The EIC Accelerator funding (grant and equity, with blended financing option) by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC) has a clear focus on high-risk startups with high commercial potential. It is ideal for startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) since the funding per project can reach €17.5 million in total (€2.5 million in grant and €15 million in equity) and is ideal to finance scale-up activities.
The EIC Accelerator grant proposal template is very detailed and specific with multiple questions aiming to gauge the level of innovation and disruptiveness of the presented technology. Due to the complexity of these grant proposal templates, startups often rely on freelancers, professional writers or consultants to support the development of the documents.
This article provides a simple guide for prospective applicants regarding the development of Unique Selling Points (USP).
Developing Unique Selling Points (USP)
One of the EIC Accelerator proposal sections is dedicated to the USP’s of the company’s product or service which is an essential part of identifying the commercial impact of the technology.
Startups often struggle with such definitions since many EIC Accelerator applicants are in the early stages (i.e. Technology Readiness Level 5/6 – see TRL) with many companies being pre-revenue and pre-product-launch.
Starting With the Innovation
The USP’s are often at the intersection between the innovativeness of the company’s technology, the business model and the market’s current offerings.
Begin by listing 1-5 unique technological features that you view as the core innovation of your product or service. These are technical mechanisms of your hardware, software features or any other unique aspect of what your technology is capable of while current market alternatives fail to offer them.
It is recommended to try and focus only on the most innovative aspects of the technology and to keep them clear and to the point rather than trying to inflate them through using as many small features as possible.
The following questions will help to focus on the most innovative features since the less innovative components will likely fail to produce suitable answers. For each of the listed technological features, answer the questions below so that each feature is going through all questions in succession:
|Question||Innovation 1||Innovation 2||Innovation 3|
|Why does your technology have this feature but not others?|
|Is it hard to copy?|
|Is it patentable?|
|How do you quantify the benefit per unit? (i.e. 50% less time-spent or €50K lower costs per device)|
|What does this benefit mean for your customer? (i.e. €250K saved p.a. and 100 MWh of additional capacity)|
1. Why does your technology have this feature but not others?
Explain why you were able to achieve this technology milestone or develop this feature and why other companies or institutions have failed. This question is aiming to identify why it is new and why this product or service does not exist on the market.
If the answer is a technical innovation, a high level of complexity or any other undeniable head-start then this question will have a positive answer. If the answer is vague as in “no other company has tried this yet” or “other companies could create it but do not view it as valuable” then this is not a promising innovation.
2. Is it hard to copy?
This is a core question that any evaluator or jury member will be interested in. If we invest in you, will you be able to guard your Intellectual property (IP) and capitalize on it?
For this question, it is useful to identify under which conditions competitors could copy your solution and what their limitations are. How many years would it take? Are there IP barriers? How much financing would a competitor need to copy you?
3. Is it patentable?
For any DeepTech company with long development times, IP is a very important factor. Can this particular feature be IP protected, globally? If not, how can you assure that the IP remains in-house and does not leak out?
Software is often more difficult to patent than hardware in the European Union (EU) but it is important to have a clear IP protection strategy regardless since this is a core technology feature that the entire business model will stand on.
4. How do you quantify the benefit per unit? (i.e. 50% less time-spent or €50K lower costs per device)
Quantifications are the flavor of every EIC Accelerator application and any investor presentation. Without it, all a company is presenting is a story. Quantifying the business model, the technology benefit, the customer interest and the product-market fit are essential.
For this question, answer what exactly the benefits are over conventional alternatives for each feature. Compared to what exists on the market, how is your feature better? How can you quantify this benefit? Does this benefit also apply to direct competitors with similar technologies?
5. What does this benefit mean for your customer? (i.e. €250K saved p.a. and 100 MWh of additional capacity)
This is a key question that can often be neglected. Just because your feature can reduce the time spent on a certain production task or the costs of a device does not explain what this means for your customer. Maybe the time reduction is irrelevant since the time savings of 50% only add up to 5 seconds since the production step is simple. Maybe you save your customer 5 months with this feature.
Quantify the benefit by using a pilot customer or imaginary customer as an example. If they implement your product, they can reduce the production time by 50% which means that a 20-hour production process now only takes 10 hours. For that particular customer, €500K are saved annually if they produce 1,000 devices a year.
Not every benefit has to be financial but it is still advisable to create a financial assessment regardless. Emission savings can be expressed financially due to carbon taxes. Improved workflows can likewise be expressed financially since they will impact productivity.
This simple list allows you to identify the USP’s of a multi-faceted project and should yield a table where every feature has answered every question.
For less unique features, the questions will be difficult to answer and these should not be counted as unique selling points for the EIC Accelerator. It is also possible that a single feature (i.e. the automation of a certain task) can lead to multiple USP’s.
This article can act as a good starting point to clarify and brainstorm on the unique components of a product or service.
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:
January 11th 2023(only EIC Accelerator Open) March 22nd 2023
- June 7th 2023
- October 4th 2023
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:
- EIC Accelerator Interviews: Pitch Deck vs. Proposal Documents (SME Instrument)
- Choosing a Good Project for the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- The EIC Accelerator Budget: Grant vs. Blended Finance (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- EIC Accelerator – Introduction and Blended Finance (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- EIC-Accelerator Writing: Providing the Missing Link (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- The Biggest Mistakes When Applying to the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2)
- Identifying a Broad Vision for an EIC Accelerator Project (SME Instrument Phase 2)