Source of information: https://ec.europa.eu/easme/en/sme-instrument-essential-tips-your-application
The SME Instrument is now part of the European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot with lots of new opportunities and a brand new evaluation system. Here's a list of tips to help you prepare the perfect proposal. Some may seem obvious but, believe us, they can make a huge difference to the success of your project!
Is the SME Instrument really for you?
Before you take a strategic decision to apply, look carefully at the objectives of the Work Programme 2018-2020 and assess if your project is in line with them. In a nutshell, you need a breakthrough innovation with the potential to create entirely new markets or revolutionise existing ones, a clear ambition to grow at international level, a demonstrated knowledge of your target market and a convincing business plan. It is crucial that you are ready to convince on each and every one of these aspects.
You should also seek advice from National Contact Points, your local branch of the Enterprise Europe Network or other structures, such as incubators. Before meeting them, prepare a 3 minutes pitch of your project to make sure your ideas are clearly presented. If the EIC SME Instrument is not for you, they will direct you towards other funding available at European, national or regional levels. You can also have a look at the EIC wizard to see what innovation funding would best suit your project.
Write to convince evaluators to invest in your business
Four remote evaluators will look at different aspects of your proposal: the technology, market knowledge, commercialisation plan, and the financial angle. Each of the evaluators will look at 3 criteria: impact, excellence, and implementation. Make sure your proposal is well balanced and covers all the aspects for each evaluation criteria:
Impact: you need to demonstrate that your project will generate revenues and create jobs. Explain the market conditions and the evolution of the competition. Provide concrete and realistic figures on the market size, the market share, the sales price. Show at least 3 years of projection of sales volume, turnover and number of jobs created. Do not forget to describe your commercialisation plan. A key aspect to remember is that you have to demonstrate that your project has a European or international dimension. If it’s targeted only at a national market, it won’t be supported by the SME Instrument. The protection of intellectual property is also very important and must be explained.
Excellence: you need to convince the evaluators that your innovation is excellent, that your product, process or service is disruptive, that it has the potential to change the dynamic of the market and possibly to address a societal challenge. Show the added value of your idea and explain why it is viable and better than existing solutions. While it's important to describe the opportunities, you must also demonstrate that you understand the risks.
Implementation: you need to convince the evaluators that you can make it. Don't forget that, as well as describing technical competence, you'll also need to provide information on commercial competence. Evaluators will assess the credibility of your team and of your work plan. Make sure you clearly describe how you will organise your team and, if you intend to use external partners to bring competences that you don't have in your company, explain what they will do and what they will bring. Planning is important as well: your project should fit into a realistic time frame.
Get ready to shine! Under the SME Instrument, Phase 2 proposals will go through a second evaluation step consisting of face-to-face interviews. The interview will be in English and last 30 minutes. Companies selected for the interview will receive a pitch document in the invitation to participate to the second step - a template will be attached to the invitation letter. Make sure that your 10 minute presentation is pitch-perfect and that you are prepared to go into the details of your application during the 20 minutes of questions and answers. Before applying also make sure that you are available to travel to Brussels on the following dates corresponding to the cut-off date of your application:
- interview week for 1st cut-off date: February 12-16;
- interview week for 2nd cut-off date: April 16-20;
- interview week for 3rd cut-off date: June 25-29;
- interview week for 4th cut-off date: November 12-16.
Only staff legally employed can attend the interviews, preferably the CEO and senior staff.
Form also matters
Take time to think about a catchy title and to craft an attractive abstract. These two elements are very important as they will be the first impression the evaluators will get from your project. You are strongly advised to use the new templates prepared for Phase 1 and Phase 2 that also include guidance concerning the information requested, the format and the number of pages. You have 10 pages to present your plan for Phase 1 and 30 pages for Phase 2 - use all of them (yes you can delete the hints that are inserted in the template!). Bear in mind that form matters, take the time to review and polish the language. We advise you to write your proposal in English.
In the preparation of your proposal, you are requested to select associated keywords from a predefined list. It is of the utmost importance that you select the highest number of relevant keywords that correspond to your proposal with a maximum of three main keywords and three sub-keywords. By selecting the most appropriate keywords you ensure that your proposal is attributed to expert-evaluators who have the most relevant thematic knowledge to adequately evaluate it.
We hope that these tips will help you to prepare an excellent proposal and that you will soon join the SME Instrument Community!