With the likely publication and opening of the new Horizon Europe program in April, its outlines are slowly but surely becoming visible. So too of the successful EIC Accelerator program 2021 that the European Commission already published on 17th March 2021. With a budget of over 1 billion euros and two deadlines in 2021, the competition promises to be stiff once again. We set things out for you.
What is the EIC Accelerator program?
The program has a generous budget, but is a highly competitive program with a success rate of less than 3%. It is designed for highly innovative SMEs, the so-called 'deep-tech innovation champions' with the ability to scale up. It’s about disruptive technologies and/or breakthrough innovations that address major societal challenges. SMEs that apply for the EIC Accelerator are not able to raise sufficient funding from the market themselves.
There are two types of funding available that may be combined:
- On the one hand, there is a regular grant up to a maximum of 2.5 million euros, funding 70% of the total project costs.
- On the other hand, there is the possibility of an optional investment in the applicant's share capital (equity) on top of the grant, up to a maximum of 15 million euros. NB Equity may also be used as co-financing for the grant.
Eligible projects must have a Technological Readiness Level (TRL) starting from level 5/6 (prototype) to level 8 (qualified system). For equity, any TRL is allowed. Funded projects last from twelve to twenty-four months.
Who can apply?
The new EIC Accelerator program has broadened the target group of applicants:
- SMEs from an EU Member State or Associated Country
- small midcap companies (less than 500 employees) from an EU Member State or Associated Country: only for rapid scale-up (e.g. TRL 9) and only for equity
- individuals from an EU Member State or Associated Country planning to set up an SME or mid-cap in an EU Member State or Associated Country
- natural persons from a third country planning to set up an SME (including start-ups) or to relocate an existing SME to an EU Member State or Associated Country.
What's new in EIC Accelerator program 2021?
The European Commission has made several changes to the new EIC Accelerator Program:
Towards "bottom-up" and "top-down" grant calls
The EIC is providing increased support to priority themes for the future of Europe. Therefore, as of 2021, there are two categories: the open category ('bottom up') and the challenges category ('top down') which funds breakthrough innovations, particularly in the field of strategic digital and health technologies and Green Deal innovations for economic recovery. The advice is to generally go for the open category unless your proposal is more suitable for the challenges category.
Reducing the number of resubmissions and improving support for SMEs
In order to reduce the number of resubmissions of projects - which the Commission found to be far too high under Horizon 2020 - the EIC is introducing a 12-month waiting period ("cooling down") after unsuccessful submission of two consecutive proposals to the EIC Accelerator. During the project selection process, the EIC also offers coaching services to help SMEs find the most suitable funding and improve the follow-up of the submitted proposal.
New three-step selection process
The main change concerns the simplification of the evaluation system, with the elimination of component-by-component scoring to the introduction of a selection process with a 'go/no go' approach in three steps:
- Short application: You have a revolutionary idea/deep tech idea with potential to scale up and you need financial support:
- Tell your story in five pages on the EIC's AI platform via online forms, answering a series of questions.
- Create a pitch deck of up to ten slides following a set format.
- Create a video pitch of up to three minutes in which the core members of your team (up to three people) give the motivation for your application.
The four EIC experts make their judgments ('go/no go') at any time (no deadline). If at least two reviewers give a 'go' for all criteria, your short application is successful, and you will be invited to prepare a full application.
- Full application:
- Complete the online form on the AI platform that automatically produces a complete and detailed business plan with information about your company's finances and structure.
- Prepare a pitch deck to be used when you are invited for interviews.
- Then submit your proposal by the established deadlines. Evaluation is based on the following criteria: excellence; impact; risk and execution. If all three reviewers give a "go" for all criteria, your entire application will be successfully reviewed, and you will be invited to an in-person interview with an EIC jury.
- Pitch your innovation to an EIC jury (maximum six members) and convince them of your story. Based on your interview and their overall assessment, the judges will recommend your proposal for funding ("go") or not ("no go").
- If you are selected, you will sign a contract with the Commission.
Grant budget and 2021 deadlines
The grant budget for EIC Accelerator is nearly 1.1 billion euros in 2021 and is divided among the categories as follows:
- Open: 592.5 million euros
- Challenges: 495.1 million euros