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A Helping Hand for SMEs: EU Innovation Funding Programmes

Steinbeis experts provide help on finding the right funding

You need many things to translate a novel concept into an innovation – not least secured funding. This can be a major challenge for SMEs. The solution lies in Horizon Europe, the EU research framework programme that offers a variety of opportunities to receive funding for research and innovation projects . Another benefit for companies is that participating in EU projects helps boost competitiveness and gain access to new international markets. Acting on behalf of the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labor, and Tourism the Steinbeis Europa Zentrum is especially supporting regional SMEs, start-ups, and scaleups with innovation projects, including advice on funding, applying for funding, transnational technology transfer, and partner searches.

SMEs, start-ups, or mid caps with an international focus – especially those interested in moving forward with live innovation projects with the aim of making products market-ready or mitigating the risk of development projects – can access attractive funding instruments through the European Innovation Council (EIC).

What can be funded?

The aim of the EIC in offering its three funding instruments – Pathfinder, Transition, and Accelerator – is not only to foster bold ideas with the potential to create new markets, but also to promote radically novel and groundbreaking products, services, processes, and business models. Projects can revolve around any topic, with plenty of room for interdisciplinary ideas. Around €10 billion of the EU budget have been earmarked for the initiative between 2021 and 2027.

EIC Pathfinder supports early-stage research on technological breakthroughs, offering non-repayable grants of up to €4 million. This includes radically new research, potential market innovations based on breakthrough technological ideas and future technologies (Technology Readiness Level 1 – 4), early-stage development and research into science and technology, as well as technology requiring validation for proof-of-concept and prototype projects.

EIC Transition bridges the gap between the lab and industrial application by offering non-repayable grants of up to €2.5 million. The aim is to enable technologies to mature beyond proof-of-concept to the point of validation, not only by fostering technological advancement, but also by offering support with the development of business models. In addition to covering new business concepts stemming from the findings of previous EU-funded research projects, this also applies to ongoing developments to innovations, from the proof-of-concept stage to prototypes within the relevant field of application (TRL 3 – 5/6).

EIC Accelerator revolves around disruptive, previously validated innovations developed by start-ups and SMEs interested in reaching market-readiness and scaling up. Unlike the Pathfinder and Transition programmes, it offers a dilutive funding option: Non-repayable grants of up to €2.5 million can be combined with in-house investments of up to €15 million. EIC Accelerator promotes the commercialization of highly innovative products, services, and business models (TRL 6 – 9). For example, support is available for demonstration purposes, testing, prototyping, pilot development aimed at preparing products for market introduction, and launch activities.

Applications can be submitted for all three funding programmes on a continuous deadline basis, with no restrictions regarding topics. Companies can also apply to participate in so-called challenges, which do revolve around specific topics. Short applications can be submitted at any time of the year under EIC Accelerator Open, also on a continuous basis (no deadline). Companies are only asked to submit full proposals if their applications receive a green light from the EIC experts responsible for assessments. The next deadlines for full applications in 2023 are June 7 and October 4. The support offered by the experts at  Steinbeis Europa Zentrum range from submitting applications to beyond this process.

EU funding for a new motor winding technology

After bringing the experts from Steinbeis on board, SciMo, a producer of high-performance electric drives, succeeded in attracting €1.94 million of EIC Accelerator funding for a project called eMONIC (“The Next Generation of Automotive Electric Motor”). The start-up from Karlsruhe has developed a new motor winding technology that makes it possible to increase the power density of electric traction motors to up to 10 kW/kg, thus saving up to 75% of motor weight and thus also 75% of resources such as copper, steel and rare earths. In the eMONIC project, the necessary automation of the production of this winding for series production is to be developed.

This will make it possible to produce SciMo motors, which are currently only available as prototypes or in small series production, much more cheaply and in larger quantities in order to also enter the e-mobility sector. With up to 75% higher material efficiency and the resulting lighter and smaller motors, SciMo will also make an important contribution to some of the main goals of the EU Commission’s European Green Deal.

Steinbeis Europa Zentrum supported SciMo with the individual stages of the application process, also offering help in the form of useful tips and expertise. This covered everything from submitting the written application to formal interviews.

€2.5 million for carbon-neutral synthetic fuels

Another company that turned to Steinbeis experts for support was INERATEC, a spin-off launched by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. In addition to offering modular chemical plants for power-to-X and gas-to-liquid applications, INERATEC also supplies sustainable fuels and products.

Hydrogen can be converted into e-kerosene, CO2 -neutral petrol, clean diesel or synthetic waxes, methanol or SNG. The advantage: a complete production plant fits into a container and enables a de-centralised approach. As a result, renewable electricity that previously could not be stored can now be stored directly on site in synthetic hydrocarbons.

INERATEC made use of the personal coaching sessions offered by  Steinbeis Europa Zentrum. The support it received on the scaling process, plus a detailed search on further funding, resulted in the company submitting an application to the European Innovation Council Accelerator programme. Its application was subsequently approved and thanks to consulting services financed by the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labor, and Tourism, in December 2020 the start-up received funding of nearly €2.5 million to enter scalable serial production.

EEN2EIC – one project focusing on two challenges
As part of a project called Enterprise Europe Network to European Innovation Council (EEN2EIC), Steinbeis Europa Zentrum is focusing its efforts on supporting women-led enterprises and countries that have not submitted many applications to date.

Steinbeis Europa Zentrum is supporting SMEs run by women as well as SMEs from widening and EIC associated countries with an interest in applying to the EIC Accelerator programm. It is also helping to raise capacity and gather know-how through the Enterprise Europe Network in order to offer services across all areas of Europe and thus raise the profile of EIC funding programmes. For more information, go to www.een2eic.eu.


Already developed an idea for an innovation project and looking for funding? Check out your idea by going to www.innocheck-bw.de (German only).

Help for SMEs with the EU Green Deal

The European Green Deal poses a number of new challenges for SMEs, although it also offers opportunities. Working in partnership with the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Economics, Labor, and Tourism, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum has launched a website to provide guidance on navigating your way through the Green Deal from a corporate perspective. For more information, go to https://greendeal4kmu-bw.de.


Nadja Schlichenmaier (author)
Project Manager
Steinbeis Europa Zentrum
Steinbeis 2i GmbH (Stuttgart/Karlsruhe)

Stefano Sbarbati (author)
Project Manager
Steinbeis Europa Zentrum
Steinbeis 2i GmbH (Stuttgart/Karlsruhe)