A New Approach to Developing EIC Accelerator Projects under Horizon Europe (SME Instrument)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) can be viewed as an entirely new funding program under Horizon Europe (2021-2027). It has not only changed its grant proposal submission process but also its evaluation which will likely see significant changes in the types of companies selected as beneficiaries (read: Re-Inventing the EIC Accelerator). This article aims to contrast the previous workflow of professional grant writers and consultants with this newest iteration of the European Innovation Councils (EIC) startup and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME) funding arm (read: AI Tool Review).

Since innovation is on the minds of both writers and evaluators at all times, making necessary changes and adapting to a new and unpredictable environment comes as second nature. As such, even large consultancies have already adapted their workflow and have started to change their internal processes to retain efficiency and quality.

How Grant Proposal Writing Looked Like In 2020

In 2020 and the years under Horizon 2020 (2014-2020), the process of writing EIC Accelerator (or then SME Instrument) applications was rather straightforward. The collaboration would begin with a Kick-Off Meeting (KOM), the transfer of relevant files and then the writers would get to work – mostly autonomously.

Due to the limited space available and the lack of depth regarding the technology, there was little reason to have excessive input from the company themselves since the proposal focused on a short, narrative description over technical segmentations.

In 2021, this approach has changed since the application itself is structured differently. This article aims to highlight how the old way of proposal writing is now replaced by a more modern and nuanced approach that requires more collaboration, depth and sophistication.

Why The Old Approach Stopped Working

1. Text Requirements and Length

The 2020’s EIC Accelerator proposal was relatively long with 30 pages as the main document but the 2021 version has increased that number tremendously. This is due to the abundant text boxes of mostly 1,000 characters that must be filled throughout the application while some segments also amount to 5,000 characters, 10,000 or unlimited spaces. As such, descriptions are much more detailed and must often be developed for the proposal itself since companies do not always use certain types of segmentations. Examples are the features and use-cases, Technology Readiness Level (TRL) milestones, Total Available Market (TAM), Serviceable Available Market (SAM), Serviceable Obtainable Market (SOM) or the Technology Adoption Life-Cycle (TALC).

2. Technical Detail & Depth

Many sections in 2020 were rather surface-level and writers often struggled to allocate more than 1 DINA4 page for the technology description, including images, due to the strict limitations. With the new features and use cases model, one can easily set up 10 features with 7,000 characters each, yielding 70,000 characters for the technology description alone. Considering the need to describe the Freedom to Operate (FTO), the currently existing knowledge, bottlenecks and the added value for each feature, it is evident that there is an unprecedented level of depth that is required.

Assuming 140 words per 1,000 characters and 750 words making up a block of text on a DINA4 page (using the 2020’s EIC Accelerator margins without images), this would yield 13 DINA4 pages of pure text for the features alone. Comparing this to the previous single page which had to include images, the change is quite drastic and the 13 pages would not even cover the entire description of the solution since it must be described elsewhere as well. This level of depth is impossible to fill without strong collaborations with the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) and sufficient research.

Considering that all sections that are covering the market, financials, commercial strategy and others have likewise increased in size, it is clear that the 2021 EIC Accelerator proposal has easily quadrupled in size compared to 2020.

3. More Scrutiny Towards Commercial Strategies

Commercial strategies and market analyses were usually quite limited due to the page restrictions of the 2020’s EIC Accelerator. With the now bloated Step 2 process, this has changed significantly. The market sections and especially the TALC require a detailed breakdown of how customers will be reached with specific market penetration expectations. As such, the strategy will require plans that exceed simplified notions like:

  • We want to start in the European Union (EU) and then go global
  • We have local distributors who can help us
  • We expect to reach 100 customers in 3 years
  • We will develop a customer network

The new template asks the applying startups and SME’s to define each penetration segment and even to give cash flows (operating, investing and financing) for each, including a timeline and Profit and Loss (P&L). Especially the P&L, even though the new spreadsheet is now simplified, will need an additional breakdown to account for the figures given in the TALC which can span 10+ years into the future while the P&L usually only views 5 years.

4. Other Sections

Outside of the Go2Market and the technical parts, there are a variety of figures and considerations that need more input from applicants since they were more surface-level in 2020. Especially the risk section, the investment needs and the competitors (i.e. pains and gains) require strong input from the companies management team.

How To Structure Project Development in 2021

As a result, the previous hands-off approach of outsourcing proposal writing to a consultant is impossible but it is replaced by a more collaborative approach where the company must be actively engaged in discussing the needed input and be brought in for the structuring of the entire application.

The greatest change in 2021 is the collaboration between consultants (or professional writers) and clients. Instead of drafting a business plan autonomously, the consultants have to bring their clients into the process and, since the management team of a scale-up is usually quite busy, display excellent project management throughout the process. These changes are still quite new but major improvements over the old methods could be:

Multiple Kick-Off Calls for Dedicated Sections

In 2021, it is insuffienct to have a single Kick-Off Meeting (KOM) for the entire project and especially Step 2 of the 2021’s EIC Accelerator should be segmented into relevant chapters with a specialised call for each. Additionally, the call should follow the official proposal template very closely since all applicants now have to answer explicit questions as opposed to following a loose structure during the writing process.

How to segment these chapters and how calls are structured is up to the writers and consultants but it is recommended to segment them by their themes (i.e. Market, Competitors, Technology, Strategy, etc.) to have small meetings with specialised experts. Additionally, all meetings should be recorded to have a fall-back document since the information density in Step 2 would be difficult to address otherwise (read: Pitch Video Workflow).

Planning and Involvement on a Need-to-Participate Basis

Management teams of start-ups and scale-ups are notoriously busy which means that a consultancies team must collaborate with the management team in a seamless manner. Just like many companies have a remote workspace amongst their employees, consultants and writers must have an embedded workspace with their clients to make communication and project developments as efficient and seamless as possible.

As such, the workload on the SME’s management team will be minimised and tasks can be assigned on a need-to-participate basis (i.e. the CTO for the technical aspects and the business developer for the market strategy). In 2020, this was not necessary to the same degree but this new and collaborative approach demands strong involvement of all relevant parties.

Shaping Over Reviewing

One of the things every consultant knows is that, very often, the management team (i.e. CTO, CEO, etc.) is too busy to make time for a 1-hour document review but they are happy to discuss their technology and business for 2 hours.

Meetings have a different time-allocation priority in the minds of most people compared to isolated editing work and it also requires a different level of dedication: Reviewing a document will bring up many questions that the reviewer needs to be answered immediately in order to make edits which can have many clients give up in the process.

Turning the old reviewing model into a collaborative building process where the management team is participating through multiple walkthroughs and interviews is much more efficient especially with the depth in the 2021 EIC Accelerator.

Transparency and Access to Documents

Lastly, it is important for the applicants to have transparent access to all documents for the EIC Accelerator not only to see the status but also to identify what input is needed from them. The previous black-box approach of creating an application and then delivering the final product to the client is now obsolete and a construction site approach seems much more efficient. With the client participating in the shaping of the application, even if only through calls and minor edits, they will significantly reduce their workload for final reviews.

There should be an overseeable number of master documents (i.e. the written part, the pitch deck, a spreadsheet, …) that remain intact throughout the entire development process. If there are multiple versions, fragmented editions, reviews or comments then there could be confusion as to where the application is at any moment in time which is not feasible with an excessively long Step 2 proposal.

Conclusion

Many tools such as Google Workspace, Microsoft Teams and others allow highly efficient collaboration capabilities and 2021 is the ideal time for professional writers and old-fashioned consultants to familiarise themselves with them. Due to the extreme workload of an EIC Accelerator application, especially in Step 2, efficiency is now at the forefront of proposal development.

Co-building an application, bringing in the right people and creating an efficient framework for a seamless proposal development is key.


The articles found on Rasph.com reflect the opinions of Rasph or its respective authors and in no way reflect opinions held by the European Commission (EC) or the European Innovation Council (EIC). The provided information aims to share perspectives that are valuable and can potentially inform applicants regarding grant funding schemes such as the EIC Accelerator, EIC Pathfinder, EIC Transition or related programs such as Innovate UK in the United Kingdom or the Small Business Innovation and Research grant (SBIR) in the United States.

The articles can also be a useful resource for other consultancies in the grant space as well as professional grant writers who are hired as freelancers or are part of a Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME). The EIC Accelerator is part of Horizon Europe (2021-2027) which has recently replaced Horizon 2020. Previously, the EIC Accelerator was named SME Instrument Phase 2 whereas Phase 1 was discontinued in 2019. It should also be noted that the current Steps of the EIC Accelerator application do not correspond to the Phases that were available in 2019 but only act as additional evaluation thresholds for the project's assessment.


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