The EIC’s 2023 Strategic Challenges and Topics (2023 EIC Accelerator Work Programme Part 7)

The EIC Accelerator funding (grant and equity, with blended financing option) awards up to €2.5 million in grant and €15 million in equity financing per project (€17.5 million total). It is a popular funding instrument specializing in DeepTech startups and small mid-caps which aim to finalize their product developments, enter the market and scale globally.

The EIC’s 2023 Work programme

While the European Innovation Council (EIC) has remained silent regarding the 2023 Work programme that is yet to be released, ScienceBusiness has published the second draft of the highly anticipated document dated July 2022. This article series is exploring some changes and interesting aspects of the EIC Accelerator that are relevant for startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) and for professional writers, freelancers or consultants.

ScienceBusiness has likewise published the entire library of Horizon Europe documents by the European Commission (EC) that are mostly in draft form and can be found here.

All the information and conclusions provided in this article are subject to change and the opinion of the author. The following statement by the EIC is part of the 2023 EIC Work Programme draft that this article is based on:

“This document represents a working draft of the EIC work programme for the purpose of feedback and comments from members of the Horizon Europe Programme Committee for the EIC and European Innovation Ecosystems. This draft has not been adopted or endorsed by the European Commission. Any views expressed are the views of the Commission services and may not in any circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of the Commission. The information transmitted is intended only for the Member State or entity to which it is addressed for discussions and may contain confidential and/or privileged material.”

The EIC Accelerator Open and Strategic Challenges

The 2023 Work Programme of the EIC is outlining the newest Strategic Challenges for the EIC Accelerator. These are renewed every year alongside the new Work Programme implementation and have separate allocated budgets. It is common that the EIC Accelerator Open and the EIC Accelerator Challenges have a comparable budget while the chances of success could be higher in the thematic challenges due to the strict topic limitations.

This is due to the smaller number of applicants compared to the EIC Accelerator Open which has no thematic restrictions but this might be irrelevant since the EIC has announced that the Strategic Challenges budget will be transferred to the EIC Accelerator Open if there are not enough applicants available. Of course, the applicants for the Strategic Challenges still retain first priority for their respective budgets.

“However, if there is insufficient applications selected for funding for a Challenge, the budget will be transferred to the other Challenges. In case there is insufficient applications selected for all the Challenges, the remaining budget will be transferred to the Accelerator Open.”

As given in the EIC’s draft Work Programme 2023, the seven new EIC Accelerator Challenges are:

Challenge 1: Novel biomarker-based assays to guide personalised cancer treatment

Specific objectives

“The overall goal of this Challenge is to support and accelerate the preclinical validation and/or clinical phase 1 work carried out by innovative SMEs (including start-ups, spinouts) and small midcaps to develop novel predictive, prognostic and companion diagnostic assays to guide cancer treatment. This Challenge has the following specific objectives:

  • develop novel companion diagnostic assays , including through liquid profiling; to identify who, among cancer patients, is more likely to benefit from a given treatment (guided treatment);develop novel predictive biomarker-based assays to identify who, among patients with potentially precancerous lesions, is more likely to develop cancer;
  • develop novel prognostic assays including through liquid profiling to identify who, among the cancer patients who underwent treatment, is more likely to recur;
  • develop novel companion diagnostic assays, including through liquid profiling to identify who, among the cancer patients receiving treatment, is more likely to develop side effects as a result of the treatment and
  • to develop novel monitoring biomarker-based assays to effectively monitor the clinical course of the disease.”

Expected outcomes and impacts

“As expected outcomes from this Challenge, clinicians will be able to:

  • Identify, who among cancer patients, is more likely to benefit from a given treatment (guided treatment)
  • Identify, who among patients with potentially precancerous lesions, is more likely to develop cancer
  • Identify, who among the cancer patients having underwent treatment, is more likely to recur
  • Identify who among the cancer patients receiving treatment, is more likely to develop side effects as a result of the treatment, affecting their quality of life and
  • More effectively monitor the clinical course of the disease”

Challenge 2: Aerosol and surface decontamination for pandemic management

Specific objectives

“The proposals should target the development and commercialisation of technological solutions facilitating social interaction in the context of pandemic emergencies, by means of one or more of the three following approaches:

  • Full systems for high-efficiency aerosol capture, pathogen deactivation and air circulation management in closed-environments (e.g., office space, in-flight, retail stores, etc.), including advanced air-filtering architectures and dynamic air circulation optimisation.
  • Next-generation face mask technologies with smart filtration materials to exceed N95 performance at low airflow resistance, with improved retention/rejection of sub-micron particles.
  • Rapid surface decontamination devices beyond state-of-the-art UV-C irradiation systems and biocidal agent dispersion.

Where advantageous, pathogen profiling sensors and sub-systems could be integrated with air renewal systems, face masks or surface decontamination devices to provide quasi- real-time information on pathogen presence for rapid decision making and/or autonomous optimisation of air circulation.

The proposals should provide preliminary evidence demonstrating that social distancing can be avoided or substantially reduced, under realistic pathogen infectivity assumptions, with the targeted technologies.”

Expected outcomes and impacts

“By reducing the need for social distancing in the event of infectious pandemics, this Challenge will empower society at large to sustain unaltered economic and social dynamics in the event of pandemic outbreaks.”

Challenge 3: Energy storage

Specific objectives

“This Challenge targets groundbreaking innovations in any field of technology that have a high potential to meet the following goals:

  • to store electric and/or thermal energy at low cost, high density, high charging/discharging efficiency and enhanced durability.
  • technological approaches (chemical, electrical, electrochemical, mechanical, thermal) for energy storage at different scales (centralized at large industrial facilities premises or distributed and at small scale level – mobile electronics), duration (short – millisecond to day, medium – days to month and long term – months to seasons) and uses (from stationary to mobile).
  • technologies that, without using critical raw materials or ensuring their full recycle/reuse, minimize their carbon footprint measured through a life-cycle analysis (including cost and social impact evaluation). The proposed technologies could also address the smart operation and control of storage assets, their integration with demand response strategies, predictive maintenance, load forecasting and decentralized renewable energy technologies.”

Expected outcomes and impacts

“The possibility to store electrical or thermal energy at low cost, high density, high charging/discharging efficiency and for different duration (from short to long) will:

  • enable a strong penetration of intermittent renewable energy resources by addressing the spatial and temporal mismatches between generation and demand,
  • set up decarbonized, interconnected, sector-coupled and flexible energy systems.
  • Increase Europe’s energy independence from unreliable suppliers”

Challenge 4: New European Bauhaus: Digitisation for sustainable and inclusive built environment

Specific Objectives

“The call aims to enable a paradigm by supporting deep tech ventures that can deliver disruptive new products and services for a digitised value chain with a focus on:

  • Computational design. ventures that develop and scale radical new products for mass-adoption of parametric, generative and algorithmic design, pushing the boundaries of physical simulation, digital twin;
  • Alternative materials. ventures active in the development, production, advanced application of alternative building materials, or building concepts, building elements, design+fabrication concepts (e/g stereotomy 2.0) based on advanced uses of alternative materials.
  • Digital fabrication. ventures developing and commercializing scalable 3Dprinting, robot assisted composites, factory and field robotics, automation products, digital molds, distributed building factories.”

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

“The overarching objective of this Challenge is to provide transformative digitally enabled solutions for the construction sector that can help it achieve climate neutrality while providing inclusive and high quality products.

The focus will be on achieving a reduction in embodied rather than operational carbon emissions. Socio-economic impacts include higher productivity, higher product quality, reduced material consumption and waste, improved construction logistic in the urban environment and increased economic impact without compromising on quality or safety.

This approach will also lead to higher quality jobs in a more progressive and appealing sector that can deliver a step-change in the overall quality of the social experience with the built environment.”

Challenge 5: Quantum computers hardware and real environment quantum sensors

Specific objectives

“The objective of this Challenge is to support ground-breaking innovations that have a high potential to develop:

  1. Next-generation fault-tolerant quantum computer(s) with:

    1. improved performance;
    2. significantly simplified QC integration with control electronics;
    3. scalable control systems (scalable to tens of thousands of qubits, needed for meaningful practical applications);
  2. Quantum sensors to function in real/harsh environment for various application areas, such as ecotoxicology, pharmaceuticals, biomedical, space, corrosion detection in power plants, gas/oil tanks, raw material detection, medical imaging, automotive and many more.”

Expected outcomes and impacts

“This Challenge is expected to support EU in taking a leading role in the development of cutting edge quantum computing and quantum sensors that can be used in real environment and deployed in various areas such as medical devices, pharmaceuticals, materials science, defence, space, etc.

In mid and long term, this challenge is expected to expand the quantum capabilities of Europe, underpin its economic resilience and digital sovereignty. It should pave the way for Europe to be at the cutting edge of quantum capabilities by 2030 as envisioned by the 2030 Digital Compass: the European way for the Digital Decade.”

Specific conditions

“Applications to this EIC Accelerator Challenge may request an investment component of above EUR 15 million in duly justified cases.”

Challenge 6: Sustainable and resilient agriculture

Specific objectives

  1. “Design, development and evaluation of interdisciplinary solutions for regenerative agriculture and soil health in the areas of

    1. Fertilisation
    2. Crop protection
    3. Irrigation
    4. Tillage
    5. Soil and crop management
  2. Radical innovations in precision fermentation for the food sector, including but not limited to mycoproteins.

  3. Radical innovations in the area of natural solutions for carbon management and valorisation (carbon farmingcarbon stock in the soil, etc)

  4. Novel processes, materials, equipment, crops and microorganisms adapted to harsh environments, climate adaptation needs and resource scarcity.”

Expected outcomes and impacts

“This Challenge aims to improve the resilience and security of the European food supply chain, notably by maintaining and improving crop yield with environmentally friendly technologies, all while regenerating and increasing soil health. By aiming to valorise crop residues, this Challenge also aims to contribute to better carbon and nitrogen management practices, to mitigate climate change.

In doing so, the results arising from this challenge will foster the EU technological autonomy and leadership via focused support of innovations in the areas of sustainable and resilient agricultural production, food security, biodiversity and environmental protection. The challenge also aims to reduce the EU dependency from critical supply chains and strengthen the EU innovation ecosystem competitiveness in the strategic sectors of ecologic transition and clean, secure and cheap energy provision.”

Challenge 7: Customer driven, innovative space technologies and services

Specific objectives

“The overall goal of this challenge is to ensure Europe is able to service and protect its own Space infrastructure, avoiding the risk of losing its strategic autonomy over its own space assets, while enhancing the competitiveness of its space industry through encouraging the emergence of innovative, interoperable, scalable, and autonomous “customer-driven” innovative space technologies.

In terms of technological developments, the specific objectives of the call are:

  • To have the means to inspect spacecraft in orbit, to augment satellite capabilities and resilience;

  • To develop autonomous and in-space collision avoidance capabilities e.g., use of AL/ML for collision avoidance manoeuvres, space debris positioning data and develop in-space mobility propulsion capabilities;

  • To further mature self-assembly of spacecraft in orbit with different applications (e.g., in-orbit, cis-lunar exploration, Earth observation, space debris inspection, space situational awareness, etc.);

  • To collect and recycle space debris or recovering intact components from nonoperational satellites or cut dysfunctional satellites turning them into metal rods for potential fuel;

  • To refurbish upper stage of launchers and transform them into microgravity platforms;

  • To design and construct a R&I low Earth orbit unmanned modular platform assembled in orbit and to host in-orbit microgravity experiments or collect/reuse space debris;

  • To develop innovative technologies for Earth observation, navigation, satellite communications (SATCOM), space science, space situational awareness (SSA) and in-space logistics needing in-orbit demonstration and in-orbit validation (IOD/IOV).”

Expected outcomes and impacts

“This Challenge aims at developing:

  • an EU servicing and re-use/recycling capability for servicing EU space infrastructure, while contributing to the management and reduction of space debris;

  • timely and cost-effective Space Traffic Management services for on-time collision avoidance manoeuvres;

  • the re-use, refurbish or recycling of a spacecraft components or launchers upper stages scientific and technological solutions for in-orbit services and reuse/ refurbishing and recycling of old spacecraft (e.g. satellites, rockets upper stages, etc.);

  • Innovative propulsion solutions for in-space mobility of spacecraft”

Specific conditions

“Where relevant, companies supported under this Challenge will have access to in-orbit demonstration and testing facilities financed under Horizon Europe.”

This article is part of a series whereas the remaining articles can be found here, once published:


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) are January 11th 2023 (only EIC Accelerator Open), March 22nd 2023, June 7th 2023 and October 4th 2023 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: