The EIC Accelerator funding (grant and equity, with blended financing option) by the European Commission (EC) and European Innovation Council (EIC) provides startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) with detailed feedback for every stage of the evaluation process (see What is the EIC Accelerator).
This feedback system is relatively new among funding programs since it enables applicants to understand why their project was positively assessed or what it was lacking.
Since the EIC Accelerator awards up to €2.5 million in grant and €15 million in equity financing per project (€17.5 million total), it is important for applicants to gain a deeper understanding of what the evaluations and the obtained scores mean to increase their chances of success.
Applicants are often less experienced in grant processes and, since the EIC Accelerator is unique in its structure, it is often useful to utilize professional writers, freelancers or consultants who have a greater depth of knowledge regarding the program (see Contact).
Evaluation Summary Report (ESR)
The ESR of the EIC Accelerator’s Step 2 generally provides applicants with detailed feedback on the evaluation in the form of 9 GO or NO GO ratings that account for 3 evaluators who address 3 distinct criteria, namely:
- Breakthrough and market-creating nature
- Technological feasibility
- Intellectual Property
- Impact (or: Scale-up potential)
- Scale up potential
- Broader impact
- Market fit and competitor analysis
- Commercialization strategy
- Key partners
- Level of risk, implementation, and need for Union support
- Risk level of the investment
- Risk mitigation
Each of these criteria will display comments from the evaluators which are directly addressing the positive aspects or shortcomings of the EIC Accelerator proposal and therefore form the basis of the resubmission (see EIC Accelerator Evaluation Criteria).
The Effort of Resubmissions
In general, the higher the score of an EIC Accelerator Step 2 application is, the less effort an applicant has to put into the resubmission process whereas an 8/9 score will only require minimal improvements while a 1/9 score will require substantial changes (see EIC Accelerator Resubmissions).
Since each resubmission allows the applicants to provide an answer to the previous evaluation as well as a list of changes included in the resubmitted proposal, it is likely that the new evaluators will not carefully reread the entire application but focus mainly on the rebuttal and the sections that are new or changed.
As a result, the writer has a great deal of influence over the perception of the project through the responses and directions given to the new evaluators. Since the evaluators are not the same individuals who issued the initial rejection, there is likewise the benefit of not having to face evaluators who have already made up their minds or formed critical views of the project.
Very often, a previous criticism that has been unfair or incorrect can be easily addressed through a simple response and the fact that the new evaluators have no attachment to the old evaluation.
The Focus of Resubmissions
While each individual EIC Accelerator application is different, it is possible to draw general conclusions regarding the ESR. The Step 2 business plan is exceptionally long but it can be broken down into critical and less important sections to simplify the improvement process.
In many cases, it is possible to estimate the proposal quality and sophistication of sections based on the individual scoring for each of the three major ESR criteria.
This article will generalize proposals from different industries and of different quality levels so it should be noted that the recommendations will not be true for every application. It will also focus on the larger sections rather than listing every possible eventuality suggested by a negative ESR assessment.
The excellence section focuses on the criteria of (1) Breakthrough and market-creating nature, (2) Timing, (3) Technological feasibility and (4) Intellectual Property.
Very often, a lacking excellence section reflects (i) the description of the technology, (ii) the need for the technology and (iii) how the technology is compared to existing solutions.
There are a variety of overlaps between all criteria since the market is mentioned in Excellence while it is also part of the Impact section and even the Risks through the mentioning of market risks. This, of course, makes it difficult to identify the source of the criticism but it can be helpful to imagine the highest level of the main criteria:
Is this an excellent technology?
If NO GO gradings were obtained then the evaluators had their doubts. Often, these stem from:
1.1 Features and Use Cases
This section is the purest technology section of the EIC Accelerator grant proposal since all other sections are heavily focused on the value chain, competition or development roadmaps.
While the features and use cases are likewise touching on these aspects, they are most suitable to explain why this technology is sophisticated and difficult. The EIC Accelerator is aiming to fund DeepTech projects that have a long time-to-market and require extensive capital investments before significant revenues can be generated.
While this mission is not entirely matching reality for Step 3 (see Breaking the Rules), it is still a focus of the evaluation process at least in Step 1 and Step 2. This means that the evaluators must see why the project fits this mission.
The features and use cases should be used to explain the technology from scratch and not be limited to the way it is used by customers.
For example, smartphone use cases would focus on the way users interact with the device but would not describe the Operating System (OS) development, data usage, app ecosystem, hardware specifications and other parts.
It is possible to prepare an EIC Accelerator application that perfectly answers all of the questions given in the lengthy proposal template but never really explains what the backend looks like and what is unique about the technology.
This is what the features and use cases can be perfect for.
1.2 Value Chain
The value chain is another example of a section where the excellence of a technology can be highlighted since it heavily focuses on the innovation of the product, the customer pain points and the unique value presented to the customers. While it is less suitable to elaborate on the technology back-end, it is highly suitable for the contextualization of the innovation.
This section will define why the innovation is unique, why it is delivering value to the customers and how it fits into the current economic, environmental and social environment.
If the excellence criteria was insufficient, it could likely be caused by an insufficient presentation in these sections.
The competitor section is very comprehensive in the EIC Accelerator Step 2 proposal since it is distributed into two large sections as well as a variety of other sections that are directly connected to it.
The excellence of a technology and project is often assessed in contrast to existing technologies since it will directly impact its novelty. The iPhone 1 was groundbreaking in 2007 but it is barely usable as an alarm clock today.
If the competitor section is not sufficiently contrasting the excellence of the product and services then it can be responsible for a low grading in this aspect.
2. Impact (Scale-up Potential)
The impact section focuses on the criteria of (1) Scale-up potential, (2) Broader impact, (3) Market fit and competitor analysis, (4) Commercialisation strategy and (5) Key partners.
In short, it answers the following question:
How will this product change the market and lives of customers?
There are a variety of sections that are touched on by this criteria but the following key aspects are often lacking if a low score is obtained. Since it is impossible to generalize such vague criteria, the following list will not be true for all projects.
The greatest argument for why a product is needed by the market is a long list of customers, either prospective or paying, that have only good things to say about the technology. Commercial traction is proof that there is, in fact, a product-market fit and that the customers find the new product superior.
If a company has obtained a low impact score then customer traction is an important section to investigate since it might have been lacking. This includes Letters of Intent (LOI), existing customers, case studies, early revenues and general customer feedback or validations.
Since the remote EIC Evaluators are not psychics, the market dynamics and current state have to be explained in detail to reflect why the project will have a strong impact. If the market analysis is poor or lacks quantifications as well as insights that support a large-scale customer deployment then this can cause a low score.
2.3 Technology Adoption Lifecycle (TALC)
While there are many other sections that will influence the impact criteria such as the scale-up potential or the partners, the TALC will greatly influence the perceived sophistication and strategy of the scale-up.
While commercial strategies do not receive substantial scrutiny in Step 2 due to the technology-heavy backgrounds of the EIC Accelerator’s remote evaluators, it is still important to clearly explain how the product will be commercialized.
3. Level of risk, implementation, and need for Union support
This section focuses on the criteria of (1) Team, (2) Milestones, (3) Risk level of the investment and (4) Risk mitigation.
There are clear objectives for the EIC Accelerator regarding the risk and need for support by the EIC since the program is aiming to fund projects that are otherwise not able to raise investments (see To Disrupt or Not To Disrupt).
In reality, the projects funded under the EIC are not all fulfilling this criterion since only funding high-risk projects is, well, too risky even for the EIC (see Breaking the Rules).
Still, great care should be placed into the sections relating to the need for EIC support since the evaluators will read them carefully and assess if the EIC is the only viable option to fund this project.
Other important sections that are commonly insufficient if a low score is obtained for this segment:
Many of the questions under this evaluation criterion are targeting the implementation of the project and aim to assess if the competencies of the team fit the ambitious goals and work plan. It is therefore essential to have clear and detailed workpackage descriptions.
Since the EIC Accelerator Step 2 proposal has gained in complexity over the years, it seems excessive to introduce many workpackages, tasks, costs, intermediary deliverables, final deliverables, mandatory milestones, custom milestones and even thoughtful descriptions for each but it will increase the chances of a good evaluation.
The EIC Accelerator is designed for high-risk and high-reward projects (see EIC Accelerator Risks). Still, this section is unique since it should not be too comprehensive and not be too lacking. It should be well balanced so that the project appears risky but very well mitigated.
There should always be extensive risk mitigation strategies for each risk and it is not advisable to include as many risks as possible.
If the criticism in the ESR notes that the project is “not risky enough” then this generally means that the financial, commercial and technological risks were not well presented.
If it is claimed that the project is “too risky” then either the mitigation strategies were lacking or the applicant was oversharing everything that could possibly go wrong and edged on pessimism.
Of course, the team section is a highly important part of the evaluation since it is presenting the members that will implement the action. It is always critical to present a large team with all required competencies as well as to identify how missing competencies will be filled through hiring.
Since the EIC Accelerator application requires each team member to be added individually through an interactive form field, it might seem tedious to add dozens of team members but it is still recommended to present them in full except for larger companies.
The tips presented in this article are simple suggestions as to how certain sections can impact the scores of the EIC Accelerator grant proposal but they will not be true for every project. A successful EIC Accelerator application will depend on a variety of factors that are often unique to a particular project.
Standardizing the structure of an EIC Accelerator proposal is possible to some degree but it is often the customization and creative writing that will present a grant proposal in the best possible light.
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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) under Horizon Europe are:
- Step 1 (short proposal)
- open now
- Step 2 (business plan)
- 1st cut-off: -
- 2nd cut-off: -
- 3rd cut-off: -
- 4th cut-off: October 19th 2023 (extended)
- Step 3 (interview)
- 1st cut-off: -
- 2nd cut-off: -
- 3rd cut-off: October 2nd to 6th (extended)
- 4th cut-off: November 27th to December 8th
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: