The SME Instrument: all the changes you shouldn’t miss!


Starting this year, the SME Instrument, one of the most popular European funding programmes, has a series of changes start-ups and SMEs will need to know.

Here are the main changes according to the H2020’s 2018-2020 Work Programme:

1)The European Innovation Council pilot – the European one-stop innovation place: The SME Instrument is now part of the European Innovation Council pilot which includes three  other innovation support schemes: Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) and Future and Emerging Technologies Open (FET Open). In addition, there are several innovation ‘prizes’ as well as world-class business mentoring and coaching.

2)No more predefined topics: The 2016-2017 Work Programme had 13 topics, mostly related to high-tech innovation. Starting this year, private enterprises from any sector can seek funding for their groundbreaking innovation.

3)Larger budget: To counterbalance a further increase in the number of applications due to the opening of the scheme to all sectors, the EU also significantly increased the budget, especially for Phase 1.


€ Millions 2018 2019   2020
Overall budget 479.74 552.26   600.99
Phase 1 48.21 (+45% compared to 2017) 54.15    58.77
Phase 2 419.50 (+10.6% compared to 2017) 471.18    511.33

4)Selection process: Currently, applicants for both Phase 1 and Phase 2 are evaluated based on three main criteria: Excellence,      Impact and Quality and Efficiency of implementation. In order to pass the quality threshold, a proposal needs to get 13/15 points overall (compared to 12 points before!) and 4/5 points for each of the individual criteria.

For Phase 1, the selection process remains the same within the new work program as well.

For Phase 2, once a proposal passes the threshold, applicants will be invited for a 30 minute interview in Brussels where they will need to pitch their innovation in front of 6 juries composed of high-level experts composed of business experts, scientists, investment managers, etc. The proposals will then be ranked according to 2 scores: score A will be proposed for funding while score B will be rejected due to insufficient budget.

The aim is to give expert evaluators a better grasp of the proposals and make sure that only the best and most disruptive innovation ideas pass the cut. On the other hand, businesses will also be better prepared for other following VC financing rounds.

5)Less red tape: Submission forms have been simplified and at the same time they now use a more business-oriented language that is more adapted to entrepreneurs’ reality.

6)Lager pool of expert-evaluators: The Commission substantially increased the pool of expert-evaluators so that it will ensure a large variety of high-level skills, experience and knowledge in different sectors and domain. The expert-evaluators now include entrepreneurs who have started and scaled up innovative businesses at European or global level, experts involved in the innovation ecosystem (innovation hubs, accelerators) as well as investors (VCs, crow-funders, business angels, etc.)

For more information about the application process for the SME Instrument, find here a detailed guide for applicants. Don’t have time to check your eligibility for yourself? No worries, you can check for free here!


Author: Dan Stanciu

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