised as follows:

Submission type: Online submissions (i.e. document uploads) are possible in many cases but the submission to local contact points or federal government institutes can be required as well. The EIC Accelerator uses the Funding &Tenders Portal for fully digitized submissions (read: Financing Timeline).

Evaluation process: The evaluation process will vary depending on the type of evaluators, their numbers, backgrounds and general focus. The EIC Accelerator uses a remote pool of evaluators via the European Agency for SME’s (EASME) and in-person juries for the pitch interviews (read: Interview).

Document types: The document types that are requested under a grant, as defined by the official proposal template, will vary but a normal PDF document like a business plan or a research plan are a must in almost all cases. The EIC Accelerator additionally requests financial spreadsheets, a short summary, a video pitch and a pitch deck (read: 2021 Application Proces).

10. Local Support Networks

What local support is available for companies?

Support on a national level is well organized in the EU due to an abundance of SME contact points in key European areas. These can provide a strong support network and can provide resources that help in future applications. Such help might not be available for all grant opportunities especially if the applicant does not classify as an SME which needs to be assessed beforehand.

11. Available Consultancies

Are there many consultancies specialising in the filed?

Lastly, it is useful to assess the number of consultancies or experienced writers that are available for a specific grant so that each prospect applicant is able to have a variety of options to choose from when hiring such supporters. It can also be beneficial to assess if the consultancies are working with multiple grants so that a more suitable option can be chosen instead of the original one in case of a rejection or if a more thorough assessment warrants such a transition.

For the EIC Accelerator, there are a variety of available consultancies to choose from with varying business models and industry focus (read: Preparing an Application). To reach out to a professional writer or consultant, please use the following contact form.

Summary

When choosing an EU financing program, the following aspects should be considered:

  1. Budget: How much is the total available budget and the financing per application?
  2. Covered Costs: Are all costs covered or only a percentage?
  3. Competitiveness: How high is the success rate?
  4. Thematic Focus: What specific conditions do projects need to fulfil (i.e. innovation, Technology Readiness Levels, industry)?
  5. Local Alternatives: Are there national funding projects available with easier accessibility?
  6. Number of Submissions: How often can an applicant submit an application?
  7. Single Applicant or Consortium: Is it a single-applicant program or exclusively for consortia?
  8. Country Restrictions: What restrictions are imposed on applicants when it comes to their country of origin?
  9. Submission Process: Is an online submission possible or a complex federal process?
  10. Local Support Networks: Are there support networks available or resources for applicants (i.e. templates, proposal examples, annotated guidelines)?
  11. Available Consultancies: Are expert consultancies and professional grant writers available for hire?

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

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

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

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

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

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:

How to Select an EU Grant Financing Program such as the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument) – Part 1

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) program is an interesting opportunity for startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) but it might not be suitable for all applicants (read: Introduction). There are a variety of considerations to be made in advance which can help companies to make an informed decision and assess if the EIC Accelerator is the correct funding project to choose or if alternatives such as FET Open, Pathfinder, the Green Deal Call or similar opportunities are more suitable.

The European Innovation Council (EIC) and the European Commission (EC) provide a variety of funding arms to support SME’s while the official Funding & Tenders Portal gives information and guidance on the details of such programs. A professional writer or consultant can support companies in investigating the suitability of a project for grant funding but startups can often initiate such an assessment themselves.

The following list presents a few select criteria to assess a suitable funding opportunity since a successful application can only be prepared once the right conditions are met.

1. Budget

What is the total budget available and how much can be requested per applicant?

Prior to selecting a grant opportunity, the exact amount of available financing and the expected budget per project should be assessed since seed-stage companies might not warrant large financing rounds while scale-ups could have long exceeded smaller grants. Total budgets and request-amounts are often published in Work Programs or directly on the call page on the Funding & Tenders portal. The EIC Accelerator provides a budget of approximately €100M to €300M per call with up to €17.5M per project in grant and equity financing (read: EIC Accelerator Budget).

2. Covered Costs

What percentage of the project’s costs are covered?

Often, grant financing covers a percentage of the total project costs whereas the grant contribution will have to be supplemented with external financings such as revenues, investments or other sources. The exact conditions can vary by the type of grant chosen but the EIC Accelerator finances 70% of the total costs (read: Grant vs. Equity).

3. Competitiveness

How many applicants will apply to a single call?

It can be difficult to assess how competitive a grant will be but the total budget amount and the number of submission in previous calls are a good indicator. Such information is usually published on the call page or on social outlets like Twitter (read: Finding News). For one-off calls, it can be difficult to gauge the number of applications submitted per deadline but consultants and other funding experts are usually able to provide guidance in such cases based on similar or previous calls.

For the EIC Accelerator, the budget and competitiveness has varied greatly over the past years and especially in 2020 but the success rate has historically been between 1% and 6% in most cases with 1,000 to 4,000 applications per call (read: EIC Impact Report).

This article continues in Part 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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:

How to Prepare for an EIC Accelerator Pitch Interview (SME Instrument Phase 2) – Part 1

The pitch interviews for the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) have been introduced quite recently but they are expected to remain a pillar of the evaluation process moving forward (read: Pitch vs. Proposal). With the jury consisting of mostly Venture Capitalists (VC) and angel investors, the focus of the interview is very commercialisation-oriented meaning that each applicant must understand their go-to-market strategy in and out (read: Why Companies Fail).

The European Commission (EC) and European Innovation Council (EIC) do not give clear guidance on pitch preparation in their documentation or the official template which makes smart in-house practise a must. The following presents a shortlist of the steps to take before the interview and how a successful EIC Accelerator pitch interview could be facilitated. It is important to assess each pitch individually and that things that are omitted on this list might be relevant in specified cases (i.e. bringing a hardware prototype, preparing a video, etc.).

When working with a professional writer or consultant, it is ideal to use the opportunity to extensively practise the pitch with them in the days and weeks leading up to the interview. In the end, “Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training” (Archilochus, 680-645 BC). Since you already know the specific restrictions of the interview, you can now use this knowledge to perfectly prepare your impact ahead of time and make use of all the resources at your disposal.

1. Restrictions

  • Limited time: 10 min pitch & 30 min of questioning
  • Limited attention: Jury has to go through multiple interviews per day
  • Limited knowledge: The Jury does not need to know the project or proposal
  • Limited responsibility: The Jury will not invest their own money but only need to help the EU reject excess projects

2. How to Prepare for the Pitch

2.1 Learn from Past Pitches

One of the easiest ways of gaining insight into past pitch sessions is to look through the list of recently funded beneficiaries and contact the companies to inquire about their experience (read: EIC Accelerator Results). This can be very useful since the prospective pitch participant can pre-select companies based on their region or industry to gain very customized information and increase their own success chances. Many companies will happily provide a list of questions and tips to help their fellow startups or Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) out.

Another great method is to contact professional writers or consultancies specialised on the EIC Accelerator or VC-like pitch events. If a writer has not been hired prior, it can still be useful to have a few practise calls with consultants in order to assure that all the speakers have all the support they need. Common questions, reasons for rejections or issues can be prepared for so that the applicant is not caught off-guard during the pitch (read: Reasons for Rejections).

2.2 Practise

It seems very obvious to advise companies to practise their pitch thoroughly but it is still skipped too often. The reason for that is that practising the pitch itself is just one part of the preparations and it can fall to the sidelines if too many other things are prioritized. Reading the pitch, researching topics, creating handouts, discussing the pitch and all related activities are not actual pitch practise – they should only be supplementary.

Practising the pitch means to simulate a real-life scenario (i.e. having a live audience or a remote-call audience), to have a stopwatch ready and to present the pitch from start to finish including the 30 min of questioning from critical but unaffiliated listeners. Practising means to actually go through the pitch and gain feedback on the speaker’s performance.

2.3 Open Pitch Sessions

Over a 2 week period, a company’s management team can meet every second or third day and have one full practice call whereas they can use the remaining days to prepare supporting documents, research relevant topics and improve their scripts. This will also allow them to exchange the audience for every call and gain fresh and difficult questions for each run which will present a perfect preparation for a real-life scenario.

If a company is affiliated with VC’s, accelerators, startup networks or industry mentors then there will likely be seasoned experts available who would be interested in supporting a promising startup – this could even lead to new investment opportunities in the future. The same goes for companies that already have a substantial audience on social media sites such as Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook whereas the pitch, if not under confidentiality, can be presented to a live audience with an open questioning in the end.

This article continues in Part 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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:

What to Expect in an EIC Accelerator Interview (SME Instrument Phase 2)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC) is a great way for non-bankable and disruptive startups to obtain government funding but the 3-stage application process is highly competitive. With the final stage of the evaluation being the in-person interview in front of a jury, many Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) are looking for resources to support their preparation (read: Practising the Pitch).

In the first part, the following article explores the types of questions a presenting team might have to face while the second and third parts provide a brief discussion of why companies generally fail and what insufficiencies could be responsible. Since such information is not part of the official proposal template and many companies do apply without the help of professional consultants, this article can act as a shortlist of points to consider.

