Interview conducted by Stephanie Hagen, Head of Conferences & Digital Content, Autonomy
The Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) has been set up by the European Commission to manage on its behalf several EU programmes. In charge of overseeing SME, environment, energy and maritime projects funded under COSME, Horizon 2020, LIFE and EMFF, the agency also heads the organisation of the European Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW). Jasper Hemmes is the Coaching Manager for the European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot under EASME.
You are working with the European Commission’s EIC Accelerator which is designed to support SMEs, can you tell us a little more about the Accelerator and its activities?
Compared to current financial instruments, the European Innovation Council (EIC) will support the scale-up of high risk innovative companies at EU and global level. The Accelerator program will provide funding to activities with such high technological or market risks that they are not considered as bankable and cannot leverage sufficient investments from the market. Our blended financing concept includes grants and bridging finance in the form of equity, and covers late-stage innovation activities and market take-up. Projects are evaluated by independent experts and the most promising will be invited to meet venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who study the equity proposal in detail. Their ‘go/no-go’ decision can take 3 to 6 months after the signature of the initial grant agreement.
How much funding is available to the SMEs participating in the accelerator? Are there other forms of support offered?
The Grant part of the blended funding goes up to € 2,5 million for technology and market development activities and this can be topped up with up to € 15 million in Equity for upscaling activities. Next to the funding the EIC believe strongly in coaching the start-ups toward keeping strategic focus on business development. Further services are offered like matchmaking and pitching events with large corporates and investors.
What is the eligibility criteria to receive funding and support? Are there any priority issues/areas?
Evaluation criteria for projects to receive funding and support, are really to demonstrate a strong team and business plan. There are no specific industrial or market priority conditions. However, there must be:
- Implementation: Does the team have the capability and motivation to implement the innovation proposal and bring it to the market?
- Impact: Are the business model and commercialization strategy well thought through?
- Excellence: Does the innovation – through its degree of novelty, disruptiveness – have the potential to create a significant impact in the market?
Building on your experience, what do you see as the main obstacles for European start-ups and innovative SMEs?
In Europe, one of the biggest difficulties is how to replicate the USA’s large venture capital market. For instance, young innovative companies in the EU face a very significant challenge of access to initial finance. Obtaining follow-on ‘growth’ financing is even more challenging for those companies who do manage to secure initial financing.