Policy: EIC Board Outlines Target to Increase the Participation of Widening Countries

The overall goal is to increase the participation of widening countries to a share of at least 15% of funding across all EIC instruments.

The Board of the European Innovation Council (EIC) has issued a statement outlining recommendations to ensure that widening countries represent at least 15% of all funding issued by the EIC, double the current levels of lower than 8%.

While the level of participation in EIC applications has improved in recent years, the actual funding share received by widening countries remains proportionally low. For instance, the share of short applications (Step 1) from widening countries increased from 16% to 21% from 2021 to 2022, while the share of full applications increased from 11% to 14% in this time.

However, widening countries received just 8.5% of the total EIC Pathfinder funding and 7.1% of the total EIC Accelerator funding in 2022, while seven widening countries were not represented in the Accelerator at all. In context, the 15 widening countries under Horizon Europe represent approximately 30% of the EU with a population of roughly 124 million.

Based on an analysis performed by the Widening Countries Working Group of the EIC Board, the following five core issues have been identified as holding back the performance of widening countries in the context of the EIC:

  • The levels of knowledge and engagement with the EIC programmes vary significantly across European countries. Not all NCPs and local entrepreneurship support organisations are able to properly communicate EIC programmes to entrepreneurs and to effectively support their applications.
  • The EIC Pilot Evaluation survey (2018-2020) shows that 52% companies use consultants to apply to EIC instruments. However, there are very few experienced consultants in widening countries effectively supporting innovators to apply for EIC funding. In some cases, entrepreneurs report that the requested remuneration is abusive, and fees charged are extortionate (including requests for equity), with no valid alternatives.
  • A significant number of entrepreneurs from widening countries report feeling discouraged to invest money and time in the application process as they believe only participants from certain non-widening countries are selected. The perception of their potential success is suboptimal.
  • Unconscious bias based on the country of origin of an applicant was identified in a recent study led by the experts from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Since the EIC selection process is very competitive, even a small decrease in score affects final results.
  • Diversity and representation among remote evaluators and jury panels is not ensured in all instances, as there are fewer evaluators from widening countries than from non-widening countries. In addition to possible biases, an uneven composition of jury panel/evaluators may result in a reduced understanding of applications from widening countries.

Following the analysis of these core issues, the EIC Board recommends a number of urgent actions be taken across the following six areas:

  • Identify target companies and consultants in widening countries. Select the most promising companies to become part of the EIC Select training programme.
  • Evaluate interest to allocate structural funds to EIC calls with each widening country.
  • Train the EIC Select companies, consultants and NCPs about EIC programme, applications and best practices.
  • Inform stakeholders about new calls, EIC Select, reliable consultants in specific regions/countries.
  • FAIR selection by evaluators and jury members in the EIC evaluation process.
  • Impact monitoring.

The full statement is available on the EIC website.

(This report was the subject of a ResearchConnect Newsflash.)