Why It Could Be Beneficial to Apply Early to the 2021 EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity financing) will be reinstated in 2021 under Horizon Europe (2021-2027) with an updated evaluation process (read: Proposed 2021 Process). This will likely present new challenges to the evaluation procedure as lead by European Agency for SME’s (EASME) and the European Innovation Council (EIC) but it can also present improved opportunities for startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME).

Consultants and professional writers should be aware that such a new process can artificially tilt the success chances of grant applications since a continuously open call (i.e. Step 1) can lead to a bottleneck in Step 2 which makes the timing of the application essential. The following presents a list of considerations and assumptions that can impact the evaluation process:

  • Open deadline: Since Step 1 will be continuously open, each applicant that applies early and receives a YES will have a guaranteed spot for the Step 2 evaluation
  • YES or NO grading only: Since there is no numeric scoring, it is likely that proposals will not be ranked which means that every YES will have to be invited to Step 2 (i.e. no retrospective rejection due to rankings)
  • Limited spots for Step 2: If the EIC and EASME realize in April or May 2021 (i.e. the next deadline for Step 2 is in June 2021 – see Cut-Off) that there are too many YES gradings for Step 1 already, this might significantly impact the success chances of late Step 1 applicants.

The above reasoning is highly speculative but it is likely that the new evaluation process will undergo an equilibration phase during which the thresholds need to be adjusted in some way. In the past, a score of 13 acted as the official funding threshold while the unofficial threshold (i.e. 13.5 to 14.1) was determined through rankings enabled by the scoring system. Without such a scoring system to determine the rankings, the EIC has no way of limiting the numbers of applications other than to increase the strictness of the YES/NO evaluations dynamically which can lead to unfair results.

Assuming that the EASME will not, in secret, employ an internal ranking system with scores (i.e. without communicating this to applicants) then the same logic would apply to Step 2. A single evaluation round of the full step 2 proposals could lead to an excess of applications for step 3 and, since there is no ranking, the Step 2 evaluation process must be repeated but more strictly. What strictly would mean in this case is not clear but it seems like a less transparent method of evaluating proposals compared to the 2020 process.

Conclusion

It is impossible to estimate the impact of the 2021 EIC Accelerator grant application process but this uncertainty could be mitigated through clear communication from the EASME and the EIC as to how certain thresholds are set and enforced (i.e. by providing real-time updates on YES and NO counts and thresholds). This extends to clear communication if evaluation steps are repeated internally in case applications exceed the capacities for subsequent evaluation steps. This is especially useful if an applicant can choose less competitive EIC Accelerator topics or if the timing of the application is not fixed (i.e. postponing an application to avoid the freezing period).

In summary, it could be beneficial for applicants to apply to Step 1 of the EIC Accelerator in 2021 as soon as possible since an early YES will guarantee a spot to the Step 2 evaluation while this might be significantly more difficult the later one applies.

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: