The EIC Accelerator grant financing (with blended equity option) by the European Commission (EC) awards up to €2.5 million in grant and €15 million in equity financing per project (€17.5 million total). It is targeting high-risk projects as defined in the EIC Work Programme and strongly advertised by the European Innovation Council (EIC) in its communications and marketing:
“…And the ‘EIC Accelerator’ for individual companies to develop and scale up breakthrough innovations with high risk and high impact.”
This preference is likewise reflected in the EIC Accelerator’s Step 2 proposal template where a large section is dedicated to risks, probability assessments, impacts and mitigation strategies. The remote evaluators will analyze and assess this section carefully and provide grades according to the following criteria (see Work Programme):
“Have the main risks (e.g. technological, market, financial, regulatory) been identified, together with measures to take to mitigate them?”
“Does the nature and level of risk of the investment in your innovation mean that European market actors are unwilling to commit the full amount alone?”
It is therefore essential to present key risks in the proposal template and, if risks are presented in an insufficient manner for financial, commercial and technical areas, the project will likely receive a poor score for this aspect.
One of the downsides of using thousands of remote evaluators in Step 2 of the EIC Accelerator application process in combination with a unanimous approval process to pass this step is that a single critical evaluation will lead to rejection. Since each evaluator has their own unique background with an uncertain degree of knowledge on the project’s subject matter, the risk section can attract unwanted scrutiny.
This is aggravated by the freezing periods introduced by the EIC which limits project applicants to only two rejections in Step 2 and greatly increases the stakes of a single critical evaluation (see Resubmissions).
Additionally, the EIC Accelerator Step 3 jury is very risk-averse and aims to make traditional investment decisions (i.e. low-risk, high-reward) for the companies available to them through the Step 1 and Step 2 evaluation process (see Breaking the Rules).
When it comes to the EIC Accelerator, it is therefore prudent to be just risky enough to pass Step 1 and Step 2 but not too risky to pass Step 3, especially in terms of commercial and financial risks.
While all sections in the EIC Accelerator Step 1 or Step 2 application generally benefit from more content and more text, the risk section is unique since it is detrimental to either introduce too much or too little content.
If a company neglects to introduce financial, commercial or technical risks, the project’s evaluation can conclude that it is out of scope for the high-risk EIC Accelerator program in Steps 1 and 2. It is likewise possible for evaluators to criticize that obvious risks have been neglected in the application.
If a company introduces too many risks, even with thoughtful mitigation strategies, the evaluators can criticize the level of risk management and the capability of mitigating these risks – justified or not.
It is therefore advisable for startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) as well as professional writers, freelancers or consultants to add essential risks for each project aspect (i.e. commercial, financial, technical) but to be conservative. It is beneficial to not maximize the presentation of possible risks in the same way development, market or technology sections are maximized since it provides an unnecessary attack surface for criticism in the evaluation.
In some cases, it can even be advisable to remove risks presented in the EIC Accelerator’s Step 1 when preparing the Step 2 documents if they have led evaluators to be overly critical without providing any substantial feedback or reason for their criticism (i.e. “that is too risky”). Such changes often go unnoticed.
This is a major flaw in the application process since it forces applicants to be less transparent and under-present their risks even though the EIC Accelerator should welcome high-risk projects with suitable mitigation strategies.
Interestingly, the EIC and EC representatives can even ask beneficiaries that have successfully passed all evaluation steps to introduce additional risks to project documents to be better aligned with the EIC Accelerator program even though the funding decision has already been made.
Such sleight of hand illustrates that there could be a mismatch between the EIC’s funding rules and the application’s incentives.
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These tips are not only useful for European startups, professional writers, consultants and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) but are generally recommended when writing a business plan or investor documents.
Deadlines: Post-Horizon 2020, the EIC Accelerator accepts Step 1 submissions now while the deadlines for the full applications (Step 2) under Horizon Europe are:
- Step 1 (short proposal)
- open now
- Step 2 (business plan)
- 1st cut-off: (early 2024)
- 2nd cut-off: -
- 3rd cut-off: -
- 4th cut-off: -
- Step 3 (interview)
- 1st cut-off: -
- 2nd cut-off: -
- 3rd cut-off: -
- 4th cut-off: January 29th to February 9th 2024 (extended again)
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).
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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: