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How EIE is doing its part in connecting innovation ecosystems and scaling up innovative companies

Photo credit: European Parliament, 2021With a dedicated budget, the 9th Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon Europe 2021-27 introduced a specific work programme for the European Innovation Ecosystems (EIE), i.e. structures formed by public authorities, actors of the private sector, academia and civil society that pursue technology development and innovation as one of their objectives. Five calls are now open for various types of stakeholders in this field. The aim is to help European innovators and European enterprises to achieve their full potential.

The EIE acts in complement and synergy with the European Innovation Council (EIC) and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). Like them it is part of the third pillar of the Horizon Europe programme, which is targeted at high-risk innovations with a particular focus on market-creating and deep-tech innovations.

Whereas the EIC provides funds for innovations and enterprises thanks to a wider budget of 10 billion euros for the whole Horizon Europe period, and the EIT supports innovation networks involving entrepreneurship, education, and research, the EIE aims to overcome the fragmentation among the ecosystems and strengthen the links between resources, private and public organizations, investors and policymakers. The main challenge is strengthening the innovation capacities of less advanced ecosystems, by linking them to more established ecosystems, so that scaling-up of companies can be supported at the same level in the entire EU. The budget for the European Innovation Ecosystems is set to 500 million euro to be used until 2027.

The EIE’s three pillars

After a consultation held between 2019 and 2020 three main pillars have been identified for EIE actions. The first is called “CONNECT” and aims at building and consolidating innovation ecosystems, building on existing and accomplished ecosystems at national, regional and local levels, but also encouraging the involvement of less structured actors - public and private, national and local - and territories. The calls under this destination aim to facilitate inclusive networks initiative in European Innovation Ecosystems and connect strong performers to those which are less performing. Integrating social innovation is another objective on which Horizon Europe is highly focused.

The “SCALEUP” destination is focused on all the elements innovation ecosystems can offer to start-ups, scaleups and SMEs to enable them to develop and have access appropriate funding opportunities. The idea with this pillar is to find the appropriate talent to allow innovators to develop and scale up their companies and attract investment at European level. In 2022 The “INNOVSMES” section funds international collaborative R&D and innovation projects supporting the co-funded European Partnership for Innovative SMEs under the Eurostars 3, a funding instrument developed by the European Commission and the pan-European public network Eureka. The INNOVSMES call closed on 1 September 2021.

The EIE 2022 calls open

A total budget of 33.5 million euro is made available by the EIE call currently open. Four out of five are proposed under the “Connect” and “Scaleup” funding scheme

The two "CONNECT" calls

The two "CONNECT" calls follow a bottom-up-based-approach. They therefore do not cover any specific thematic area - such as health, climate, mobility -, thus offering innovation ecosystem actors the opportunity to transpose their vision and proposal for a strengthened ecosystem. With an indicative EU contribution budget of 8 million euros to be distributed among 4 projects, the first topic of the call is addressed to national and/or regional relevant key stakeholders in the field of quadruple helix (which includes the public and private sector, academia and civil society).

It propose the implementation of co-funded multiannual action plans for the interconnection of European ecosystems designed to bring together stakeholders, create more efficient, open, dynamic innovation ecosystems and define and implement joint action, joint strategies and visions. Proposals should be presented by at least three legal entities from Member States, Associated Countries and/or EU regions in charge of innovation policies and programmes. Applicants are responsible for setting the priorities of the action plans and submitting detailed annual work programmes every year to describe the activities to be performed. The call aims to increase the innovation capacities in Member States and Associated Countries and allow innovators to bring their ideas more easily into the market and exploit their full potential.

Applicants must focus on two keywords when making their proposal: inclusiveness and diversity. The first one relates to foster better connection and links among territories and better link less diveloped regions and emerging and moderate innovators, with the more developed ones and leaders and strong innovation (two group whose definitions are included in the regional innovation scoreboard and in the EU innvoation scoreboard). Financing of third parties is not included in the call. The deadline for submissions for both the CONNECT calls is 27 September 2022 (17:00 CET time) for both the CONNECT calls.

With an indicative EU contribution budget of 4.5 million euro and three expected grants to be signed bringing leading to a 1.5 million euro EU contribution for each awarded project, the second call under the CONNECT action aims to establish action plans to stimulate innovation procurement bringing together supply and demand. Applicants are asked to engage public buyers with SMEs, startup, incubators, accelerators and Research and Technology Organisations (RTOs). Applicants are expected to perform activities that improve the skills, knowledge and capacities of buyers and providers and to adopt and co-create models to stimulate SMEs’ response to buyers needs. The project must have a 5-years duration and involve at least three entities among public national, regional and/or local authorities, public-owned enterprises, SMEs and start-ups, incubators, accelerators, research institutions and technological organisations.

The two SCALEUP calls

The SCALEUP calls have as deadline 4 October 2022 (17:00 CET time). The first one addresses the issue related to the access to capital investment in emerging and moderate ecosystems. In a 2-years duration project a consortium composed of at least three entities coming from different Members States or Horizon Europe Associated Countries should engage in activities to provide assistance to investors for market access (e.g. through info point for incentives, tax and legislation), put in place networking activities to encourage joint ventures and organize events to connect international and local investors. The general scope is that of attracting foreign investors by raising awareness of local innovation ecosystems to capital providers from across the Europe.

A total EU contribution budget of 5 million euro (one for each of the five expected grant) will support the successful projects. The consortium created to apply should include at least one strong leader and one provider, network or club in an emerging or moderate ecosystem.

Startup ecosystem builders, venture capital and business angel entities, accelerators, incubators and startup associations from EU Member States or Horizon Europe Associated Countries are invited to apply to the Startup Europe initiative call which is open until 17 November 2022 (17:00 CET).

With a 6 million euro budget and 3 or 4 coordination and support action to be provided, the initiative is targeted to finance 2-year projects that are able to build synergies between the European Innovation Council and the wider startup ecosystem to support the scaling up of European companies. The use of Financial support to third parties scheme to allow start-ups to benefit from the services described in the call text is optional. A background and information guidance for potential applicants is currently open.

“Women TechEU” is the second topic under the SCALEUP destination and was launched to support deep tech innovation as a basis for a modern, knowledge-driven, resource-efficient and competitive economy and promote female leadership in the deep tech industry, that is a “technology based on cutting-edge scientific advances and discoveries and is characterised by the need to stay at the technological forefront by constant interaction with new ideas and results from the lab”. Only 15% of start-ups are founded or co-founded by women and this call seeks to address the lack of investment into women-funded start-ups.

It targets highly innovative start-ups founded, or co-founded by women, holding a top management position (CEO, CTO but also CFO, CSO and COO) in the company at the time of submission. The company must be registered and established in an EU Member State or a Horizon Europe Associated Country for at least six months at the time of the submission.

With an EU contribution budget of 10 million euros and a range of more than 130 start-up to be funded, the initiative will give beneficiaries the opportunity to receive financial support with an individual grant of 75,000 euros to help these companies to evaluate and refine products and/or services, design, user experience, upgrade the business model, update the business plan and growth strategy and find partners and investors. Applicants are free to decide and indicate which activities are needed to grow-up their business. Additional funded activities include mentoring and coaching sessions through the EIC Business Acceleration Services (BAS), under the new ‘Women Leadership Programme’. The possibility to participate in dedicated activities organised by InvestEU and the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) is also an option. The application procedure comprises a 10-pages form in which applicants are invited to describe how the grants can make the difference, what are the strong points of the business and the lacking competences. A non-professional three-minute video is required to apply.