The EIC Pathfinder is a very competitive programme, funding bold ideas for radically new technologies from fundamental research up to proof of concept (from Technological Readiness Level 1 to 4). The programme is structured into Open Calls (for applicants in any field of science) and Challenge Calls (pre-defined topics), with success rates ranging from an average 5-6% in the first to 10-11% in the latter.

Considering the low number of proposals selected, one can easily wonder if this is a process worth undertaking. According to Francisco Melo, Advisor – European R&D and Innovation Support at Luxinnovation and EIC National Contact Point for Luxembourg, it certainly is: “The programme supports projects with grants of up to €3-4 million, covering 100% of the R&D costs. On top of this, selected projects have the possibility of bringing their ideas closer to the market, by gaining privileged access to follow-up funding schemes such as the EIC Transition and the EIC Accelerator.”

Starting a longer journey

For César Pascual, EIC Ambassador and former EIC Pathfinder winner from the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, the EIC Pathfinder must be understood as being one part of a bigger process. “EIC funding covers the entire innovation chain, starting with the EIC Pathfinder (for basic research up to proof of concept), which is followed by the EIC Transition (bringing the proof of concept to early commercial stage), and ultimately leading to the EIC Accelerator (from demonstration to scaling up to market),” he said.

While recognising that the scientific novelty of the project proposed is key to get funded under the Pathfinder, César Pascual mentioned that its potential impact, in terms of disrupting an existing market, creating a new one and/or transforming the industry, is equally important.

Dealing with the EIC Pathfinder application process

EIC Pathfinder applications can be submitted once a year, both for the Open Call (usually until the end of Q1 of each year) and the Challenge Call (usually by the beginning of Q4 of each year). Applicants submitting a proposal will receive a first set of comments/requests for clarification from evaluators approximately 1.5-2.5 months after the call deadline (“rebuttal process”), to which they can reply. Based on this, the evaluation committee will define the final score. The decision on the outcome of the evaluation typically takes 5 months, while the access to the first pre-financing takes around 8 months.

Luxinnovation, the national innovation agency, is there to support applicants throughout the application process and beyond. As explained by Francisco Melo, the European R&D and innovation team can provide support from advising on the suitability of the project concept to the specific programme, partner identification, proposal review or even administrative, legal and financial requirements.

Learning from the best: relevant hints to succeed

Taking for a fact that the EIC Pathfinder is a highly competitive and oversubscribed programme, the audience was particularly keen to get some insights on how to put together a successful application. Serge Thill, EIC Evaluator & Associate Professor and Full Principal Investigator at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour at Rabdoud University Nijmegen, invited the audience to think about the evaluator’s assessment procedure when writing their application: “Evaluators have 0.7 days to assess a proposal, covering reading the proposal, writing initial ESR and updating ESR as long as needed according to the feedback of the Quality Controller” meaning that evaluators don’t have much time to evaluate each proposal. To this end, a good tip is to follow the annotated application forms (for the Open and Challenges Call), following the recommendations provided and highlighting the aspects and keywords mentioned there.

Luis Leiva, last EIC Pathfinder winner from Luxembourg (Project SYMBIOTIK) and Professor at the University of Luxembourg, stressed out other relevant aspects for a winning undertaking. To Luis “it is very important to have a consortium that covers all the scientific competences and technical skills necessary to bring the project to reality”, while recognizing that aspects such as planning and timing are just as important as the scientific novelty of the concept.

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