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EIC Accelerator Interview Preparation Process: Interviewee Considerations (Part 4)

In this fourth part of the EIC Accelerator interview guideline, the focus is shifted to specific training tools targeted at improving how questions are answered. Startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) can use these tools to better prepare for their own pitch event, investor conversations and, of course, interviews by the European Innovation Council (EIC) or European Commission (EC).

Introduction

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) is a highly selective funding program and, even though the chances of receiving funding in Step 3 can be as high as 50%, it should not be left to luck if one will be successful or not since up to €17.5M are at stake.

Note: If the previous steps are included, the overall success rate is 5% or below.

The ideal scenario is to have a consultant, professional writer or pitch coach take the lead in the preparation process since identifying weak spots and fixing them with improved answers or arguments can be difficult for a company.

The following training tools are presenting a way of preparing for interviews but they are by no means the only way and not using them will not lead to a guaranteed rejection. Examples for each segment of the training tools and recommendations on how to practise them will be given in a future article. This article will only provide a general description of such training tools.

What To Practise (Improving Answers)

No Flaws

One important rule for the EIC Accelerator Questions and Answers (Q&A) session is to not display critical flaws. This has been elaborated in earlier parts of the guide and it is relating to every time the interviewees are caught off-guard, have no answer or are unable to refute a negative point (i.e. you are not innovative).

While the jury will be perfectly polite and respectful, there might be one or two jury members that have already decided that the project is insufficient and are finding fault in everything they hear. As a result, they might swing the opinion of the other jury members which will, inevitably, lead to a rejection.

Address the Concern

This is one of the greatest tools for an EIC Accelerator pitch interview. It is too easy to neglect the concern behind a question and just answer it on a surface level which can lead to a dissatisfied questioner or, in the worst case, unwanted follow-up questions. The idea of this tool is to ask yourself: “What concern does the jury member have to ask this question?” And to then address that as opposed to the question being asked. One could say that you are exchanging the posed question with what you deem to be the real question.

Pitfall Answers

Answers can be worse than questions because, instead of addressing the original concern, they can create many additional concerns.

Why? Because an answer can unwillingly reveal ignorance, weaknesses or present an attack vector for critical jury members. It is impossible to prepare for every single question since, while some will be foreseeable, the majority will be unpredictable. This is especially true for follow-up questions since, while the starting question can be obvious, the two or three follow-ups afterwards can be entirely unpredictable since they can have little to no relationship with the original question.

This can be viewed as a chaotic system where prediction is possible in the early stages but becomes increasingly difficult and eventually impossible the further the system progresses. An example of this is the Double Pendulum which can be predicted in its earliest swings but rapidly becomes too chaotic to make any accurate predictions.

To avoid pitfall answers, the strategy should be to (1) control the topics of the conversation as much as possible and (2) avoid giving any answers that can render the jury members less confident in the team or project.

Zoom Out

While someone like Elizabeth Holmes (former CEO of the disgraced blood-testing BioTech company Theranos) is a poor role model for entrepreneurs due to her history of deception and ongoing fraud trial, she was able to demonstrate that you can raise $1.4B in financing without providing any real answers, technology or even allowing due diligence.

Being the technical lead of a BioTech company as a college drop-out was clearly a warning sign but she would have likely excelled in marketing or investor-relations positions since she accomplished what most companies cannot. There are many excellent companies that are applying for €2M under the EIC and are rejected while Holmes raised 700-times that amount without as much as a proof of concept.

Even though the source of this insight literally has blood on its hands, there are lessons to be learned. The way she emotionally directed conversations exceeds the scope of this guide (i.e. slowed speech, staring to trigger a change of topic, very long answers without specifics) but the simple tactic she often used was this: Zooming out.

When asked a specific question on how the technology worked, she would elaborate on her vision. When asked about her customers, she would expand on what she wants to bring to the world. She would always zoom out and take a birds-eye or distant view.

While this approach should not be used by any entrepreneur as a default response (i.e. Pfizer and other consultancies caught her very early on during their due diligence), there is one part that builds trust with investors that many DeepTech companies lack. It is the confidence and the great vision.

This should be used sparingly but it can be essential if the jury feels like the team lacks the ambition to implement a project or see it through until the end. It can also be a great last resort in case the interviewee is stuck and has to answer a difficult question on something not entirely relevant to the project or catches the team off-guard.

Controlling the Follow-Up

A simple but effective habit in answering questions is to carefully consider what a follow-up question could be. If someone responds to my question on the financials and mentions low-profit margins then I will follow up on it. If someone, instead of the profit margins, mentions the year-by-year growth potential of the company then I would be inclined to follow up on that.

The point of controlling the follow-up question is to only mention things that you want to be asked about. The question will, by design, ask for information on a certain topic but the interviewee can decide which angle to take. This especially goes for the ending of the sentence. If one says “We do A and B but we currently mostly focus on C because C is very important” then it is more likely to get a follow-up question on C rather than A and B.

Being Self-Centered

Every company should have a balanced view of their competitors, industry trends or market threats but it can be a significant flaw to overly focus on them. Especially when it comes to startup’s in highly technical fields, there is often a sense of respect for other companies who are innovating in similar areas or for new technology trends that are unrelated to the applicant’s business.

No matter what the reason would be, if a company only has 35 minutes to convince an EIC jury to make a funding decision then the interviewees should refrain from overly focusing on other things. In fact, if a CEO were to praise their competitors and mention that they are “developing amazing technologies” and starts to describe them then this will likely be a poor use of the available time.

Every question has an underlying concern and it will never be “Is your competitor good at what they do?” but more likely be “Can you overcome competitive threats?”. While both questions have their topic in common, they will have very different answers. Whatever the question might be, the interviewee should lead it back to why the project is great.

Are you asked about the market? End with why you are perfectly positioned to enter or create it. Asked about competitors? Mention who they are and then elaborate on why you are better. Asked about your co-investors for the EIC Fund? Mention who they are and then highlight how further de-risking through the EIC is needed before they will invest.

Always bring the conversation back to what is beneficial to you.

The Confused Question

Every once in a while, a jury member will not be an expert on a certain technology but still ask a highly technical question. If this happens, there is a possibility that they have already misunderstood certain aspects of said technology but ask a follow-up question regardless. The interviewee has to always ask themselves: “Does their question reveal their ignorance on a certain subject?” If the answer is yes, then one must take a step back and first explain the concept again but in the simplest terms possible.

This part is critical since highly technical founders with not only a high level of expertise in a scientific field but also exclusive knowledge regarding the innovation will often be too far ahead to understand the viewpoint of someone entirely new to the field. Just answering the question and highlighting the benefits of the technology might not be enough which is why a simplified explanation is in order.

Practise “Dumb” Questions

The EIC jury members are intelligent and highly competent professionals with a great deal of experience. Still, one should prepare for questions that a startup might not view as relevant or simply disregards as unimportant. This can be a question on the safety of using AI if the application is simplistic or the gender balance among the engineering team. There can be many questions that can catch the interviewees off-guard so it is beneficial to practise them.

Prepare Standard Answers

There are many questions that will certainly be asked (i.e. business model, traction, non-bankability, risk, …). While it is not possible to know all questions in advance, one should script out the answers to questions that have a high likelihood of being posed. The same is true for all questions that have been revealed as critical during the practice sessions.

Demeanour of the Answering Person

Depending on the personality of the interviewees, there can be issues that should be addressed in advance. These can be dismissive body language, disengagement from the conversation (i.e. turning away, sighing) or a generally combative nature when faced with criticism.

While the pitch preparation will not be comprehensive enough to change such long-standing habits, it is beneficial to avoid negative body language during the interview.

Short Answers to Pre-Empt Interruptions

A general rule for the EIC Accelerator Q&A is:

There will be more questions than answers.

Often, answers are too elaborate or aim to explain too many things before getting to the point. This will prompt the questioners to keep interrupting and ask follow-up questions because, while the pitch time limit of 10 minutes can be stressful for the interviewees, the Q&A time limit of 35 minutes can be stressful for the jury.

The interviewees are only focusing on presenting their project but the jury members have the difficult job of making a significant funding decision within only 45 minutes. If answers are too long and never get to the actual question then this might frustrate the jury members – something that should be avoided. If you are asked a specific question then answer it briefly first and only then elaborate.

If you are interrupted while you elaborate then you have at least given a short but precise answer in the beginning already. If the brief answer were to be missing and you are interrupted by a follow-up then this would mean that the question was not answered at all.

