Commission launches European Innovation Council to help turn scientific ideas into breakthrough innovations

Last Updated on Friday, 26 March, 2021 at 10:09 am by Andre Camilleri

This week the European Commission launched, at an online event, the European Innovation Council (EIC), with a budget of over €10bn (in current prices) for 2021-2027 to develop and expand breakthrough innovations. Building on a successful pilot programme under Horizon 2020, the new EIC is not only a novelty of Horizon Europe, but it is also unique in the world: it combines research on emerging technologies with an accelerator programme and a dedicated equity fund, the European Innovation Council Fund, to scale up innovative start-ups and small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs). Around €3bn of the EIC’s budget will go towards the EIC Fund.

Furthermore, the first annual work programme of the EIC is published, opening funding opportunities worth over €1.5bn in 2021. At the same time, two prizes for women innovators and the European Capital of Innovation are opened for applications.

Margrethe Vestager, executive vice-president for A Europe fit for the digital age, said: “We now have a fund to support small- and medium-sized companies that do breakthrough innovation, access equity and scale up innovative start-ups. This is a way to convert research results into business and to develop visions for technological and innovation breakthroughs.” Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “The European Innovation Council is Europe’s most ambitious initiative to support the breakthroughs Europe needs to recover from the economic crisis and accelerate the transition to a green and digital economy. By investing in visionary research and innovative companies, it will reinforce European technological sovereignty, scale up hundreds of Europe’s most promising start-ups and pave the way for the upcoming European Innovation Area.”

The European Innovation Council capitalises on lessons learnt and achievements from its pilot phase during the period 2018-2021. It supported over 5,000 SMEs and start-ups, as well as over 330 research projects with a budget of €3.5bn.

Key novelties of the European Innovation Council

The EIC has several features that make it unique in its way of supporting pioneering ventures and projects.

  • The EIC Accelerator supports SMEs, in particular start-ups and spinout companies to develop and scale up game-changing innovations. The EIC Accelerator features a new innovator friendly application system, where start-ups and SMEs can apply for funding at any time via a simplified process
  • A team of EIC Programme managers will be responsible for developing visions for technological and innovation breakthroughs (such as cell and gene therapy, green hydrogen and tools to treat brain disease), managing portfolios of EIC projects and bringing together stakeholders to put these visions into reality
  • A new EIC Transition funding scheme will help convert research results (from the EIC Pathfinder and the European Research Council) into innovations (spinouts, commercial partnerships, etc.)
  • New measures are introduced to support women innovators, which include a female leadership programme. In partnership with the Enterprise Europe Network, talented female innovators, as well as all innovative SMEs from lesser-known regions, will be supported to apply, helping to overcome the innovation divide.

Composed of leading innovators, the EIC Advisory Board delivers the strategy of the European Innovation Council and provides advice on its implementation.

Funding opportunities in 2021

The funding opportunities announced in the first work programme of the EIC include:

  • EIC Accelerator financing, worth €1bn, for start-ups and SMEs to develop and scale up high impact innovations with the potential to create new markets or disrupt existing ones. It provides a unique blended finance combining equity (or quasi-equity such as convertible loans) between €0.5m and €15m through the EIC Fund, with grants of up to €2.5m. Out of the €1bn, €495m is earmarked for breakthrough innovations for the European Green Deal and for strategic Digital and Health Technologies.
  • EIC Pathfinder for multi-disciplinary research teams, worth €300m, to undertake visionary research with the potential to lead to technology breakthroughs. Research teams can apply for up to €4m in grants. The bulk of the funding is awarded through open calls with no predefined thematic priorities, while €132m is allocated to tackle five Pathfinder challenges: self-aware Artificial Intelligence (AI), tools to measure brain activity, cell and gene therapy, green hydrogen and engineered living materials.
  • EIC Transition funding to turn research results into innovation opportunities, worth €100m. This first EIC Transition call will focus on results generated by EIC Pathfinder pilot projects and European Research Council Proof of Concept projects, to mature the technologies and build a business case for specific applications.

All projects of the European Innovation Council have access to Business Acceleration Services, which provide coaches, mentors and expertise, partnering opportunities with corporates, investors and others, and a range of services and events.

European Innovation Council prizes

Several prizes are integrated in the European Innovation Council to celebrate those shaping the future of innovation in Europe.

  • The EU Prize for women innovators recognises the most talented women entrepreneurs from across the EU and countries associated to Horizon Europe, who have founded a successful company and brought innovation to market.
  • The European Capital of Innovation Awards (iCapital) recognises the role cities play to shape local innovation ecosystem and promote game-changing innovation. This year includes a new category, The European Rising Innovative City that targets towns and cities with a population of more than 50,000 and less than 250,000 inhabitants.
  • The European Social Innovation Competition aims to incentivise, support and reward social innovations that will help people and organisations to identify, develop and strengthen the skills they will need to adapt and thrive in a changing world.
  • The European Innovation Procurement awards aim to recognise public and private buyers across Europe in their efforts to promote innovation procurement and the innovative ways the solutions are procured.

The EU Prize for women innovators and the European Capital of Innovation awards are open for applications as of this week, while the other two will open later this year.


The Commission launched in 2018 the European Innovation Council pilot under Horizon 2020 to support the most talented European innovators in the fast and effective scaling-up of breakthrough, disruptive innovation, with a budget of €3.5bn. Further information on the European Innovation Council pilot can be found in the Impact Report.

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