Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) for the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument)

To apply for the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2) financing, your project will need to be at the prototype level which is defined as TRL6 (i.e. proof-of-concept) according to the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) classifications which are ranging from TRL1 (i.e. basic research or idea stage) to TRL9 (i.e. mature technology).

Grants and blended financing generally fund activities between TRL6 and TRL8 which means that you must be far beyond the idea stage and should already have a product at hand or have tested the innovation separately. You should likewise not have completely finalised your development work so that you can justify the presented project budget and the resources you will require beyond just the scaling of your operations.

Technology Readiness Level 6

The prototype level (TRL6) can be interpreted in different ways depending on the technology but you should aim to identify the key innovation and describe how it has been tested successfully. For example, if your product is a manufacturing method to craft new luxury wood materials then you should have shown that the new manufacturing principle is valid even if your production line does not exist yet.

If you have an AI-driven data analysis solution which solves a certain problem in a new way then you should have demonstrated its efficacy even if the application scope is still limited and you do not have a UI just yet. Remember that it is not mainly about having a complete product since this would defeat the purpose of the grant. It is about having proven the innovation which, in turn, makes the development of the project a justified risk.

The same broad definition of TRL6 applies to applicants who already have a completely operational product but have identified a key innovation that still needs to be implemented. In this case, the technology can still be classified as TRL6 since the innovation itself is not implemented yet. For example, you might have a sophisticated camera system for security applications in a certain niche but you have identified the implementation of smart algorithms as a major innovation and market opportunity.

Prototype and Traction

You already have a hardware product and a software UI but the innovation itself is the smart algorithm which solves an unaddressed problem in a new way. With some first tests, you were able to confirm how this innovation will save 50% of surveillance costs while addressing other unmet customer needs.

Ten of your existing customers have provided you with support letters which allows you to show the significant interest in the innovation. In this case, you are at TRL6 and can declare your current products as a prototype (even if already profitable) which needs to be transformed into your envisioned solution.

The testing of the innovation can generally be done in a variety of ways such as in a laboratory setting, through pilot customers, simulations or through end-user surveys. The result should be a clear indication of the benefits of the innovation, namely cost-savings, improved usability or any other market-relevant metric.


It is recommended to assure that the innovation itself is directly linked to the market impact, the competitor differentiation, user needs, value-for-money and all other sections described in the application. This way, the project will be seen as enabling the desired impact and you can justify that receiving the financing is an essential pre-requisite to achieving that goal as opposed to only being optional.

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

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

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

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

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

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by Stephan Segler, PhD
Professional Grant Consultant at Segler Consulting

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