The EIC Accelerator blended financing (formerly SME Instrument Phase 2, grant and equity) is a highly competitive but also highly popular grant and equity financing scheme by the European Innovation Council (EIC). Many startups and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) in the EU but also in associated countries such as Israel or Norway are interested in applying to the funds but many would be better off seeking out other options.
While grant consultancies and professional writers all have different approaches to the selection of suitable EIC Accelerator applicants, there are some common themes that are shared among success-oriented grant consultants. Since the official grant proposal template for the EIC Accelerator does not clarify such nuanced points in-depth, the following article aims to give an overview of the types of companies that should not apply.
For any startup or scaleup that is recognising themselves in any of the points listed below, it would be advisable to refrain from hiring a writer or consultant since time and resources can be better spent elsewhere.
Note: The EIC does not primarily select great companies, it primarily selects companies that fit a certain mould. Having low chances for success under the EIC does not mean that the company or project are bad. The EIC would have never financed social networks like Facebook or Twitter and even industry-specific unicorn companies like Epic Games or Instacart. Yet, these are all success cases on a level the EIC dreams of.
The list below is designed to highlight the first impression that consultants and grant writers often face when a client first comes into contact. Since the demand for grant writers is generally very high, this first impression will likely define how interested the consultancy is in a particular project.
How do they present their company or technology? Why do they need EIC Accelerator support? What needs to be financed?
1. An Inquiry Uses a Gmail or Similar Domain Address
While this is not a strong red flag – it suggests that the company or project is not fully formed yet. Buying a domain and creating a private email account usually precedes even the company registration since it is so simple (and cheap). If an inquiry lacks a private domain then this is usually a sign that a project is in the idea stage. Very few founders would contact investors or customers with a Gmail address which means that any inquiry from such an address is a tell for an ineligible project.
Since 2021, the EIC Accelerator also funds non-incorporated natural persons but, due to the competitiveness of the grant, this does not mean that a single person without backing, traction or support networks will be able to be successful. Every inquiry that comes from a domain that is not privately hosted and is not attached to a Corporate Identity (CI) will likely be ignored by selective consultancies.
2. The Prospect EIC Accelerator Applicant is in the Idea Stage
The new EIC’s AI platform aims to display the journey from Ideation towards Go-to-Market but that does not mean that a natural person can be successful with a pure idea. The Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) clearly outline the stage a technology has to be in with TRL5 being the minimum for the EIC Accelerator and lower TRL’s only being possible in EIC Pathfinder and EIC Transition programs.
The current diagnostics and ideation parts of the EIC Accelerator application are misleading since they can give the impression that projects can still be in the idea stage and is then transformed into a commercial product once Step 3 is reached but this is not the case.
The applicant’s project will not make significant changes from Step 1 to 3 – the only thing that will change is the amount and depth of data that is provided to the EIC for evaluation purposes. The EIC Accelerator, also a misleading name, is not a traditional accelerator that aims to help startups succeed by helping with product development, investor relationships or customer contact.
The primary resource, outside of limited coaching, will be financial which means that the applicants need a business plan, the right commerial strategy and must have all it takes to implement the project. The EIC will not hold the beneficiaries hands albeit they will aim to create networking opportunities if it matches current political agendas such as the Green Deal, COVID-19 relief or similar trends.
Having an idea and reaching out to a consultant with a half-formed business plan will likely be insufficient and be ignored by most selective writers.
3. The Company has no Website or Social Presence
It is understandable that many companies are in stealth mode especially when it comes to DeepTech products in the area of biotechnology or pharmaceuticals where large competitors spend billions on R&D and could copy a technology quickly – patented or not.
Still, even if a company has no interest in marketing itself or in publicising its technology, every company that has sufficient seed funding and the degree of traction needed to succeed in the EIC Accelerator should have a website and a LinkedIn page at the very least. There can be exceptions but no presence at all often means that founders view this project as a side business or are not invested in its success.
One additional exception to this is a newly formed company that is a University spin-off or subsidiary of another company. In the latter case, the prospective applicant can usually provide a website link for the parent company while, in the former case, they could be too early stage for the EIC Accelerator but can be eligible for the EIC Pathfinder.
4. Based on Research that is not Theirs (a University Non-Spin-Off)
What can often be encountered is a company that is basing its technology on University research that is not theirs but also does not exist in the market yet. This, in and of itself, does not mean that it is ineligible for the EIC Accelerator but it requires a further assessment as to what the barriers to entry for competitors are, who owns the Intellectual Property (IP) and why the team is suitable for this project if they are not the inventors.
5. A Hardware-focused Innovation without a Patent
Patents for software innovtions are easier to file in the US (for now, at least) than in the EU but hardware or other IP related to genetics and specific technological mechanisms are patentable. If a company reaches out with a hardware-based innovation that is not patented, it can raise eyebrows since it often means that the innovation is too simplistic, is a copy of something existing or has no barriers to entry for other companies.
There are, once again, many exceptions for this. Patents can be circumvented and often reveal more than they protect especially when it comes to mechanistic or medical information. Patents can also be quite expensive and exceed the budgets of early-stage startups with limited financing. Some companies might have also opted to not patent a solution to protect their IP but this would need to be discussed for each specific case.
6. Founders from Ineligible Countries want to set up an EU SME
Every once in a while, a team from countries such as India, Asia, Russia or Africa discovers the EIC and its startup funding programmes. Since the requirements for eligibility are rather simple, it seems like a low hanging fruit to just set up a cheap SME in eastern Europe or the UK just for the purpose of grant applications.
But this is not a good idea in most cases since the evaluators will closely look at the team, their background, the age of the company, their parent organisations and, most importantly, their current traction in the EU and the past funding sources.
If the past funding came from grants in India with obscure references or the three pilot customers are located in Africa then this will be noticed. Is it possible that these factors are dwarfed by an amazing technology and DeepTech success story? Yes, but it is rather unlikely.
For every prospect applicant to the EIC Accelerator, there has to be a good reason to locate to the EU like an investor, a business relationship or a technology case.
7. The Company has a Smartphone App as their Main Product
Software that is mobile-first can receive funding but it faces harsh competition from sectors that have very strong technical, scientific and cutting-edge inventions. Most consultancies that are success-oriented will immediately dismiss a mobile-first SME since they do not see how such an innovation can succeed in the EIC Accelerator.
Is it possible to succeed, still? Yes, of course, but only in very special and rare cases. If the technology behind the App has such a high level of sophistication, innovativeness and disruptiveness that it will impress evaluators in the same way a new battery technology or cancer treatment would.
8. Their First Inquiry Displays Concerns Regarding the Innovation
If an SME is already pre-framing their inquiry by stating that what they do is not new then, unsurprisingly, the EIC Accelerator is not the right choice for them. If it is already difficult for them to identify the most unique aspect of their technology then it will likely be impossible for any consultant or grant writer to do it for them.
9. The Company Operates in Low-Tech Markets
If an applicant uses words like cryptocurrency, holistic, wellness, supplements, coaching, dieting, recruiting or similar keywords then this will also likely lead to an immediate dismissal. These industries are usually lacking in the type of disruptiveness, market need or scalability that the EIC is looking for but exceptions are always possible. If someone wants to set up a farm and sell organic materials then this is likely not eligible for the EIC Accelerator but it might still be a successful business.
Among these keywords, blockchain is, of course, a key exception but many companies are using blockchain technology without an actual need for it (i.e placing dental records on a private Ethereum blockchain) while only very few businesses are at the cutting edge of developing new blockchain innovations.
The list above aims to be a general indicator for the eligibility of companies applying to the EIC Accelerator. It is not meant to deter companies from applying but only to present a realistic view of why consultants reject projects before even having a call.
Since many entrepreneurs are extremely confident and are highly comfortable with taking risks, they might often overlook articles that list eligibility criteria and critical requirements or they might overestimate their innovativeness and disruptiveness. This article, hopefully, gives companies an idea as to who should not apply and why this is the case.
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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