On Hiring a Consultant or Grant Writer for the 2021 EIC Accelerator (SME Instrument)

The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) has introduced a new stage to the application process in 2021 which acts as a mini-proposal termed Step 1 (read: Re-Inventing the EIC Accelerator). It includes materials such as a written grant application, a video pitch and a pitch deck which must be submitted to the European Innovation Councils (EIC) AI platform (read: AI Tool Review).

With this change, the EIC Accelerator now has three Steps that must be passed, namely Step 1 (short application), Step 2 (full application) and Step 3 (face-to-face interview) (read: Recommendations for the EICA) but many startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) are unsure what these Steps mean and what deadlines and timelines are associated with them.

As a short guide, applicants can refer to the following notes:

  • Step 1 is a short application that can be prepared in less than 30 days and can be submitted any time without a fixed deadline (read: Pitch Video Workflow)
  • Step 2 is a very long application that can only be submitted if (i) Step 1 has been approved and (ii) the EIC has published a fixed deadline. In 2021, there were two cut-offs, namely June and October. The minimum time to prepare the Step 2 application should be 60 days but more is recommended.
  • Step 3 is a face-to-face interview that uses the pitch deck submitted in Step 2. It is only available to projects that have been approved in Step 2 and the dates for this Step are fixed to be right after the Step 2 evaluations are released (i.e. the pitch week). The preparation for this Step can be performed in 14 days.

What to Develop Alone and What to Outsource

There is no general rule as to when a consultant or professional writer should be hired or if one is needed at all. The official proposal templates, work program and guidelines (i.e. for the EIC fund and the AI tool) are publically available which means that every company is technically able to apply on their own.

Considerations must be made regarding the resources available and the timing of the grant writing. For Step 1, the effort is comparatively small:

Benefits of Developing Step 1 In-House

  • Step 1 requires comparatively little time-effort
  • Step 1 is relatively easy to develop
  • No money is wasted in case the project is not suitable for the EIC Accelerator (i.e. some consultancies will onboard low-success cases)
  • Full control over the outcome

Benefits of Hiring a Consultant

  • A consultant can shape the project and make it more impactful as well as avoid red flags
  • Being part of Step 1 will simplify the Step 2 process
  • Optimize the automated scoring on the AI platform based on experience
  • Time savings
  • Close contact with the EIC to be prepared for unexpected changes
  • Consultants will re-submit a proposal if rejected while a rejected project will have a difficult time hiring a consultant

The downsides of each approach are the reverse of each other meaning that what is a benefit of hiring a consultant will be the downside of preparing an application alone. For Step 2, the comparison would be as follows:

Note: The comparison for Step 2 assumes that applicants have successfully applied for Step 1 by themselves and are considering hiring a Step 2 partner.

Benefits of Developing Step 2 In-House

  • Cost savings
  • Full control over the outcome

Benefits of Hiring a Consultant

  • A consultant can shape the project and make it more impactful as well as avoid red flags
  • Organizing the project development and collaboration between the management team to meet the deadline
  • Time savings
  • Close contact with the EIC to be prepared for unexpected changes

There are a variety of considerations to be made alongside the general tradeoffs of hiring a consultancy listed above. One of these is the way companies assess their own capabilities and the way they judge their performed effort.

It is not uncommon for a consultant to be contacted by a client who wants to apply to Step 1 by themselves while casually mentioning that they have scored B or C in all AI tool segments even though the project is highly qualified for the EIC Accelerator. Just because Step 1 is relatively easy to prepare does not mean that it is a low hanging fruit. One must place significant effort into the preparation of the application regardless of its simplicity.

Yes, the EIC wants to make it easy for applicants to apply and wants to avoid them wasting their time on a long application if there is no chance for them to succeed. But this does not mean that evaluators will get a project with minimal input or read between the lines.

Companies that are very busy often think that preparing a quick application will be good enough but this does not apply to EIC grants. A company should be prepared to go the extra mile with the application and fill out every section with a maximum amount of attention and effort.

Conclusion

The best way to answer the question as to when a consultant should be hired would be to first decide if an in-house proposal preparation is an option at all (i.e. time availability, skilled staff). Secondly, the company should talk to consultancies to identify if the project has appropriate chances for success (i.e. multiple opinions are recommended since some consultancies are not selective enough).

Thirdly, the company must weigh the tradeoffs of in-house proposal writing which are the intense time requirements, especially for Step 2, but also the workload on the management team which might be better-advised focusing on business-relevant tasks instead of writing.


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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