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 be on January 12th 2022, April 6th 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.

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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: