The new EIC Accelerator is here! With a two-day event held on March 19 and 20, 2021, the European Innovation Council (EIC) has officially launched the largest deep technology fund in Europe.
The program will invest in EU start-ups and SMEs over a billion Euros this year and every other year between now and 2027. Companies can get financial support in the form of grants and equity for a total of up to 17.5 million Euros.
The new EIC Accelerator
Piloted for the first time in 2019-2020, the EIC Accelerator has supercharged the European Commission’s approach to innovation funding putting forward new financial tools for innovative start-ups based on the combination of grant and equity investments.
Now, under the umbrella of Horizon Europe, the European Commission’s new framework programme for Research and Innovation, the EIC Accelerator is doubling down with a larger budget and new calls for applicants.
The launch event
The EIC launch ceremony was streamed live on the EU Science & Innovation youtube channel and was followed in real-time by over 12,000 viewers. A multitude demonstrating the high interest and expectations for the new funding program. Interest that peaked during the Q&A session dedicated to the EIC Accelerator, as confirmed by the large number of questions submitted specifically on the mechanisms of the new deep tech fund. The questions concerned multiple aspects of the new scheme, with many queries focusing on the submission and evaluation processes, two aspects where the new EIC Accelerator work programme is introducing significant changes.
For all those who missed the launch event, this article takes a deep dive into the new evaluation process, summarising everything you need to know on the various evaluation steps and scoring criteria adopted by the EIC starting from April 2021.
How are the EIC Accelerator applications evaluated?
The EIC Accelerator applications are evaluated in three different steps:
- Short applications: They can be submitted at any time and they will be evaluated on a first-come, first-served basis;
- Full applications: Companies successful at the short application stage are invited to prepare a full application that can be submitted within the next 12 months;
- Face-to-face interview: All companies receiving a GO from the full applications stage are invited to the face to face interviews.
In the first two steps, the evaluation is conducted by remote experts, while companies selected for the face-to-face interview are judged by a thematic panel of six Jury members.
Who are the remote experts?
The remote experts are evaluators selected from a proprietary database of the European Commission. The database includes different profiles, ensuring that a variety of high-level skills, knowledge and experience in different domains and sectors are covered.
For each specific call, a “pool” of expert evaluators is appointed. They are selected based upon their experience and knowledge in project management, technology and innovation, investment and finance, entrepreneurship and business. The EIC ensures that the pool is balanced in terms of geographical diversity, gender, private and public sectors background. Plus, a rotation rule guarantees that at least 25% of remote experts included in a ‘pool’ are renewed every year. The full list of remote experts is published online and updated every year.
Who are the Jury members?
The face-to-face interviews are conducted by a Jury of six panellists. The Jury members have solid experience in different areas and include entrepreneurs who have started and scaled-up innovative enterprises at the European or global level, investors (banks, venture capitalists, business angels, crowd-funders, etc.) and experts involved in the innovation ecosystem (business schools, universities, innovation hubs, accelerators). The list of Jury members is made available online. Their recruitment is an ongoing process, therefore the list is updated regularly.
How are the applications matched with the remote experts?
The allocation of the applications (short and full) to the expert evaluators is done by the EIC artificial intelligence-based IT platform used for the submission of the proposals. The IT platform uses keywords selected at the submission to maximise the affinity between the content of the proposal and the specific profiles of expert-evaluators. For this reason, during the submission process, applicants are requested to select up to three keywords to facilitate and ensure the best possible match between the proposal content and the expert-evaluators.
The list of keywords covers a wide range of innovation fields and driving markets. The full keyword nomenclature can be found at the following link.
Similarly, expert-evaluators are requested to select three main keywords and three sub-keywords from the same list to facilitate the matching of proposals.
How do remote experts score the applications?
The way applications are scored by the remote experts is one of the most significant changes introduced by the new EIC Accelerator work programme and represents a big push towards a simpler and more straightforward evaluation.
The remote experts assess the application against specific evaluation criteria using a binary system of GO or NO GO per proposal.
In summary, the experts are requested to assess whether the application is a GO or a NO GO in each of the following sections:
- Excellence: Degree of novelty; timing for the innovation.
- Impact: scale-up potential; societal, economic, environmental or climate impact.
- Level of risk, implementation, and need for Union support: Team capability and motivation.
Assessment of the short applications
The short applications comprise a 5-page proposal, a pitch presentation and a video pitch. The applications are evaluated by four remote experts as soon as they are submitted. The four evaluators have access to analyses (for example on related scientific publications and patents) generated by the EIC artificial intelligence-based IT platform. The experts essentially look at the innovativeness/disruptiveness of the idea, its impact and the team supporting the project, using the award criteria specified below:
Each evaluator assesses whether the short application meets each of the evaluation criteria giving a simple GO or NO GO. Then, if at least two evaluators give a GO for all the criteria, the short application is successful and the applicant is invited to prepare a full application. Instead, if more than two evaluators give a NO GO for at least one of the evaluation criteria, then the short application is rejected.
The assessment of the short applications takes about 4 weeks and, together with the results, the EIC is expected to provide insightful feedback for the applicant. The feedback is highly valuable to improve and increase the chances of success of proposals originally rejected.
Evaluation of the full applications
The full applications are assessed following specific cut-off dates. The deadlines scheduled this year are June 9, and October 6. The deadlines of the 2022 calls will be disclosed later this year.
After the cut-off dates, every full application is sent to three remote experts who perform their assessment based on a wider and more in-depth set of criteria:
Similarly to the evaluation of the short applications, the experts are requested to assess if the full application is a GO or a NO GO for each of the three criteria.
If all three evaluators give a GO for all the criteria, then the full application is successful and the company is invited to the face to face interview with an EIC jury, the last of the evaluation steps.
If one or more evaluators give a NO GO under any of the criteria then the application is rejected. In this case, the company can resubmit an improved application at the following cut-off dates.
The evaluation results include feedback from each evaluator and are expected to be delivered in 5-6 weeks.
The face-to-face interview
At the face to face interviews, the companies pitch their projects in front of the members of the EIC Jury. The panel has prior access to the short and full applications and the evaluation results. They also have access to the report generated by the artificial intelligence-powered IT platform.
The Jury members base their decision (GO or NO GO) on the interview and their overall assessment of the project. If the proposal receives a GO (congratulations!), the panel may make recommendations for the negotiation of the grant and/ or investment component, and on aspects such as the project’s milestones, the company valuation, and the need for coaching activities.
If the proposal receives a NO GO at the interview, the Jury chooses one of the following three routes for the application:
- The project has the potential to be a GO if specifically targeted improvements are made. In this case, applicants are allowed to resubmit a revised application directly to one of the next two face-to-face interviews. Such a resubmission is only permitted once.
- The proposal fully meets the excellence and impact criteria but has not adequately demonstrated the need for Union support, including the level of risk needed for Union support, under the third criteria. In this case, the applicant is awarded a Seal of Excellence to facilitate funding from other sources and access to EIC Business Acceleration Services.
- The proposal is simply rejected as it does not meet the criteria for reasons which were not identified previously. In this case, the applicant is not awarded a Seal of Excellence. However, the proposal can be resubmitted directly at the remote stage of one of the following two cut-offs but will be expected to have made significant improvements.
Want to know more about how EIC Accelerator applications are scored? Download for free the Alien Technology Transfer presentation of the new EIC Accelerator evaluation process.
Do you have what it takes to make it through the evaluation process and pitch your project in front of the EIC jury?
Get in touch now with Alien Technology Transfer European experts for a free assessment of your funding opportunity.