Background and development of the European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot
In 2014, the Commission launched the first pilot phase for the European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot. The key difference, when compared to previous support programmes for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), was that the SME Instrument also supported individual companies and not just consortia. Starting in 2017, general selection procedures and personal interviews were carried out to identify and support Europe's most innovative start-ups and established SMEs, both directly with monetary help and indirectly with the help of a business coach (funded via the EU). Since then, 1,276 highly innovative projects have been funded all over Europe, with more than 730 million euros being provided through the SME Instrument.
In March 2019, the European Commission announced important steps to further intensify the pilot phase of the European Innovation Councils (EIC) pilot during the remaining two years. It is investing over 2 billion euros in funding for the innovation chain for the period 2019-2020:
- Pathfinder projects to support advanced technologies from the research base and
- start-up funding to support start-ups and SMEs (Accelerator) in developing and preparing the commercialisation of innovations.
The European Commission has also appointed 22 innovators from entrepreneurship, venture capital, science and technology fields to the advisory board of the European Innovation Council, including two from Germany – Ingmar Hoerr from CureVac and Kirsten Bock from media tech. Based on their expertise from the world of innovation and business, the members of the Advisory Board are tasked with supporting the Commission in strategic and operational decisions within the framework of the European Innovation Council.
The European Commission has also hired its first group of "Programme Managers" who have a particularly high level of experience with new technologies and who will actively support the projects.
From 2021 onwards
Given the growing economic importance of breakthrough and disruptive innovations and building on the early success of the EIC pilot project, the Commission has proposed to allocate 10 billion euros to the EIC under Horizon Europe, the EU's research and innovation programme (2021-2027).
The European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot covers the entire innovation chain
- EIC Pathfinder: combines the two Future and Emerging Technologies (FIT) funding programmes, the FET Open (development of new ideas) and the FET Proactive (development of emerging topics and research landscapes). The programme is aimed at all forms of organisation. It promotes basic research – from the idea through to the prototype or the development of a general business case.
- EIC Accelerator: replaces the SME Instrument. The programme is aimed exclusively at SMEs (especially start-ups) for the marketing of highly innovative and high-risk ideas. It is possible to combine the funding with financing (silent participation of up to 15 million euros). The Accelerator is designed to support companies that are not yet mature enough or are too high-risk to receive investment from a bank.
- Fast Track to Innovation: funding for industry-strong consortia (at least 60% of the project budget goes to industrial partners or at least half of the project partners are from industry) that convert highly innovative, already developed ideas (Technology Readiness Level 6) into marketable products.