The Process

Have fun. While being nervous (or excited) is normal in a stressful situation, one should always remember to have some enjoyment for the process. One must have the attitude: “I am happy to explain what we do to an interested audience.” While the jury will heavily assess the technology and suitability of the project for the EIC, it will also be screening the team and its motivation. Both aspects can make or break a funding decision which is why developing some natural enthusiasm is essential.

Previous Articles


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

Deadlines: Post-Horizon 2020, the EIC Accelerator accepts Step 1 submissions now while the deadlines for the full applications (Step 2) will likely be on March 23rd 2022, June 15th 2022 and October 5th 2022 under Horizon Europe. The Step 1 applications must be submitted weeks in advance of Step 2. The next EIC Accelerator cut-off for Step 2 (full proposal) can be found here. After Brexit, UK companies can still apply to the EIC Accelerator under Horizon Europe albeit with non-dilutive grant applications only - thereby excluding equity-financing.

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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

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

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

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

The June 2021 EIC Accelerator Call

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

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

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

Step 1

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

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

Step 2

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

Step 3

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

Step 1-3 Total

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

Additional Statistics

Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender

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

Top 3 Countries

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

Type of Funding

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

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

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

EIC Accelerator Success: STABL Energy GmbH

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

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

Why STABL was the perfect fit for the EIC Accelerator

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

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

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


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

Deadlines: Post-Horizon 2020, the EIC Accelerator accepts Step 1 submissions now while the deadlines for the full applications (Step 2) will likely be on March 23rd 2022, June 15th 2022 and October 5th 2022 under Horizon Europe. The Step 1 applications must be submitted weeks in advance of Step 2. The next EIC Accelerator cut-off for Step 2 (full proposal) can be found here. After Brexit, UK companies can still apply to the EIC Accelerator under Horizon Europe albeit with non-dilutive grant applications only - thereby excluding equity-financing.

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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

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

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

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

Changes & Glitches

Geographic Restrictions & Diversity

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

Non-Binary Gender

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

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

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

TRL Descriptions

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

AI Tool Diagnostics Results

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

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

Budget & Evaluation

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

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

Glitches and Errors

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

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

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


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

Deadlines: Post-Horizon 2020, the EIC Accelerator accepts Step 1 submissions now while the deadlines for the full applications (Step 2) will likely be on March 23rd 2022, June 15th 2022 and October 5th 2022 under Horizon Europe. The Step 1 applications must be submitted weeks in advance of Step 2. The next EIC Accelerator cut-off for Step 2 (full proposal) can be found here. After Brexit, UK companies can still apply to the EIC Accelerator under Horizon Europe albeit with non-dilutive grant applications only - thereby excluding equity-financing.

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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

Gender Equality Targets in the Age of Gender Identification (EIC Accelerator)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) is a competitive funding program by the European Commission (EC) and has always been heavily affected by European Union (EU) policies. Examples for this are the requirements to meet sustainability targets, address societal challenges and other recent developments such as the Green Deal and strict gender equity goals (read: EIC Accelerator 2021 Work Program).

Gender Equity Targets

Especially the latter has been strongly advertised by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and has proven to be very beneficial for female entrepreneurs (read: Being a Female Entrepreneur) since their normal funding rates of under 5% were effectively increased to 35% or higher (read: EIC Impact Report).

Such a strictly followed target has a tremendous impact since a female Chief Executive Officer (CEO) will have a slight but important advantage over a male CEO which can, due to the tight competition at the EIC Accelerator interviews, make the difference between being funded successfully and being rejected (read: EIC Pitch Week).

This not only affects the startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) applying for grant financing in the EU but is also impacting the focus of professional writers and consultancies since female CEO’s who are excellent and have a great project now have a lower risk profile than their male counterparts if all other variables are matched.

Unfortunately, this special advantage for women, in addition to the newly introduced coaching support for female entrepreneurs, might be shorter-lived than anticipated.

EU Definitions

In the past, the designation of the CEO’s gender in the Funding & Tenders Portal was optional and could be omitted since undisclosed was presented as an alternative option.

In 2021, the newest Horizon Europe grant proposal template changes this and asks their applicants to select their gender among the choices of male, female and non-binary. While, previously, the selection of undisclosed was effectively equal to choosing male when it comes to the evaluation process, it is difficult to imagine that choosing non-binary will have the same effect.

Gender identification and non-binary genders have emerged in recent years with more political power and influence than gender equality and feminism itself which is why this new option might radically change the EIC’s female CEO targets over the coming decade. After all, in today’s times, policies and political opinions are only one viral social media campaign away from being changed overnight.

In an official report by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers from June 2020, the term non-binary is defined as follows:

“An umbrella term for people whose gender identity is not encompassed or represented by ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Non-binary identities are varied and can include people who identify with some aspects of binary identities, while others reject them entirely.”

By simply introducing this option to the evaluation process of a financial instrument such as the EIC Accelerator, the EU might have opened the door for exploitation since gender identity is explicitly not based on biological sex or the time spent within a certain identity. To clarify this, the EC defines gender identity as follows:

“A person’s gender identity is defined as each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of their own gender, whether as a man, a woman or non-binary, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth.”

When the beneficial treatment of female CEO’s was announced, it was also made clear that the respective person would have to be in the CEO position for a longer timeframe and not be elected CEO just for the purpose of the EIC Accelerator submission. This covered the obvious weakness of the gender-targets and allowed female CEO’s to receive the benefits as they were intended.

Non-Binary Applicants

By including non-binary genders and by defining gender as, in the EC’s words, a “deeply felt […] experience” without limiting the time spent within that identity, the EC could be opening the door to a reshaping of the playing field. If the status of non-binary becomes equal to the status of a female due to political pressures, then there could be an incentive for all-male CEO’s to designate themselves as non-binary since being non-binary does not need to come alongside a certain lifestyle, look or behaviour.

In fact, being non-binary is subject to no restrictions or societal norms by design.

Conclusion

Of course, such a development is pure speculation and most male CEO’s would have no interest in explaining their gender in front of a jury even if a multi-million grant is at stake. Although, to think that no CEO would make that decision even after a previous rejection is unlikely as well if any critical jury question can simply be dismissed by saying “I would prefer not to discuss my gender identity“.

It will be interesting to see how the EC is handling this new development since balancing a culture of inclusion and social rights with clear-cut targets such as gender equity might not be possible in the long-term. When it comes to democratic government organisations, political pressure will always win over old policies which means that excellent female entrepreneurs should seize their opportunity to apply to the EIC Accelerator now as long as high funding rates of 35% are still enforced.


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

Deadlines: Post-Horizon 2020, the EIC Accelerator accepts Step 1 submissions now while the deadlines for the full applications (Step 2) will likely be on March 23rd 2022, June 15th 2022 and October 5th 2022 under Horizon Europe. The Step 1 applications must be submitted weeks in advance of Step 2. The next EIC Accelerator cut-off for Step 2 (full proposal) can be found here. After Brexit, UK companies can still apply to the EIC Accelerator under Horizon Europe albeit with non-dilutive grant applications only - thereby excluding equity-financing.

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. General Changes

1.1 Open Calls vs. Strategic Challenges

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

1.2 Scoring & Ranking System

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

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

1.3 UK Participation

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

2. The Application Documents

2.1 Step 1: The Short Application

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

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

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

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

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

2.2 Step 2: The Full Application

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

2.3 Step 3: The Remote or In-Person Interview

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

3. The Application Process

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

3.1 AI Tool

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

3.2 Freezing Periods

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

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

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

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

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

4. The Evaluation Process

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

4.1 Step 1

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

4.2 Step 2

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

4.3 Step 3

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

5. Strategic Challenges (Topics)

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

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

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

5.1 The Green Deal Strategic Challenge (1)

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

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

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

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

5.2 The Digital Technology Strategic Challenge (2a)

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

5.3 The Healthcare Strategic Challenge (2b)

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

6. Ambitions to Control the Outcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Technical Changes

7.1 Coaching

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

7.2 Seal of Excellence (SOE)

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

7.3 Applicants

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

7.4 Equity

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

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

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

7.5 The Pitch Video

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

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

7.6 Timelines & Feedback

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

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

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

7.7 Reimbursement Advances

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

7.8 Budget

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

7.9 Inclusion of Small-Mid Caps

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


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

Deadlines: Post-Horizon 2020, the EIC Accelerator accepts Step 1 submissions now while the deadlines for the full applications (Step 2) will likely be on March 23rd 2022, June 15th 2022 and October 5th 2022 under Horizon Europe. The Step 1 applications must be submitted weeks in advance of Step 2. The next EIC Accelerator cut-off for Step 2 (full proposal) can be found here. After Brexit, UK companies can still apply to the EIC Accelerator under Horizon Europe albeit with non-dilutive grant applications only - thereby excluding equity-financing.

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

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

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

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 likely be on March 23rd 2022, June 15th 2022 and October 5th 2022 under Horizon Europe. The Step 1 applications must be submitted weeks in advance of Step 2. The next EIC Accelerator cut-off for Step 2 (full proposal) can be found here. After Brexit, UK companies can still apply to the EIC Accelerator under Horizon Europe albeit with non-dilutive grant applications only - thereby excluding equity-financing.

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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

How the Future of the EIC Accelerator Could Look Like (SME Instrument) – Part 2

This article is a continuation of Part 1 and presents a collection of areas that the EIC Accelerator might evolve towards in the future.

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) is a constantly evolving and growing funding arm of the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC). It aims to support startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) who are working on innovative technologies through extensive financial support of up to €17.5M and coaching support to simplify business development and scaling efforts (read: Introduction).

While this article presents an exploration, it is also useful for both professional writers or consultants to stay up to date on new developments relating to the official proposal template, new funding decisions by the European Union (EU) and related developments (read: Finding Updates).

3. Adjusting the Evaluation Criteria

Government funds will always have to adhere to politics, directives and bureaucracy which is the reason why EIC Accelerator evaluations are slightly easier for projects that have a focus on societal challenges, female CEO’s or a broader EU impact (read: Visual EIC Accelerator Narrative). While this is clearly valuable for politicians, it does obscure the focus that should be on innovation, business models and, ultimately, financial success.

If the EIC wants to fund projects that support the environment then this should simply receive a dedicated call (read: Green Deal Call) and if it wants to fund more female CEO’s then this can also receive its own call instead of retrospectively adjusting the established ranking order based on gender (read: Why It’s Great to be a Female Entrepreneur in the EU). Creating a women-only call under the EIC Accelerator (i.e. “EIC Accelerator Female Founders Call”) is entirely feasible and it would create a better perception of the evaluation since each applicant under a specific call will be evaluated based on the same criteria.

4. Simplifying the Bureaucracy

The sections for the costs, implementation, resources and KPI’s are important for tracking and budget allocation but their assessment could be streamlined more. If cost items, subcontractors and budget allocations per month were directly entered into the browser’s form fields, they could be assessed quickly by algorithms and could be tracked much more efficiently if the project is funded. This will also remove the need for evaluators to re-calculate all the given metrics of an application (i.e. if the resources fit to the workpackages or the hiring to the payroll)

Just like it is already done on EU-platforms like Eurostat, the financial projections, costs and workpackages could be visualised with charts automatically so that the applications themselves become much leaner and especially the implementation section can focus on tasks, risks and team members rather than financials. In the same vein, the Impact section can focus on the users, commercial strategy and the market instead of detailing the financial projections.

Summary

  • Separating Grant & Equity: Allowing direct equity applications with an open budget through a pool of private investors
  • Becoming a VC-Hub: Creating an online environment where past applicants can participate in pitch sessions outside of the normal process
  • Adjusting the Evaluation Criteria: Establish fair evaluation criteria without exceptions and use separate calls to enforce political targets (i.e. Green Deal)
  • Simplifying the Bureaucracy: Make more use of the online form fields to auto-generate and check financial information


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

Deadlines: Post-Horizon 2020, the EIC Accelerator accepts Step 1 submissions now while the deadlines for the full applications (Step 2) will likely be on March 23rd 2022, June 15th 2022 and October 5th 2022 under Horizon Europe. The Step 1 applications must be submitted weeks in advance of Step 2. The next EIC Accelerator cut-off for Step 2 (full proposal) can be found here. After Brexit, UK companies can still apply to the EIC Accelerator under Horizon Europe albeit with non-dilutive grant applications only - thereby excluding equity-financing.

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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

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

This article is a continuation of Part 1 and presents a guide for practising the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) pitch interview by the European Commission (EC) and European Innovation Council (EIC). Resources regarding the general questioning of the pitch and why companies fail can be found here (read: Why Companies Fail) while information on the pitch itself can be found here (read: Pitch vs. Proposal).

2.4 The Basics

It should be assured that the presenters speak fluent English and are also able to understand questions even if the person asking the question has a strong accent (i.e. French, German) or a quiet voice. The speakers should be easy to understand and also quickly pick up on what the jury is asking them so that no time is wasted on confusing clarifications and hand gesturing (i.e. understanding the concern behind the question).

2.5 The Day of the Pitch

Allow the presenting team to get ready for the interview and do not schedule any operational tasks before the pitch so that the presenter’s minds are fully focused on the event. Meet with the entire team early in the morning and focus on going through the big picture (i.e. the vision and key messages) since the details and small things should have all been clarified in the weeks before. Focusing on the big picture means to look at each slide of the script and to identify what the key ideas are that you seek to communicate.

Example: On slide number 2, I want the audience to see how X is a significant market problem and to understand the gravity of the consequences for the EU if this remains unsolved. On slide 10, the jury has to realise that our commercial strategy is solidified through Y since we have already partnered with Z1 and Z2 beforehand.

Without obsessing over the small things (as you did in the past weeks), you can just focus on the big picture and make sure that your pitch is clear, simple and convincing.

2.6 Difficult Questions

While this has already been mentioned before, practising difficult pitch questions is key in refining the answers given in the EIC Accelerator interview. The most important part to remember is that there will be more questions than answers and that not having the time to answer a question can be as bad as to answer it poorly.

When practising the difficult questions (i.e. ideally with people unfamiliar with the project), the answers have to be fast, on the spot and precise. The answers can be perfected later on but it is imperative that they are treated as real-life jury questions the first time around so that the speakers never get into the habit of saying “Well, let me think about this first” or giving minute-long, wordy answers. Try practising with 10-second answers (use a stopwatch) and then move on to the next question right away since, during the preparation time, collecting many questions and practising rapid-fire answers is key. Refinements can be done after the pitch practice is over.

2.7 Know the Application

If the pitch presenters for the EIC Accelerator interview have written the application themselves then this point can be neglected but if the writing was outsourced to consultants or delegated – the speakers must know the application in and out. This might not be relevant in case the jury members have not read the application but if even one of the jurors is familiar with it, very targeted questions could quickly expose a presenter’s lack of knowledge.

Re-reading the entire application and memorizing relevant numbers, strategies and partners should not replace the actual pitch practice but it has to be done as part of the preparations.

2.8 Cover All Areas of Expertise

Lastly, it is important to select the presenters carefully based on their role in the company and their area or level of expertise. Having three marketing experts as presenters might make for well-polished pitch but will likely be disastrous for the questioning. Likewise, having only engineers present without a financial or sales expert can have similarly devastating consequences. The general rule is, bring your top management team (i.e. CEO, founders, owners) and assure that their expertise is very well-balanced. In addition, women are always welcome (read: Women and the EIC Accelerator).

3. Summary

  • Restrictions: The jury’s time, attention and previous knowledge will be limited
  • How to Prepare for the Pitch
    • Learn from Past Pitches: Directly asks past beneficiaries or expert consultancies about their experience
    • Practise: Practise the pitch with a stopwatch and an external audience
    • Open Pitch Sessions: Aim to have a broad audience for your practice
    • The Basics: Clear communication with fluent English
    • The Day of the Pitch: Only focus on the pitch and your key messages
    • Difficult Questions: Practise rapid-fire answers (10-second rule)
    • Know the Application: Have at the key quantifiers and partners memorized
    • Cover All Areas of Expertise: Make sure that the presenters have a balanced background


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

Deadlines: Post-Horizon 2020, the EIC Accelerator accepts Step 1 submissions now while the deadlines for the full applications (Step 2) will likely be on March 23rd 2022, June 15th 2022 and October 5th 2022 under Horizon Europe. The Step 1 applications must be submitted weeks in advance of Step 2. The next EIC Accelerator cut-off for Step 2 (full proposal) can be found here. After Brexit, UK companies can still apply to the EIC Accelerator under Horizon Europe albeit with non-dilutive grant applications only - thereby excluding equity-financing.

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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

Which Companies Should Not Apply to the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument) – Part 1

Many startups or Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) are interested in applying to the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) due to its single-beneficiary funding scheme. Before contacting a professional writer or consultant, it is often useful to first investigate which companies are ineligible or have lower chances for success as viewed by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and the European Commission (EC).

