What to Expect in an EIC Accelerator Interview (SME Instrument Phase 2)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Commission (EC) is a great way for non-bankable and disruptive startups to obtain government funding but the 3-stage application process is highly competitive. With the final stage of the evaluation being the in-person interview in front of a jury, many Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) are looking for resources to support their preparation (read: Practising the Pitch).

In the first part, the following article explores the types of questions a presenting team might have to face while the second and third parts provide a brief discussion of why companies generally fail and what insufficiencies could be responsible. Since such information is not part of the official proposal template and many companies do apply without the help of professional consultants, this article can act as a shortlist of points to consider.

1. Area’s of Questioning

Past data from 2018 to 2020 has given insight into the type of questioning EIC Accelerator applicants are presented with during the pitch interview. Just like a VC-type pitch scenario, the commercial aspects and go-to-market strategies of the projects are key and remain the core focus of the entire session. The main areas of questioning are (read: Pitch vs. Proposal):

1.1 Commercialisation Strategy

The commercial strategy will take center stage since an innovation is worthless without a way of reaching customers and generating revenues. It is important that this strategy is water-proof and that it is validated through strong partners, relevant metrics and through other means of providing proof such as distribution, retail or service level agreements.

The general message should be that the market can be reached rapidly and efficiently whereas competitive threats and barriers are taken into account and mitigated sufficiently. The presenting team should have a clear vision of the customer journey, time-to-contract, distribution networks, Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and short-term as well as mid-term market drivers.

1.2 Team and Company

In the end, every Venture Capitalist (VC) knows that a commercial plan or technology roadmap is only as good as the team behind it. A pitch should cover the experience and expertise of the founding team members and the management team who carry the most responsibility inside the company.

Address the questions as to why you are uniquely positioned to meet the market need and to perform the technological developments. Highlight the other team members, their background and their track record to further solidify your authority.

1.3 Technological Feasibility

There is a reason as to why the customer pain point has not been met by competitors and an applicant needs to have a clear explanation of the difficulty and feasibility of the proposed project. If it sounds too easy then it will be difficult to warrant a high-risk assessment but if it seems impossible or much more expensive then the requested grant or equity financing then it will appear too difficult.

Be prepared to justify both perspectives in a balanced way and provide a realistic and actionable roadmap to exploit the business opportunity.

1.4 Projected Results

The commercial impact of the successful project completion will be the biggest selling point for VC’s and undergo intensive scrutiny. The two major aspects of the impact will be in the areas of financials (i.e. expected revenues, customers, assets) and the transformative impact in the EU (i.e. societal, energy, health benefits).

Do not only have a post-project analysis at your disposal but also identify the KPI’s that are relevant now and during the project duration (i.e. the revenues next year, etc.). In the same way, be prepared for questions that look 10+ years into the future in respect to exits, valuation, branding and related metrics.

1.5 Market-Creating Potential

Due to the strong competitiveness of the EIC Accelerator, the market-creating, disrupting and transforming potential will be an important assessment criterion in the pitch interview. It should be highlighted why and how this is achieved, the opportunities of this approach as well as the threats and how these are mitigated.

2. Post-Pitch Discussion

After the pitch interview is completed and the applicant has left, the jury will have to discuss the funding candidates and determine which ones will be offered a Grant Agreement Contract (GAC) and which ones will be rejected. The discussions will focus on the 3 key criteria by the European Commission (EC), namely Implementation, Impact and Excellence:

2.1 Implementation

The Team

  • Does the team have the capability and motivation to implement the innovation proposal and bring it to the market?

Leveraging of Investments

  • Is the company faced with the impossibility to leverage sufficient investments from the market due to the level of financial risks or existing market failure?
  • In addition, particularly for blended finance request, is the company deemed non-bankable by the market in view of the activities to be developed?

2.2 Impact

Commercial Strategy

  • Are the business model and commercialization strategy well thought through?
  • How sound are financial planning and projections?

Scale-up Potential & Financial Needs

  • Does the innovation have the potential to scale up the applicant company?
  • Have the financial needs to ensure the company’s success been adequately quantified?

2.3 Excellence

Innovation Feasibility

  • Does the innovation, through its degree of novelty or disruptiveness, have the potential to create a new market or significant impact in existing ones?
  • Is the timing right for this innovation (i.e. feasibility, market readiness)?

3. Why Companies Fail

The previous lists clearly indicate what type of scrutiny companies will have to face during the pitch interview and what types of questions they should expect. Follow-up questions to these core areas can still be unforeseen in many cases since each project is unique and can present individual challenges for both the presenters and jurors.

Still, difficult follow-up questions should be expected in the areas of technical issues, project implementation, market access, company growth, financial structure, investments, commitment and team motivation.

If a company fails then past data suggest that the following areas have not been addressed or only covered insufficiently (in order of significance):

  • Impact
    • Commercial strategy
    • Business model
  • Excellence
    • Market-creating potential
    • Financial planning & projections
  • Implementation
    • Team capability
    • Team motivation
    • Right timing

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: