New report analyses performance of European Innovation Council pilot

5 Nov 2020

The European Commission has published an impact report on the pilot phase of the European Innovation Council (EIC). The report, Deep Tech Europe: European Innovation Council Pilot Impact Report 2020, has been drafted in collaboration with the EIC Advisory Board.

The EIC pilot carried out at the end of the EU Horizon 2020 framework programme period in 2018–2020 has tested a model that could support the most talented European innovators developing and scaling up breakthrough technological innovations through two main funding schemes, namely EIC Pathfinder and EIC Accelerator.

The impact report highlights, among other things, country-specific figures on funded companies and research projects and describes the selection processes. The report also examines how the key performance indicators drawn up by the Advisory Board have so far been implemented from the perspectives of societal and economic impact and attractiveness.

From FET to EIC Pathfinder

The report’s review of projects under the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) scheme is based on the “Voices from the Future” booklet, which summarises the past 30 years of the FET scheme and its future as the EIC Pathfinder scheme. However, the main focus is on the FET projects of the current Horizon 2020 programme, which opened up future technological development to all sectors and launched the three European-level flagship initiatives in technology.

The FET scheme, in the form of EIC Pathfinder, can now implement advanced investigator-driven ideas on radically new future technologies in multidisciplinary cooperation. EIC Pathfinder will have an important role in the future EIC package, which aims at establishing Europe’s technological leadership. The foreword to the “Voices from the Future” booklet was written by Thomas Skordas, Director of Director Digital Excellence and Science Infrastructure at the Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT), and Professor Edvard I. Moser, 2014 Nobel laureate in medicine, provides a testimonial on the importance of the instrument.

Of the FET funding schemes in Horizon 2020, the Pathfinder part of the EIC pilot has covered the bottom-up FET Open scheme and the thematic FET Proactive scheme. The report divides research projects according to the technologies they produce and the areas of application. Most of the pilot phase projects have studied new technological applications in the field of health and digital and ICT technology. The other technology projects funded represent industry and infrastructure, energy and the green environment as well as food production and agriculture.

FET calls have been one of the most competitive funding opportunities under Horizon 2020, and Finnish researchers have participated more actively and found more success towards the end of the programme period. By mid-2020, Finland has secured a total of approximately 30 million euros in the form of 36 FET Open and 14 FET Proactive subprojects. Finnish subprojects have participated in a total of 25 FET Open consortiums, and in seven of these as coordinators. In turn, eleven FET Proactive consortiums have had three project coordinators from Finland. An example of successful research cooperation in FET calls is the Finnish-coordinated QuProCs (Quantum Probes for Complex Systems) project, which, according to the Deep Tech Europe report, is among the top five projects that have produced the most publications.

Finnish companies successful in pilot phase calls

The EIC Accelerator was mainly based on the SME Instrument of Horizon 2020. The novelty of the EIC Accelerator in the pilot phase was the blended finance approach that combined grants and equity. In summer 2020, an EU equity fund, the EIC Fund, was set up for direct investments in European start-ups and SMEs.

Finnish companies have succeeded well in EIC pilot phase calls: Finland has secured 162 grants during the Horizon 2020 framework programme. Finland is also among the five countries whose companies have received more blended financing than grant-only funding. During the pilot phase, Finnish companies have also succeeded in obtaining other continued funding. Finnish business activity also plays a role in AI applications in the health sector, which can contribute to coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Towards Horizon Europe

The EIC is one of the most important new features in Horizon Europe (2021–2027), and the instrument will still be improved during its pilot phase. According to a proposal by the European Commission, the EIC will account for some 10 per cent of the entire budget of the framework programme. The proposal includes a division into open and thematic calls at each EIC stage, that is, Pathfinder, Transition and Accelerator. Of these, Transition is seen as an important new step in utilising research results. Its implementation and financing are surrounded by both great hopes and great uncertainties.

According to preliminary plans, eligible applicants in the Transition phase would be those who take forward research results from Horizon 2020 Pathfinder projects and also from projects funded by the European Science Council (ERC) where the commercial feasibility has already been tested. Accelerator, too, has yet to reach its final form. To support the portfolio of projects, thematic EIC programme managers have been hired, among others, with expertise in promoting the utilisation of research results and supporting business activities.

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