Why It’s Great to be a Female Entrepreneur in the EU (EIC Accelerator)

The Europen Commission has long implemented policies and targets to increase gender equality across all industries and government institutions. While the EIC Accelerator (formerly the SME Instrument Phase 2) has been largely free from any interventions of such policies, there are a variety of factors that have been part of the evaluation process for a long time.

The Gender Dimension of the EIC Accelerator

The proposal template and the evaluation results have always included comments on gender equality for all applying Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) or startups which means that the score of a submitted proposal has always been affected by gender-related policies (see Using the Evaluation Summary Report (ESR) to Improve Grant Proposal Writing). Furthermore, if two applicants have a matching score, the number of female team members in the respective company could influence the success of the application as well.

In every EIC Accelerator application, it is therefore of benefit for the success of the proposal to address hiring, gender treatment and the effect of the project on gender equality as a whole. It is also useful to research the repercussions of a certain technology on gender differences.

Preferential Selection of Female CEO’s

Since the Green Deal cut-off in May (see The European Green Deal – A Dedicated Cut-Off for the EIC Accelerator), the EU has implemented new progressive policies to increase the number of female entrepreneurs. The initial goal was to boost the number of women-led companies who successfully received the grant funding from the previously small level (i.e. 1-5%) to 25% of all selected companies under the EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument Phase 2).

For the May cut-off, this target has even been exceeded with the total share of female CEO’s who received the grant being an unprecedented 34%. This means that the number of women-led companies that have been financed in May 2020 is higher than the number of all female CEO’s funded in the previous deadlines combined (i.e. 22 were funded in May and 16 combined for March and January).

source: @JeanDavidMALO1 on twitter

The ambitious quota was reached by reducing the threshold (i.e the minimum score needed to receive an interview invitation) for female CEO’s so that the number of invited female-led companies increased accordingly. To organize such a policy, the EC had each EIC Accelerator applicant declare the gender of their CEO within the submission forms so that such selections could be automated to reach the required number. If the gender was not declared, it was considered to be male by default. In addition, if the quotas were not being reached during a single interview week, previously rejected female-led companies would be eligible for a runner-up interview to reach the 25% mark.

Conclusion

This policy presents a great opportunity for female-led companies since the threshold for the invitation, influenced by the selection quota, is lower for female CEO’s than for male CEO’s. This, of course, does not mean that women have it easy in any way but it can make the difference between almost not receiving an invitation to the pitch week in Brussels and being invited (and potentially funded).

The projects that are reaching evaluation scores above 13.5/15 and are entering step 2 of the EIC Accelerator, female or not, are all high-level business proposals deserving of funding with the difference between invited and not invited being obscure in many cases. As such, every advantage should be welcomed by eligible companies.

Considering that the shares of invited and funded women-led companies have been as low as 5.9% and 2.3%, respectively, earlier in 2020, the overall rise can be seen as 5- to 17-fold in only six months (and likely much higher compared to 2019). Depending on the cut-off and some luck, women can have a substantial advantage and should consider applying to the EIC Accelerator if they are working on an innovative technology with significant scale-up potential (see Business Models for EIC Accelerator Applications).

This can also be of benefit for companies that have unsuccessfully applied to the grant before since they might have an easier time receiving the interview invite in the future. This, of course, does not mean that a low-quality or poorly edited application would receive a high score just because of the CEO’s gender but a professionally written proposal can have higher chances for the October 7th cut-off.

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.

Want to see all articles? They can be found here.

For Updates: Join this Newsletter!


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: