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The idea of a European Innovation Council (EIC) is taking shape with the publication of the EIC pilot work programme, which brings together the already-existing SME instrument, Fast Track to Innovation (FTI), FET Open, and Horizon Prizes. Presumably an integral part of the next framework programme, the EIC will address innovative firms and entrepreneurs with the potential to scale up rapidly at both European and global levels. Around 1000 projects are expected to be supported during the EIC pilot phase between 2018 and 2020, with an overall budget of €2.7 billion.

A fully bottom-up SME instrument

The main novelty of the new SME instrument is that it is now fully bottom-up. Hence the importance of putting a particular emphasis on the project’s disruptive aspects. The pre-defined topics of the previous Work Programmes have in fact been removed. There is now only one bottom-up call with four cut-off dates per year. The increase in the annual budget is set to compensate an eventual over-subscription and maintain the previous success rates (5-10%). Regarding the evaluation process, the Impact criterion is now worth 50%, while the Excellence and Implementation criteria will both have a weighting of 25%. The three phases (“Feasibility study”, “From concept to market”, and “Commercialisation”) and the coaching services are, however, maintained.

So, tell me about your business…

In the second phase of the SME instrument, each candidate whose proposal has passed through a first remote evaluation process will be invited to a face-to-face interview in Brussels. Applicants’ presentation and oratory skills might then be a valuable asset for getting noticed by evaluators, who will tend to be more resembling to venture capitalists. In fact, the number of expert-evaluators with an investor profile has been significantly increased in order to better consider market- and investment-related elements.

Other funding opportunities

No significant change has occurred in the FTI and FET Open funding schemes. The first EIC Horizon Prizes will award breakthrough solutions in fields such as eVehicles, artificial photosynthesis, blockchains and space technologies. Calls addressing more sector-specific and incremental innovations can be found in the Innovation in SMEs, Access to Risk Finance, and Leadership in Industrial Technologies work programmes.