The EIC Accelerator Background
There was a time when the European Union rigidly adhered to the ‘level playing field’ principle whereby grant and other funding could not be applied to the advantage of individual companies.
EU Framework programmes focused on basic science, on technology development (usually up to ~TRL 6), on training and development of scientists, and on enhancing the capacity of the institutions in which they work.
Projects are conducted by consortia of partners and evaluated on scientific merit; on their potential socio-economic impact; and on their planned implementation.
This form of EU funding has been hugely successful in developing EU scientific collaboration and innovative outputs, and in enhancing EU Science and Technology capacity, scientists, and infrastructure. The problem has been that the technologies emerging from EU research are not being commercialised in the EU.
Framework programmes developed technology in the expectation that it would be commercialised in the EU but could not fund individual companies for its exploitation: this would apply EU funding to the advantage of one company and member state. Although companies did participate in Framework programmes, their funding was only for research contributions.
However, this policy has now radically changed, perhaps inspired by the effectiveness of US funding schemes such as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programme.
The European Innovation Council (EIC) was set up to implement a policy of creating successful EU tech companies.
Following some pilot runs, it has now developed the infrastructure and processes required for the task. One of these programmes is the EIC Accelerator which supports individual SMEs ‘to develop and scaleup game-changing innovations.’ The focus is on helping companies which have potentially successful technologies, but which are unable to raise private equity.
The EIC Accelerator is unlike the programmes that make up the EU Framework programmes. Its purpose is so different that familiarity with other EU programmes is of limited value in writing EIC Accelerator applications.
1. First, the applicants are single for-profit companies, and particularly start-ups and SMEs.
2. Second, the evaluation focuses on the potential of that company to succeed. The focus is well past the stage of considering scientific merit. Applicant companies will have validated their technology and have a well-developed plan for its commercialisation.
The evaluation process is more similar to assessment of equity funding than to research funding: sales, revenue and employee growth are key metrics. However, so as not to directly compete with the equity market, the programme particularly targets those companies which are unattractive to private investors because of some challenge, usually of a technical nature, that is preventing their access to the market.
The funding package therefore provides a grant (up to €2.5 million) and equity (up to €15 million). The grant is intended to address technical, regulatory or validation challenges.
In summary, application is complex and competitive (around 9% of proposals succeed) but this programme is a necessary and welcome addition to the EU arsenal of innovation supports.