In 2021, the EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) launched its new AI Tool which is an online platform for proposal submissions. Due to its delayed launch and the interactive nature of the tool, many bugs and errors were encountered by prospect applicants. While it is clear that both the European Innovation Council (EIC) and Innovation Loop have put great work into this elaborate project – it still left many applicants confused and frustrated.
Reviewing the Platform
If the aim of the EIC was to reduce the reliance of startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) on third parties such as professional writers or consultancies then this might have backfired. While every CEO understands the need to create a business plan and upload the document, very few have the time or patience to fill out seemingly endless forms that far exceed the work placed into writing a grant proposal.
In fact, feedback from CEO’s has been that the mandatory milestones, the 12 pre-defined steps of the innovation and, especially, using the Technology Adoption Life Cycle (TALC) to define a market entry and financial projections was not applicable to their business.
The overall structure of the platform, especially for the full application in Step 2, gives the impression of an MBA student having been assigned to try and make all innovation businesses fit into a single mould.
This one-size-fits-all approach has led to the objectification of innovation which, by definition, defeats the purpose of seeking out innovators in the first place.
It assumes that every company will inevitably face customer segments characterized as innovators, early adopters, the chasm, early majority, late majority and laggards which is not a relevant distinction for the boots-to-the-ground commercial strategy of most businesses. On this particular point, not only must market and financial projections such as revenues and cashflows be planned for each listed step but it is mandatory to address each of these segments without exception. Frequent complaints on this part have been:
- What if a company has no interest in spending significant marketing and sales expenses on reaching laggards who are hard to convince?
- What if the chasm is not relevant for a specific commercial strategy that has large scale distributors and retailers – thus allowing vertical scaling?
- What does the cash flow of the chasm look like if it is supposed to be a gap between two segments and not a segment of its own?
It seems like the TALC is an analysis tool that is conventionally used to look backwards at an innovation rather than a tool that is integrated into an early-stage business plan to estimate an innovation and its market uptake. Identifying what a future barrier or risk could be is important but to include a gap between the early adopters and the early majority according to a book published in 1991 (“Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore) seems redundant. Estimating a cash flow and revenues for a potential gap seems unnecessary at best.
The Template and Content
While the official proposal template and guide for applicants do reflect the content needed for the full application, the platform requests a high quantity of content with very strong overlaps between sections. While it was clear that the 2020’s EIC Accelerator applications were already very text dense, the EIC seems to have asked themselves:
How about we remove all images, formatting and links from the application and have even more text?
Needless to say, it is obvious that evaluators were not consulted in this decision. The EIC should, for the sake of their applicants and evaluators, update the platform and allow applicants to add images and graphics into key sections of the applications. Many sections should also be removed since they likely frustrate evaluators more than applicants but a future article will follow with specific recommendations.
Bugs and Errors
The following list of errors and bugs is by no means complete but reflects the experience of a small number of applicants who have used the platform thus far. The European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA) have already been notified of these bugs and some of the errors have already been fixed in the past weeks.
Note: It is easy to point out 1% of mistakes if 99% was very well executed. The EIC Platform looks very well-designed, is elaborate and does present a well-planned snapshot of an innovation. Still, it remains to be seen if this is the right path for the EIC moving forward.
1. Deleted Text
One applicant had all their risks in Step 1 removed during the submission. This was evident when comparing the screenshots of the submission window with the resulting proposal as it is shown after the submission. Risk analysis is a critical issue for the EIC Accelerator which makes such a glitch extremely harmful but, luckily, the applicant presented a strong case in other sections and passed regardless.
Often, the platform in Step 1 and 2 did not auto-save properly which resulted in the browser window scrolling back up to the top and displaying a generic error message. Reasons for this were entirely bug-related since trial and error showed that, very often, having 1000/1000 characters blocked auto-save while 999/1000 passed successfully. Alternatively, removing all the line breaks from a paragraph also worked in some cases if the window did not auto-save properly. This, of course, made the text hard to read for the evaluator but applicants had no other option.
In the value-chain, the main stakeholder could be declared as both “part of the problem” (mandatory for the main stakeholder) and as “impacted by the solution” (optional). If both options were selected, the item received an error message regardless of where it was in the value chain – before or after the solution.
4. Team Allocation
The team in Step 2 did not save its data when it came to the work package allocation (i.e. selecting the specific work packages for each person). The same was seen for the company ownership of the team members whereas all data was lost upon closing the respective panel.
5. Evaluators’ Comments
There were cases where Step 1 proposals had different evaluator numbers (i.e. 6) but only some have provided a review and comments.
6. Character Limits
Some sections did (or still do) not have a character limit. An example of this is the risk section where 100,000 characters could be added without any problems. The same is still found in a few other sections of Step 2’s full application.
7. Bug-Prone Drag-and-Drop
Some sections that require drag-and-drop were unable to save their respective content. Dragging was either not possible or it did not auto-save properly which means that it ended up in random arrangements.
8. No Update History
The EIC Platform has many notifications popping up but what is needed is a blog-type update list where applicants can see all changes made in the past months. This is especially necessary if a company works on the proposal text for multiple weeks and then logs into the platform without any oversight as to what has changed during this long time frame. Such changelogs are already the norm in many industries so its addition to the EIC platform would be very simple.
9. Display Errors
In the auto-generated business plan of Step 2, the “Your Custom Milestones” part displayed “Expected Month: 0” and only showed the correct month when clicking “view” in the popup window.
10. No Export Option
It is unfortunate that the new AI Platform by the EIC is unable to export or import data in any meaningful format. Since the text is added to specified and character-limited text boxes as plain text, it should be simple to generate a dedicated PDF of the complete proposal but this is currently not part of the platform.
The issues listed above are by no means all of the bugs and glitches that are or were present on the platform but aim to give some insight into the level of maturity the platform exhibits.
What should be stressed once more is that it is easy to criticise the flawed 1% if 99% are working as intended so this article by no means aims to discourage the further use or development of the EIC platform. On the contrary, it is just aiming to provide a first (and second) hand experience of its use and potentially make suggestions for its improvement.
The current platform does well when it comes to collaboration by allowing the invitation of other writers onto the platform, it has a very modern design, it combines checkboxes and text input seamlessly, it auto-saves with very high accuracy and it also interlinks sections well with very few glitches
While most issues are only relevant in the short term, the only real and long term criticism that could be made of the EIC platform is that it objectifies innovation.
It forces cutting edge businesses that have to think out of the box into a pre-defined mould. If you create a rigid structure that all applicants must comply with then only those companies who conform well will shine.
But these companies are rarely the actual innovators investors seek. This will not deter grantrepreneurs, it will further incentivise them.
A future article will present a variety of suggestions that can potentially improve the platform further and make it better for applicants, evaluators and the writers who are using it.
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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