As the European Innovation Council emerges from pilot mode, SMEs and researchers will be in line for a new type of funding for translating EU-funded research into products and more top-down, targeted calls
A new type of funding and top-down calls will be added to the menu of the European Innovation Council’s (EIC) funding for start-ups, according to a leaked draft work programme.
The draft, dating back to last July, gives a preview of what to expect from the EIC in 2021. However, the final details are not available until April when the final work programmes for the EU’s €95 billion research programme, Horizon Europe, are due to be published.
According to the draft, a new type of Transition grant will support projects translating research to market, while the three EIC funding programmes will each set out targeted calls in strategic areas, alongside open bottom-up calls.
The start of Horizon Europe will see EIC, which ran as a pilot between 2018 and 2020, emerge fully fledged. Based on the experience of the pilot there will be changes to the original programmes, such as simplifying the application process for start-up funding under the EIC Accelerator.
The EIC budget for the next seven years is €9.7 billion in current prices, but the July draft does not specify how much money will be set aside for the three calls over the next two years.
The new Transition grants for translating research to market will be available to SMEs, research bodies, universities and consortia of five organisations attempting to build on the results of earlier EU research projects.
Eligible projects include those previously funded by the EIC Pathfinder programme and the European Research Council’s proof of concept grants. To get Transition grants, follow-up projects must investigate the likely user base in parallel to inform product development and increase the chances of market adoption. The grants will cover 100% of eligible costs.
The EIC Accelerator funds pre-revenue start-ups that need capital to develop products. It is the only EU programme offering blended finance in the form of grants and direct equity. Companies get EIC equity investments of up to €15 million, alongside grants of up to €2.5 million.
In the EIC pilot phase, the Accelerateor backed 293 companies. It was largely successful, drawing interest from European start-ups, but received criticism for a long and complicated application process.
The process will be simplified in Horizon Europe, with companies invited to submit short applications, including a 5-page form, a pitch of up to 10 slides, a 3-minute video pitch, at any time. The successful candidates will be invited to prepare a full application with support from the EIC.
Companies that fail will be able to revise their applications in line with feedback from EIC. In the case of another rejection, companies will have to wait another 24 months before trying again.
If a pitch gets a positive evaluation but does not get funded because the money has run out, the company will be awarded a Seal of Excellence to help it find funding elsewhere.
The Pathfinder, supporting projects developing radically new technologies, will award up to €3 million, down from €4 million in the pilot phase, according to the July draft. But the ceiling is not strict, and researchers can make the case for larger amounts.
The main prerequisite for Pathfinder funding is to be proposing highly risky work aiming to address previously unanswered questions. “If the path you want to follow is incremental by nature or known, EIC Pathfinder Open will not support you,” the draft says.
Proposals should come from consortia of at least three organisations in different countries.
Pick up weak signals
Alongside the bottom-up calls for innovation, all three EIC funding programmes are to have targeted calls to address specific challenges. These are meant “to pick up on weak signals from science and technology areas, and turn ideas for new technological possibilities into real opportunities for innovation,” the draft programme says.
The July draft does not indicate what the challenges will be, but they are likely to be in line with the expertise of the four EIC programme managers in biomedicine and biotechnology; biomedical engineering and brain-related technologies; materials for energy and environmental sustainability; and clean energy technologies, energy systems integration and biosystems engineering.
In EIC Accelerator, the consultant group, Catalyze, reports, there will be two challenges: strategic health and digital technologies, and green deal innovation for the economic recovery.
EIC will also offer business support services to all its beneficiaries, EIC Accelerator applicants invited to submit a full application, and those that were awarded a Seal of Excellence. The support includes mentoring and training programmes, opportunities to work with bigger companies, investors and procurement bodies and access to the EIC innovation ecosystem.
The EIC Prizes will continue, with leading female innovators, innovative cities and leading public and private procurers set to receive awards in 2021.