1. Area’s of Questioning

Past data from 2018 to 2020 has given insight into the type of questioning EIC Accelerator applicants are presented with during the pitch interview. Just like a VC-type pitch scenario, the commercial aspects and go-to-market strategies of the projects are key and remain the core focus of the entire session. The main areas of questioning are (read: Pitch vs. Proposal):

1.1 Commercialisation Strategy

The commercial strategy will take center stage since an innovation is worthless without a way of reaching customers and generating revenues. It is important that this strategy is water-proof and that it is validated through strong partners, relevant metrics and through other means of providing proof such as distribution, retail or service level agreements.

The general message should be that the market can be reached rapidly and efficiently whereas competitive threats and barriers are taken into account and mitigated sufficiently. The presenting team should have a clear vision of the customer journey, time-to-contract, distribution networks, Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and short-term as well as mid-term market drivers.

1.2 Team and Company

In the end, every Venture Capitalist (VC) knows that a commercial plan or technology roadmap is only as good as the team behind it. A pitch should cover the experience and expertise of the founding team members and the management team who carry the most responsibility inside the company.

Address the questions as to why you are uniquely positioned to meet the market need and to perform the technological developments. Highlight the other team members, their background and their track record to further solidify your authority.

1.3 Technological Feasibility

There is a reason as to why the customer pain point has not been met by competitors and an applicant needs to have a clear explanation of the difficulty and feasibility of the proposed project. If it sounds too easy then it will be difficult to warrant a high-risk assessment but if it seems impossible or much more expensive then the requested grant or equity financing then it will appear too difficult.

Be prepared to justify both perspectives in a balanced way and provide a realistic and actionable roadmap to exploit the business opportunity.

1.4 Projected Results

The commercial impact of the successful project completion will be the biggest selling point for VC’s and undergo intensive scrutiny. The two major aspects of the impact will be in the areas of financials (i.e. expected revenues, customers, assets) and the transformative impact in the EU (i.e. societal, energy, health benefits).

Do not only have a post-project analysis at your disposal but also identify the KPI’s that are relevant now and during the project duration (i.e. the revenues next year, etc.). In the same way, be prepared for questions that look 10+ years into the future in respect to exits, valuation, branding and related metrics.

1.5 Market-Creating Potential

Due to the strong competitiveness of the EIC Accelerator, the market-creating, disrupting and transforming potential will be an important assessment criterion in the pitch interview. It should be highlighted why and how this is achieved, the opportunities of this approach as well as the threats and how these are mitigated.

2. Post-Pitch Discussion

After the pitch interview is completed and the applicant has left, the jury will have to discuss the funding candidates and determine which ones will be offered a Grant Agreement Contract (GAC) and which ones will be rejected. The discussions will focus on the 3 key criteria by the European Commission (EC), namely Implementation, Impact and Excellence:

2.1 Implementation

The Team

  • Does the team have the capability and motivation to implement the innovation proposal and bring it to the market?

Leveraging of Investments

  • Is the company faced with the impossibility to leverage sufficient investments from the market due to the level of financial risks or existing market failure?
  • In addition, particularly for blended finance request, is the company deemed non-bankable by the market in view of the activities to be developed?

2.2 Impact

Commercial Strategy

  • Are the business model and commercialization strategy well thought through?
  • How sound are financial planning and projections?

Scale-up Potential & Financial Needs

  • Does the innovation have the potential to scale up the applicant company?
  • Have the financial needs to ensure the company’s success been adequately quantified?

2.3 Excellence

Innovation Feasibility

  • Does the innovation, through its degree of novelty or disruptiveness, have the potential to create a new market or significant impact in existing ones?
  • Is the timing right for this innovation (i.e. feasibility, market readiness)?

3. Why Companies Fail

The previous lists clearly indicate what type of scrutiny companies will have to face during the pitch interview and what types of questions they should expect. Follow-up questions to these core areas can still be unforeseen in many cases since each project is unique and can present individual challenges for both the presenters and jurors.

Still, difficult follow-up questions should be expected in the areas of technical issues, project implementation, market access, company growth, financial structure, investments, commitment and team motivation.

If a company fails then past data suggest that the following areas have not been addressed or only covered insufficiently (in order of significance):

  • Impact
    • Commercial strategy
    • Business model
  • Excellence
    • Market-creating potential
    • Financial planning & projections
  • Implementation
    • Team capability
    • Team motivation
    • Right timing

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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

Why it is So Difficult to Assess an EIC Accelerator Project (SME Instrument Phase 2)

Assessing a company for an EIC Accelerator blended financing application (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) can be a challenge since it requires a comprehensive investigation of multiple variables (read: Assessing a Project). Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) would often like to receive such an assessment in a short amount of time but, even if the project generally fits the eligibility criteria, there are still considerations to be made by a professional writer or consultant that can reveal barriers to a successful EIC Accelerator application (read: Hiring a Consultant).

The following presents a shortlist of such barriers that, while being hard to assess and generally requiring days or weeks of pre-screening, are informative for prospective applicants who seek to prepare a successful application to the EIC Accelerator grant (read: Visual Representation):

Learning While Writing

It is often a reality for hired writers that the full scope of the project, its intricacies and the comprehensive understanding of its implications are only realised during the process of grant proposal writing following the official template. The extensive amount of work needed to prepare an application dwarfs any pre-assessments which makes it important to cover as many aspects of a project as possible before beginning the writing process.

Still, it cannot be avoided that new aspects are discovered throughout the weeks of writing and it is impossible to cover all bases beforehand since covering these bases would have a workload equal to the writing itself. Minimizing uncertainty is clearly possible (read: Assessing a Project) but it can never be fully eliminated.

Optimistic Founders

Founders, and especially CEO’s, are meant to be charismatic and optimistic when it comes to their business but, like most things in life, this can be a double-edged sword. Companies swill often highlight how “no one else is doing this”, its a “€500M opportunity” or “we have no real competitors” but such statements will always have to be taken with a grain of salt.

The patent that has been highlighted might actually just be pending or be in preparation. The market opportunity might be the industry size but not the actual revenue potential. The company might only employ one person while the remaining team members have other full-time jobs. The strong development partners that have been highlighted turn out to own all of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) which renders the company itself not innovative.

The assessment of a project strongly relies on the accuracy of the prospective applicant’s statements and a professional consultant is often unable to fully validate each given statement individually prior to beginning the writing process.

Different Perspectives

In the end, no one knows who will evaluate an EIC Accelerator application and the person in charge of doing so might not be an expert in the industry, might not understand what a good business model looks like, might not understand balance sheets or simply have no interest in a certain topic. These are uncertainties that are impossible to assess before submitting an application and it is important to understand that they will be a factor.

These risks can be mitigated through having a diverse team of VC’s, evaluators from the European Agency for SME’s (EASME), industry representatives and technical experts that are involved in the project’s assessment prior to starting the writing process.

Absent EU Targets and Policies

Not everything that is intuitively deemed good and worthy of EU financing is actually so since not all societal and economic goals of the EU are backed with an equal policy-force. The targets, directives and policies in the EU are a strong determiner of how interesting a project will be and it will require a lot of research to assess the impact of a new EIC Accelerator application which is not always possible ahead of beginning the writing process.

It would seem obvious that animal care, especially when it comes to livestock and food security, is an important topic for the EU but it turns out that policies and targets in this area are scarce. The same goes for elderly care whereas one would suspect that the growing age of the population and the increased need for high-quality care facilities is supported by strong policies but this is not the case.

A professional writer can often not perform a full analysis of a topic prior to writing an EIC Accelerator application which makes the absence of EU policies and targets a risk that can make a future application more difficult.

Involvement of the Management Team

Collaboration and feedback from the management is often a challenge due to a high workload and a generally low priority for grant preparations over the day-to-day business development. The communication between a consultant and a potential client prior to signing an agreement is usually not a good indicator of the client’s involvement afterwards which can make a collaboration a challenge.

If a management team does not give adequate feedback to help flesh out the application, it can easily become too shallow and lack the quantifiers, explanations or references needed to be a well-rounded proposal.

Different Skill Sets

A strong uncertainty for EIC Accelerator applications is the diverse skillset needed which comes in the form of written content, the in-person pitch and video production (read: Producing a Pitch Video). It is almost impossible to investigate all of these aspects thoroughly without week-long assessments and it will likely remain a strong uncertainty how the applicant will perform when it comes to pitching and creating a video.

The risks can be mitigated through requesting sample videos and pitch sessions but, under both time pressure and jury scrutiny, the performance of a company can vary greatly.

Summary

In summary, the following aspects make the assessment of EIC Accelerator projects difficult:

  • Learning While Writing: Many aspects of the project are only discovered after starting the writing process
  • Optimistic Founders: Founders have a tendency to be over-optimistic
  • Different Perspectives: Evaluators vary greatly in their skill sets which adds a layer of luck to each application
  • Absent EU Targets and Policies: A great EU impact might not be reflected by policies and directives in that area
  • Involvement of the Management Team: The management team might significantly reduce their involvement
  • Different Skill Sets: The applicant might not be able to perform sufficiently when it comes to pitching or video production

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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:

How the EIC Can Incentivise Shorter and Clearer Applications for the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2) – Part 1

Information for readers: The following is a description of a proposed evaluation process but it does not, in any way, reflect the current way EIC Accelerator applications are evaluated. For this, please read this article.

The European Commission (EC) and the European Innovation Council (EIC) have always aimed at optimizing and adapting the EIC Accelerator (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) proposal template and application process to further reduce the workload on both applicants and evaluators. Still, due to its comprehensive requirements, startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) have always had difficulties in writing an application in-house and have tended to seek professional help by hiring a writer or consultant who can facilitate this process (read: Hire a Professional Consultant).

Restricting Access to Funding Through Complexity

While great improvements have been made in this regard through the European Agency for SME’s (EASME) which rapidly performs remote evaluations and the introduction of in-person pitch interviews in Brussels or remote video-calls, an EIC Accelerator proposal has always been hard to evaluate and even harder to prepare. Applications have a very high information density and force the management team of the company to either spend many weeks and months on perfecting an application or seek external help.

As a result, companies that do not have the time or resources for such an effort were unable to apply in the past. To combat this significant investment-obstacle and lower the barrier to entry for future grant beneficiaries, the EIC has tried to develop new strategies for improvements but such measures have so far only increased the burden on both SME’s and evaluators (i.e. additional pitch interviews, financial documents, pitch deck, etc.).

Even the new progressive changes introduced for the EIC Accelerator in 2021 are adding a third evaluation step to the process which significantly increases the applicant’s skill-set-requirements (i.e. writing, speaking and video production) and workload not only for the proposal preparation but also for the planning of this complex procedure (read: 2021 Application Process). From the perspective of the European Union (EU), it is in a double bind since a more complex process will always present a barrier for great companies that want to focus on product developments rather than content production while an oversimplified process will increase the risk of miss-funding unsuitable projects.

Attempting to optimize such a high-stakes process is difficult since, for example, a 30-page proposal will always exhibit a high information density because the grant financing is just too competitive too not utilize the maximum space available. If the rules state that a 30-page application can be prepared, then this maximum will always be the norm and if restrictions are not enforced (i.e. font-size, margins, using the annexes for content) then it will always be difficult for innovative start-ups and SME’s to compete with professional grant writers.

The Evaluation Process

So far, the EIC is adding more and more layers to the application process (i.e. interviews in 2018 and a pre-application in 2021) but this will make it harder for applicants and not easier. The more layers there are to pass through, the less confidence startups will have in their success and the more discouraged they will be to apply in the first place. The fewer steps an applicant is presented with, the more beneficial it will be for them but it will also present a challenge to the evaluations since it is difficult to fully assess a project with less information.

A Linear vs. Convergent Process (Knock-Out Elimination)

In 2020, each written application was evaluated in isolation until the final pitch interview where approximately 25% to 50% of applicants were selected from a pool of presenters by a jury. This process can be viewed as a linear proposal evaluation for step 1 (i.e. written applications are graded individually, then ranked) and as convergent for the step 2 pitch (i.e. the best will win in comparison). The convergent part was only introduced recently but it displays an interesting approach for what the EIC Accelerator could look like in the future whereas it can be feasible to compare projects quickly rather than aiming to evaluate them individually.

The EIC Accelerator could create an evaluation process with elimination rounds where a certain budget is agreed upon for specific categories (i.e. energy, health, space, etc.) and the applicants can then apply to such specific calls whereas their proposals are randomly matched with other applicants to identify superior projects. Just like the current method, evaluating applications in such a way has its limitations and potential problems (i.e. unfair matching, bad luck) but it would be much faster for the evaluators and could also reduce the time invested in proposal writing.

Most prominently, a convergent approach fixes one of the core issues for the evaluation process:

Instead of identifying which project is ‘worthy’ of funding (i.e. too many applicants are), the EIC can directly identify the companies that are ‘more worthy’ without wasting the time of the applicants.

Currently, the EIC is spending a lot of time and resources on assessing the worth of each individual company but, in the end, the relative worth is all that matters (i.e. as seen in the pitch interviews). A convergent process with knock-out elimination-rounds is an evaluation that keeps the end in mind and reduces needless assessments which are not providing any feedback to rejected companies anyways.

A single knock-out round would reduce the number of applicants by 50% (i.e. 6,000 to 3,000) while a second round would reduce it towards 25% (i.e. 6,000 to 1,500). Variations can also reduce these numbers faster when 3 projects are compared in one round, yielding 33% (i.e. towards 2,000) and 11% reductions (i.e. towards 667), respectively.

This article continues in Part 2 (see also: Part 3 & Part 4).

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

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

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

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

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

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: