Disruptive innovators are continuously seeking funding to finance risky R&D, scale-up, and close-to-market activities. This presents a challenge for European SMEs, who may struggle to find high-risk capital from professional investors. To address this gap, the European Commission created European Innovation Council (EIC). EIC is Europe’s flagship innovation funding institute with >€10 billion budget for 2021-2027.

EIC Accelerator is the major instrument of the EIC Work Programme, part of Horizon Europe. EIC Accelerator is one of the most prestigious funding schemes for innovative ​​​​start-ups, SMEs and scale-ups ​in the EU. The scheme will support the scale-up of SMEs developing high-risk, high-impact innovations (‘deep tech’​- building on scientific discovery or technological breakthroughs) with the potential to create new markets or disrupt existing ones. SMEs can apply for dilutive (equity) and non-dilutive funding (grant) in one of the two calls: Open Call, for innovations in any field (‘EIC Open’); or Challenge Driven, that targets Technologies for Open Strategic Autonomy, and ‘Fit for 55’ (‘EIC Challenges’).

Table of contents

  1. About EIC Accelerator
  2. Applicant Profile
  3. Application & Evaluation Process
  4. Grant & Equity Components
  5. Equity & Blended Finance
  6. Success Criteria
  7. Grant agreement phase
  8. Case Studies

 


1. About EIC Accelerator

For European SMEs with high-risk, high-gain innovations

Funding from the EIC Accelerator is designed to support innovations to launch and scale-up faster on the European (and global) markets. This will help drive economic growth in Europe, attract high-risk capital to support European autonomy in strategic innovations and lead to new R&D jobs and benefits for society. This programme is highly competitive.

Applicants now have four options for funding under the EIC Accelerator: grant & equity (also called blended finance), equity only, grant first, grant only. Grant activities may cover late-stage product and service development (>TRL5), trials, validation, demonstration and testing in real-world conditions. Late-stage R&D, but also market access preparation, commercialization and scale-up of the company can be additionally financed by the equity component.

GRANT & EQUITY
(€ 0.5M – € 2.5M) & (max. € 15M)
For support of late-stage R&D, scale up and commercialization activities

EQUITY ONLY
(max. € 15M)
For extra support of scale up and commercialization activities.

GRANT FIRST
(€ 0.5 – 2.5M)
For conducting late-stage R&D, and eventually scale up and commercialization planned after >2 years

GRANT ONLY
(€ 0.5 – 2.5M)
For late-stage R&D activities as the last push before the scaling-up phase.

Open Call and Challenges

Next to the EIC Accelerator Open call (open to any innovation), there are two EIC Accelerator Challenge calls in 2022. EIC Challenges seek applicants with the same profile as the EIC Open, but Challenges target innovations in specific domains of strategic importance for the EU. For the EIC Accelerator Challenge calls the same rules and conditions apply regarding funding, application process and eligibility.

  1. Technologies for Open Strategic Autonomy: Maintaining strategic autonomy at the European level through building new deep-tech solutions, while moving to a greener and digital economy. The Challenge is open for start-ups and SMEs that develop new technologies, pioneering solutions, and breakthrough innovations within strategic domains in pharmaceutical industry, healthcare technologies, or circular approaches to critical raw material among others.

    Subcategories:

    • Components, technologies and systems for the pharmaceutical industry
    • Strategic healthcare technologies in cell and gene therapies
    • Sustainable innovations, inc. circular approaches to critical raw materials (CRM)
    • Five additional subcategories (quantum, edge computing, space tech, security and financial payments)
  2. Technologies for ‘Fit for 55’: With the ‘Fit for 55’ package adopted by the European Commission in 2021 to reduce net greenhouse gas emission by at least 55% by 2030, radical innovations are needed to support the green transition and climate neutral economy. The Challenge will support companies and high-potential technologies in the field of clean energy conversion and use, energy efficiency of buildings, climate neutrality in the land use, and decarbonisation of industries.Subcategories:
    • Higher clean energy conversion and use
    • Decarbonisation of hard-to-abate industries
    • Energy efficiency and safety in the built environment
    • Zero emission mobility solutions for all modes of transport
    • Climate neutrality in the land use
    • Water, gas and indoor air management/monitoring systems
    • Green digital technologies

Focus of EIC Accelerator: Blended finance

New EIC Accelerator strongly focuses on financial support through blended finance (grant & equity) to finance scale-up and market activities, along with the late-stage R&D. Equity financing is provided by the EIC Fund.

EIC Fund. The EIC Fund is a venture capital fund with the European Commission as a shareholder and European Investment Bank (EIB) as the investment advisor. So far, the EIC Fund has approved investments in >141 companies (>€0.6 billion) with the mission, to bridge the critical financing gap faced by innovative companies when scaling-up or bringing their technologies to market.

Equity component. EIC Fund provides patient capital in the form of direct equity or quasi-equity, such as convertible loans. The fund invests from €0.5-€15M in seed-, series A-, and series B-stage companies on friendly, flexible terms, often seeking a crowd-in effect through attracting other investments.

Need for investment support. EIC Accelerator is aimed at supporting companies that are not able to secure enough financing from the market. This includes the inability to attract sufficient investments from professional investors (VCs) due to the high technological or commercial risk of the innovation. EIC Accelerator financing should de-risk the innovation, hence allowing SMEs to attract co-investments from commercial investors.

In the application, you need to provide detailed financial and business information, along with evidence for your ability to scale-up and make wide-ranging impacts. We are ready to help you with this.

 


2. Applicant Profile

Applicants must be small- or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – especially start-ups, spin-outs and scale-ups, individuals intending to launch a start-up or SME, and in exceptional cases, small mid-caps (fewer than 500 employees) established in an EU Member State or a Horizon Europe-associated country. There is no fixed sector or topic for the Open call. For further information on eligibility nuances, please contact us.

Start-ups and SMEs

The EIC Accelerator is designed to support ambitious companies with radically new ideas to develop and commercialize innovative products, services and business models that shape new markets and drive economic growth. Bringing the innovation to market must have high societal and/or environmental impact. For the best fit with EIC Accelerator, your SME must meet the following three points:

  1. High-risk innovation that will be disruptive in existing markets or create new markets, with the potential to change market dynamics.Your innovation should be a critical solution that addresses unmet needs, ideally impacting societal challenges. It should be better and/or significantly different to any alternatives – something that no one else has. The EIC is looking for game changers and breakthrough ideas. Most preferred are disruptive technologies originating from research (deep-tech). The high degree of novelty comes with a high chance of either success or failure.
  2. High potential to grow your company and scale-up a major market opportunity. The company’s financial needs to scale-up and successfully achieve market-entry should be defined with clear milestones and timelines. Grant project usually lasts up to 24 months, while the equity component is provided as a part of an investment round and may fund activities beyond this timeframe.
  3. Readiness of your innovation. The technology readiness level (TRL) of your innovation – ranging from 1 to 9 – is assessed as an indicator for the stage of technology development. The grant component can be used to finance innovations at TRL of 5/6 to 8. This means your technology should at least be in the stage of lab-validated prototype, and ready for a validation (TRL5) and demonstration (TRL6) in an industrially-relevant environment (e.g. late preclinical studies) during the project. Activities including the improvement and optimization of the prototype, production scale-up, further validation, and demonstration in an operational environment (TRL7-8) may be funded by both grant and equity components. Activities above TRL9 (after market entry) can only be funded through the equity finance option. As TRL assessment affects your eligibility for grant or blended financing, you should have a good understanding of this aspect. In some sectors, TRL6 may not be competitive enough for the EIC Accelerator, so please talk to us to evaluate your innovation.

Are you ready to apply?

Applying to EIC Accelerator is a strategic decision that should not be taken lightly. In a nutshell, you need a breakthrough innovation with the potential to create entirely new markets or revolutionise existing ones, a clear ambition to grow at international level, a demonstrated knowledge of your target market, and a convincing, detailed business and financing plan. It is crucial that you are ready to convince on each one of these aspects.

 


3. Application & Evaluation Process

Short application

The EIC Accelerator ‘Open Call’ is continuously open for applications. The application process includes three stages; a short application, that can be submitted anytime. When successful, a full proposal may be submitted in one of the prescheduled deadlines (usually 3-4 a year). Best scoring proposals are invited to the last stage – a pitch presentation and Q&A interview before the EIC Jury.

Once you decide to apply, register your company on the European Commission’s Funding and Tenders portal, and complete an ‘SME self-assessment’. Preparation of the short application includes three steps: complete a Diagnostic module on the EIC’s artificial intelligence (AI) submission portal, record a short video, and submit a pitch slide deck.

3 elements

  1. Proposal. Within the EIC’s new AI Portal, complete a Diagnostic module, summarising your proposal in a 5-pager, including a set of questions about the innovation, potential market, and your team.
  2. Video. A pre-recorded video pitch of up to 3 minutes with your core team members.
  3. Pitch Deck. A company’s pitch slide deck of up to 10 slides addressing all evaluated aspects of your application.

Full application

Selected applicants that are invited to apply to the second round can prepare their full application. In 2021, 50-60% of applicants proceeded to the full application stage. This step includes preparation of a comprehensive business plan that is submitted through the EIC AI Portal. Through answering questions on the company’s ambition, structure, financing, business model, commercialization strategy, technology/innovation description, and market positioning a very detailed business plan is generated.

Developing the perfect EIC Accelerator proposal is a complex process given the significant detail required, the need to navigate the new EIC AI portal, and the limited space to describe all critical elements effectively (>100 textboxes each with 1000-character limits).

3 elements

  1. Business Plan. This must be a comprehensive and detailed business plan filled out according to the methodologies laid out in the EIC AI portal.
  2. Company financial plan. You must provide full information on your company’s finances in the past, future financial predictions and forecasts, defined (investment) milestones, detailed budgets for both grant and equity components.
  3. Visuals & Annexes. A pitch slide deck to be used at interview stage, additional optional Annex with visualizations, technicalities and other formal documents.

Short application

Within ~4 weeks you will receive an evaluation result of the short application. If evaluated positive, you can submit the full application at any of the forthcoming full stage deadlines within 12 months. If rejected one time, you may resubmit at any time. If rejected a second time no new submission will be allowed for 12 months, at which point you may only submit a new or significantly improved proposal.

Full application

Within ~5-6 weeks you will receive an evaluation result. If the proposal is rejected one time, it is possible to directly resubmit to the remote evaluation at one of the subsequent cut-offs, with an improved proposal addressing the reviewers’ feedback. If rejected a second time no resubmission will be allowed for 12 months, at which point you may only submit a new or significantly improved proposal to the short application stage.

Be ready to make a pitch to the EIC jury!

Pitch & Interview. All applicants with a positive full stage evaluation will be invited to pitch to a panel of up to six jury experts. The panel consists of business angels, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other experts coming from larger corporates, innovation hubs, and accelerators.

Catalyze can help you train for your pitch to ensure your personal qualities and the motivations of your team come across the right way, which is crucial to convince the juries and investors.

 


4. Grant & Equity Components

Grant component

The maximum amount for the grant component should not exceed €2.5 million. In addition, the innovation activities to be supported should be completed in 24 months, but may be longer in well justified cases. The grant component can reimburse eligible costs up to a maximum of 70%. The remaining 30% of costs for the associated activities need to be co-financed by the company’s own resources or financed through the investment component.

To request Grant Only or Grant First support you must fulfil the following conditions:

  • Grant Only (no equity component needed): You must provide evidence that you have sufficient means to finance deployment and scaling up of your innovation (e.g. through letters from future investors).
  • Grant First (equity considered after 2 years): Your innovation is based on scientific discovery at early stage (e.g. TRL5-6). Subject to reaching the planned milestone, companies will be eligible for the equity component later.

Equity component

You may request €0.5 million to €15 million in equity investment. However, a higher amount may be requested in exceptional cases (e.g. for technologies that are strategic for the European Union; those with a global competition, where the need for funding significantly exceeds what is available in Europe).

While primarily intended to finance market deployment and scale up, equity may also be used for (co)-financing or R&D and innovation activities.

The equity component will be provided as a part of an investment round and may fund activities in parallel or beyond the 24 month timeframe of the grant project. EIC Fund aims for ownerships of <25% of the shares, and in addition to equity other options (quasi-equity, convertible loans) might be provided. EIC Fund intends to act as a friendly-investor, investing with a long average perspective (7-10 years, ‘patient capital’).

 


5. Equity & Blended Finance

The EIC Accelerator offers blended finance in the form of an optional equity investment in addition to the grant. The grant component (up to €2.5 million) finances activities from TRL 5/6-8. Activities classified as TRL9 – those focused on preparing your business for market readiness and the follow-up scale-up – can only be financed through the equity component (up to €15 million).

Ready?

In the financial plan, you must define the need and envisioned timelines for the forthcoming investment rounds (most typically series A or B). In the most common scenario, the EIC fund would aim to co-invest in one of the planned financing rounds with other commercial investors. It is important that you carefully consider the timing for equity financing. This will have a long-term impact on your company. Therefore, when aiming for EIC blended financing it may be worth commencing discussions with your investors regarding the possibility of dilution.

Approach

In a financing plan you will need to detail the amount requested for equity, timelines, and the activities intended to be financed (both TRL5-8 and TRL9). This needs to be positioned in context of your commercial strategy and goals to upscale.

At Catalyze, we are experienced in strategizing how to incorporate the equity option into your business plan, helping you define critical milestones and value inflection points. We recommend that you only commence Equity activities about halfway through the ~24month grant project (or later), as this makes things easier.

What happens next?

Selected applicants for blended finance will be invited to negotiate the equity support with the EIC Fund, keeping flexibility to deliver tailored support for the individual company. The due diligence process (taking weeks to months) will be carried out by European Investment Bank (EIB) to validate and operationalise the investment, with standardized financial packages and implementation networks.

The selected applicants will benefit from connections with specialized mentors, ecosystems, and access to additional funding opportunities. The EIC will support investee companies in subsequent rounds of capital increase and help seek exits from such investments.

Advantages of blended finance?

The benefits of incorporating an equity component into your project come in different dimensions but, inter alia, include:

  • The EIC acts as a friendly investor, which implies that they do not look for an early exit (5-7 years) but can provide sustainable support on the longer term. The EIC is ready to step out at any point when the EIC investment is no longer needed.
  • The EIC is willing to step in via equity funding in ‘high-risk’ projects, allowing a company to push developments forward that ‘traditional’ investors would be less willing to support.
  • The project will be provided with deeper and longer support for activities beyond TRL8 and market deployment.
  • Your innovation is de-risked as the “valley of death” is bridged and brought closer to investors, while your company’s leverage increases in upcoming negotiations.
  • Provides your company with the chance to gain a valuable partner (private investor) to support go-to-market activities, provide strategic advice, mentoring and access to a broader network of investors.
  • There is greater alignment of interest of company founders with the successful outcome of the project.

 


6. Success Criteria

The expert reviewers of your EIC Accelerator proposal evaluate based on three criteria. In addition, they will assess your company’s operational capacity and specifically evaluate the TRL of your innovation. The three criteria evaluated are:

1. Excellence (Innovation and Technology)

The EIC is seeking high-risk, high potential SMEs for high-reward. The feasibility of your idea will therefore be evaluated. Does your innovation – through its degree of novelty or disruptiveness – have the potential to create a new market or make significant impact in existing ones? The EIC seeks highly innovative solutions that go beyond state of the art, and that positively impact society, the economy, and/or the environment. The window of opportunity that you plan to exploit should be made clear – outlining that now is the most opportune timing for your innovation in terms of stage of development, feasibility, and market readiness.

2. Impact (Business case and Scale-up potential)

The EIC here evaluates your commercialization strategy and business model. This includes demonstrating that you understand your value to payers and end-users, accounting for regulations of different countries across Europe and globally – and how this affects your pricing strategy. The financial planning and projections should be realistic and provide a sound return on investment. Importantly, your project should result in upscaling, both in terms of revenues and (research) infrastructure and job creation. Ideally you should forecast revenue creation of over €100 million within a few years after the project. In addition, it is important to address your market fit, competitors, and key partners to enter the market.

Have you adequately quantified the financial needs necessary to scale-up your business and innovation? We recommend incorporating the project into your timelines to illustrate what the impact will be if the project is not awarded. You need a convincing knowledge-protection strategy and evidence of realistic measures to ensure freedom to operation for commercial exploitation. If you have any gaps in your commercial or upscaling strategies, please get in touch for an evaluation.

3. Implementation (Team, Level of risk, and Need for support)

The EIC assesses if your company has the operational capacity and that your team has the capability and motivation to bring your innovation to market. They will evaluate the business and entrepreneurial experience of your team. It is important that your project work plan is realistic and includes clear milestones. Your company should demonstrate a clear need for the EIC support. You need to have assessed your project’s commercial and technical risks, with appropriate mitigations planned.

 


7. Grant agreement phase

Congratulations! Your application was successful! Before you can start the project, you have to finish the last preparation steps of the ‘grant agreement phase’. During this phase (within 2-3 months after grant approval), you must provide necessary documentation and sign the Grant Agreement document. The grant agreement consists of the formal agreements between the European Commission and you as the applicant – as well as the timeline and budget for your project.

Due Diligence Phase

In addition, applicants selected for blended support will also receive a referral to the EIC Fund to initiate a due diligence process for the equity component. This will be to assess the compliance through a “pre-due diligence phase” and run a “market appetite“ testing, whereby the EIC Fund will check if there are co-investors on the market willing to take an equity stake in the company. Preferably, the EIC Fund will co-invest alongside such market players, but also considers other options.

 


8. Case Studies

Our team deliver EIC Accelerator application and project management services to researchers and entrepreneurs operating across the fields of Life Sciences & Health, and Green & Sustainable Innovations.

Life Sciences & Health

VarmX

“Applying for an EIC accelerator grant is not made easy and demands detailed understanding of the exact requirements that make up a successful application. The Catalyze team do an excellent job in making sure that all boxes are ticked so that the best possible score comes within reach.” – Founder of VarmX