19 January 2018

What startups need to know about the new European Innovation Council

The European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot is a new EU initiative empowering innovators to make a genuine impact to solve societal challenges. It brings together all EU innovation-related funding programs, as well as top-notch business acceleration services, mentorship and international networking opportunities. Rules and procedures have also been improved.

Over the next three years, the EIC will have an overall budget of over 2.7 billion Euros which will fund over 1000 projects promoting radically new, breakthrough products, services, processes or business models that open up new markets.

The EIC has four major funding schemes, two of which – Fast Track to Innovation (1) and in particular the SME Instrument (2) – are specifically addressed to Small and Medium Enterprises and Start-Ups.


The four major EIC funding schemes:

1) Fast Track to Innovation – targets ground-breaking new technologies, business models, processes or concepts that need final development to be able to achieve a wider development and shape a new market. FTI gives significant funding to test, demonstrate and validate your innovation. FTI is for you if you need a last push to put your product or service to market.

In a nutshell:

  •   close-to-market innovations;
  •   grants are up to 3 million Euros;
  •   partnerships of 3 to 5 participants;

2) Future and Emerging Technologies – this is for very early stage projects, it is open to high-tech startups and SMEs as well as researchers that want to make a big impact on society and science.

Not all ideas are FET Open material. For this your project needs to fulfill three characteristics:

  • Radical vision: introduce new tech concepts that take an entirely new approach to problems we face in society and confronts current paradigms.
  • A clear breakthrough: FET Open doesn’t sponsor mere improvements of current concepts.
  • Interdisciplinary: your project needs to forge new relationships between different disciplines with the aim of opening a new field of investigation and reaching a technological breakthrough.

In a nutshell:

  •   Radically new technologies
  •   Long-term vision, novelty and interdisciplinarity,
  •   At least 3 participants
  •   Grants up to 3 million

3) The SME Instrument – this is the EU funding tool that is available exclusively for startups and SMEs. The prime target are the highly innovative ones that have a great potential for internationalization, high growth and a clear commercial ambition.

The SME Instrument is structured in two phases:

  • Phase I offers EUR 50,000 grants for feasibility assessment purposes;
  • Phase II offers an amount between EUR 500,000 and 2,5 million for innovation development and demonstration purposes; Important note: it is not mandatory to go through Phase 1 in order to apply for Phase 2.

Companies funded through the EU can also access free world-class business coaching as well as business acceleration services such as facilitated access to risk finance.

You should also know that:

  • 15 months after receiving the SME Instrument funding, companies recorded an increase in turnover grow on average by 250%,
  •  Each Euro invested generated 1 extra Euro of private investment,
  • After the SME Instrument, companies had higher investment rounds (€4.3M)  than before (€2.8M);
  • It speeds up time-to-investment: before obtaining SME Instrument funding, companies needed on average 32 months to get next investment compared to only 9 months after.

4) Horizon Prizes – 40 Million Euros are set aside for anyone who finds efficient answers to the following:

  •   innovative batteries;
  •   artificial photosynthesis;
  •   early warning of epidemics;
  •   blockchain for social good;
  •   low cost space launch;
  •   high-tech for humanitarian aid.

Now it is time for you to check – for free – whether you are eligible. Just by filling in a simple form here: http://www.eustartupservices.eu/sme-instrument-free-eligibility-check/

It’s not just about the money

The EIC will also mobilise other important resources such as coaching and mentoring, networking opportunities, investor matchmaking, privileged access to risk finance, matchmaking to find business partners or many educational opportunities as well.

The funds allocated for the next years are not enough to mobilise the full innovation capacity in Europe but it’s definitely a good start, especially if beneficiaries are mixing the funding sources with sources such as private equity, bank loans or even crowdfunding.


Author: Dan Stanciu