There are important criteria to adhere to (read: EIC Accelerator Keywords) but the official proposal template or manuals are often not a great resource to assess them in a comprehensive manner. While the innovation, traction and team quality are a must to assess in the beginning (read: Assessing a Project), they can be meaningless if the project is in direct violation of one or more of the following negative criteria. These can lead to immediate dismissals at any of the three evaluation steps and should be cleared prior to a successful grant application.

Negative Criteria

Being Well-Financed

Every startup has some type of financing which usually comes in the form of angel investors or seed investments but some companies have also been able to raise substantial Venture Capital (VC) rounds or grants which make the critical non-bankability difficult to argue. Due to the long delays between the EIC Accelerator evaluation steps, it can happen that significant VC rounds were raised during the waiting period and, when this is revealed in the Step 3 pitch interviews, it can lead to a direct exclusion from grant financing.

Transforming the EU

The EIC Accelerator is aiming to finance DeepTech companies and is regarding apps, social networks, games or similar products as less worthy than health tech, energy or environmental innovations. This does not mean that such projects are never financed (i.e. view the funded company Flexion Mobile in the 2019 SME Instrument report) but this can make it much harder for them especially in 2021. This is unfortunate for many great businesses that could have a strong impact in the EU but do not have the same metrics to show for (i.e. the long-term ROI for the EC is clearer in MedTech then for a new social network).

For all investors, a great business model for an innovation should always supersede the type of innovation being incorporated and this should be reflected by the EIC Accelerator. The more successful businesses the European Union (EU) can fund, the more financing will be available (i.e. esp. with equity stakes being involved) and the more attention EU startup hubs will attract in the future.

Arguably, London was the largest innovation hub in the EU and with Brexit being in its final stages from an EU financing perspective, Europe should focus on supporting all great companies and not just the industries it deems beneficial. The reason for this is simple: The most important impact on society comes in the form of wealth, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employment which are a base necessity to cover every citizen’s primal needs. This base can be viewed as the driving force which enables prosperity and allows the occurrence of innovation in all areas, including DeepTech.

The success of fields such as HealthTech, CleanTech, space exploration, etc. is directly proportional to the wealth of the country (i.e. compare the level of innovation and GDP in the US with Russia or North Korea) which means that focusing on excellent business models across the board should come first. Non-bankability is a great focus for the EIC Accelerator since it allows the clear differentiation from other funding-sources but to extend this exclusive criterion to only a handful of industries is a poor long-term strategy.

What could the impact of a marketing innovation in the EU be? Simple. Marketing drives end-consumer industries and, wherever the marketing has the highest ROI, the strongest customer acceptance and the best scalability, the most jobs and wealth will be created. Just because the long-term impact is not obvious doesn’t mean that there is no impact whatsoever.

If an applicant with such a non-obvious impact is asked by the jury as to how they transform the European landscape, they should keep this in mind and present a clear outline of the benefits. If no suitable answer to this question is known, it would not be wise to apply to the EIC Accelerator in the first place.

Opposing Values

Any application to the EIC Accelerator should make sure that the innovation does not directly threaten key EU targets or policies such as the fossil fuel phase-out, the drive for gender equality, the need for social inclusion, financial security etc. since this could lead to immediate dismissals. An innovation to locate new fossil fuel reserves through satellite and machine-learning technologies might be valuable for the oil industry but likely meet disinterest at every evaluation step from the EU.

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 likely be on March 23rd 2022, June 15th 2022 and October 5th 2022 under Horizon Europe. The Step 1 applications must be submitted weeks in advance of Step 2. The next EIC Accelerator cut-off for Step 2 (full proposal) can be found here. After Brexit, UK companies can still apply to the EIC Accelerator under Horizon Europe albeit with non-dilutive grant applications only - thereby excluding equity-financing.

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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

How the EIC Can Incentivise Shorter and Clearer Applications for the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2) – Part 3

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.

This article is a continuation of Part 2 (see also: Part 4 & Part 1). It describes a proposed evaluation process for the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) and investigates the potential mechanisms that can be used by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC). The way an official proposal template is structured and its general restrictions clearly define the workload of both successful applicants and evaluators which makes a re-structuring the most powerful tool available to change the overall submission experience for all stakeholders from the written application, over the pitch video to the final interview (read: Assessing an Innovation).

Feedback Cycles and Proposal Examples

If the EIC wants to develop direct relationships with the applying SME’s and develop equality amongst applicants then the communication towards such applicants has to be precise and transparent. The EIC has not published examples of how a successful application should look like and is not providing useful feedback to applicants. As a result, applicants are relying on hiring third parties such as consultancies or professional grant writers who have the experience and insight to know what evaluators are looking for.

Without useful feedback by a human evaluator who has taken the time to write a single paragraph for the rejected applicants and without an actual successful proposal example, the EIC will remain a black-box for SME’s and start-ups. The existing manuals for Horizon 2020 are obscure and do not discuss quality writing, business plans and illustrations. Instead, the currently existing manuals give little to no useful guidance to applicants since they focus on discussing environmental-goals and gender equality rather than what a business plan should look like.

A solution to this could be dynamic feedback whereas an evaluator can send a message to the applicants who have the opportunity to respond to a question or critical assessment within a limited time-frame. If this response is reasonable, an evaluator is able to make a more informed decision while data on feedback about evaluators can be gathered internally to identify evaluators that are potentially unqualified or ideally qualified for such applications (i.e. improved match-making).

How an Evaluation Process Could Look Like

Scenario

  • Start: 6,000 applications
  • Funding available: 100 applications

Round 1 (Remote Evaluation)

Upload

  • Applicants provide a one-page executive summary with a 300-word restriction (i.e. graphics with bullet points). This reduces the writing burden significantly, simplifies the evaluation and also reduces the need for SME’s to learn EU-specific terminology which is not market-relevant (i.e. impact, excellence, TRL, etc.).
  • Inside the submission forms, the applicants’ fill out the information on the costs, financial projections, team growth, addressed EU policies (i.e. targets can be linked), gender, GDPR, etc. which can be quickly scanned by evaluators.
  • Applicants also upload a 10 min pitch video with full creative freedom (i.e. slide pitch with voiceover or a fully produced video – read: Preparing a Pitch Video)

Evaluation procedure of Round 1

Instead of evaluating each proposal individually, there are topic-based knock-out rounds whereas 3 keyword-matched candidates are compared with each other and the superior project receives the YES while the other two receive a NO grading. This is done by ranking all 3 projects whereas the winner of the three is determined by assessments from multiple evaluators. If there is a draw, two projects can both receive the YES grading or no project can be selected if it was found that they are all ineligible. An additional evaluator can be added in case results are unusual (i.e. a project is ranked first and last by different evaluators)

This process has the benefit of being very fast to conduct while the applications are quick to prepare (i.e. 3 applications can be assessed in under 2 hours). Since determining universal scores through subjective assessments by randomly selected evaluators is impossible anyways, a knock-out process is just as fair and is similar to the VC-like setting in the interview-stage. All applications receive a 300 word-feedback (100 words from each evaluator) which is presented to the applicants in their formal results.

This round also has the benefit of screening the projects for their impact on EU-relevant targets first while the business plan will only be assessed once the EU has determined that this is the type of project it cares about.

Result: 33% or 2,000 applications are selected.

Round 1b (Optional)

This round is internal and does not require any additional work from the applicants. In round 2, the 2,000 selected applicants are matched-up with each other again and are selected by new evaluators in the same manner whereas the result will be another elimination of two-thirds of the applicants. This is an optional round in case the number of applicants is exceptionally high (i.e. when starting with 6,000 applicants) but it can be omitted if the applications are between 1,000 and 3,000.

All applicants receive additional feedback which is added to the previous feedback (if Round 1 is passed) and made available via the evaluation summary report (ESR). All feedback is cumulative which means that the applicants will always receive more information on improvements the further they progressed through the evaluation.

Result: 11% or 667 applications are selected and are awarded the Seal of Excellence.

This article continues in Part 4 (see also: Part 1 & 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 likely be on March 23rd 2022, June 15th 2022 and October 5th 2022 under Horizon Europe. The Step 1 applications must be submitted weeks in advance of Step 2. The next EIC Accelerator cut-off for Step 2 (full proposal) can be found here. After Brexit, UK companies can still apply to the EIC Accelerator under Horizon Europe albeit with non-dilutive grant applications only - thereby excluding equity-financing.

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

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

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

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

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!



by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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