With more than €1 billion, the European Commission wants to support the expansion of startups and small and medium-sized enterprises. The first EIC Accelerator calls were thus launched on April 9, with the aim of putting Europe at the forefront of innovation and new technologies.
This should be very pleasing news for the startup and SME scene: The recently launched European Innovation Council (EIC), endowed with more than €10 billion for the period 2021-2027, will in the future serve as a one-stop shop for innovators. As such, it is unique in the world: it combines research on new technologies with an accelerator programme and a dedicated equity fund to scale up innovative startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). With more than half of the funding open to innovation in all sectors, €495 million is earmarked for innovations that are benefitting the Green Deal and digital and health technologies.
The EIC Accelerator aims to support SMEs, in particular startups and spin-out companies, in developing and scaling up breakthrough innovations. In some cases, small mid-caps of up to 500 employees will also be supported. It particularly supports the later phases of technology development as well as expansion. One of its main targets is thus scientific discoveries or technological breakthroughs that require the commitment of significant financial resources over an extended period of time before they become viable.
Through a unique funding model, startups and SMEs can access grants of up to €2.5 million, which are combined with equity investments from the EIC Fund of between €0.5 and €15 million. In addition to financial support, a range of accelerated development services is available for all projects, providing access to specific expertise, potential partner companies, investors, and other actors in the innovation environment. The Accelerator complements two other EIC programmes: EIC Pathfinder, which supports interdisciplinary teams of researchers to realise their visions for scientific and technological breakthroughs, and EIC Transition, which aims to turn research results into innovation opportunities.
Prospective applicants to the EIC Accelerator may be pleased to learn that a new, innovation-friendly application system is in place, where funding can be applied for at any time through a simplified procedure. For the first step of the application, a video pitch and a slide deck are required. Besides, candidates need to be prepared for a short series of questions about their innovation and team.
Once the basic criteria for funding are met, a distinction is made between two types of funding: The EIC Accelerator Open is for breakthrough innovations in all technology and application areas with a budget of €592.5 million. In contrast, the EIC Accelerator Challenge targets breakthrough challenge-driven innovations with a large impact on strategic digital and health technologies and Green Deal innovations for economic recovery. Applicants who fail at this point need not despair, applications that meet all criteria and are positively assessed by the EIC jury but not recommended for funding will receive a “Seal of Excellence”, which should then assist in obtaining funding from other sources in subsequent steps.