After years of research and development you finally have a prototype for an innovative technology that will make a difference in the market, but you still need resources to get it ready for commercialisation. Getting private funding for your ground-breaking innovation can be a challenging path, especially for deep-tech products and services. Most private investors will only commit money if you already have some market traction, a particularly difficult task for capital-intensive research-driven innovations. Before reaching the market, science-based companies need important investments. The idea of bootstrapping an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is not usually feasible in the science domain.
Innovation grants such as the ones provided by the European Union to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) for tech projects are a wonderful instrument to fund the gap between the research space and the market. In this article, you can find more information about the different options. However, the most attractive grant, the EIC Accelerator (part of Horizon Europe programme) is extremely competitive and a careful pre-assessment is needed before embarking in such a challenging attempt.
In this article, we present an initial list of issues to assess to confirm if your project or start-up can be the right candidate for the EIC Accelerator. Three elements must be assessed and elaborated: Product, Go-to-Market Strategy and Execution.
The product: Do you have a disruptive technology?
Although a wide and shabby term, disruptiveness is a meaningful concept referring to the potential to create new markets or obtain a relevant market share in an existing market. Very few technologies can be described as disruptive or, using another similar world, “game-changing”. An assessment of the TRL (Technology Readiness Level) is needed, as typically a TRL-5 or 6 is required, which corresponds to a tested prototype. Competition is fierce and most competitors will be able to showcase solid prototypes or even earlier product versions to attract investment and funding. Let us be clear: you will find it extremely difficult to obtain funding if you just have a PowerPoint or paper! On top of this, Intellectual Property (eg. patents) obviously plays an important competitive advantage.
The market: Have you defined a solid go-to-market strategy?
Innovation is about satisfying needs and delivering benefits.
A GTM strategy is particularly challenging for science-based companies as many spin-offs are actually more the result of a technology push rather than a market pull. Finding the right market, segment and sales channels can be indeed tough. Something important to understand is that a competitive funding proposal – or business plan – cannot be a theoretical exercise but rather the result of a profound market assessment, necessarily derived from the real interaction with customers, users and other industry stakeholders.
The impact of the project is of particular relevance to the European Commission not only with regards to economic or commercial aspects but also to societal, environmental, technical, educational, or scientific aspects. An important factor to be successful with EU funding is to be in line with the EU agenda.
Execution: What will you do with the money? Execution is king.
There are two key elements for effective execution: a strong and committed team and a solid plan. It is important that the team is diverse in skills, profiles and gender. It must include commercial and technical capacities and, very importantly, operational expertise in the sector.
Then, a very detailed work plan is necessary. In addition to saving a lot of time and resources, organized plans show a more structured and consolidated project that will attract the attention of evaluators and, eventually, potential investors. It’s really striking to see so many startups with very diffused execution plans.
The best way to build an attractive work plan is to identify the technological and marketing actions needed to market the product and assign them defined objectives. It is important that each objective is accompanied by deadlines and metrics. A starting point could be the key performance indicators (KPIs) that are specific to your business or area of interest.
To complement and monitor the progress, the work packages must be accompanied by deliverables and milestones. The achievement of milestones and production of deliverables is a powerful mechanism that shows the progress of your project plan. An added benefit is that they help motivate and align your team, because everyone can see the progress and assess priorities. They are also useful for monitoring deadlines and recognising potential project bottlenecks. To present the work packages, the interrelation between them and give an approximate time to the market, a detailed Gantt chart should be put in place.
Don’t let your idea become one of the many that never make it. Putting in a little bit of effort and resources up front can turn your idea into a funded project that delivers benefits and outcomes to you and your community.