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4 European Funding Opportunities to Watch Out for in 2021

The start of the new year presents several European funding opportunities designed to counter two major trends: the global COVID-19 pandemic and the risks of large-scale climate change.

Executive summary

  • Four European funding opportunities to watch out for in 2021
  • Find out the main changes compared to the corresponding funding instruments of the past years.

What if you don’t go back to rebuilding your business to the way it was before the pandemic but rather reinvent yourself into a resilient enterprise of the future? They European Commission’s (EC) funding instruments can be a tremendous support to achieve this goal. In this article, we highlight important ongoing and upcoming changes to help you leverage the following funding opportunities:

  • The EIC Accelerator for SMEs – one of the most successfully deployed instruments in the history of EU funding;
  • The Innovation Fund – one of the world’s largest funding programmes for the first of a kind demonstration of innovative low-carbon technologies;
  • Horizon Europe – the EC’s ground-breaking new research and innovation programme for 2021-2027;
  • The Green Deal – Europe’s ambitious set of policies paving the way for carbon neutrality by 2050.
Schedule an intake session with our funding experts here.

Chapter 1

EIC Accelerator

Up to €17.5 Million for Ambitious, Innovative SMEs

The European Innovation Council’s EIC Accelerator funding instrument supports top-class innovators in Europe. It bridges the critical investment gap in early-stage innovation for SMEs and start-ups making them more appealing for investment from private entities. This instrument started in 2014 (back then it was called the SME Instrument) and since then it helped over 4400 companies get a head start in the race to the market. In addition to funding, SMEs can have access to tailored business innovation coaching and business acceleration services.

The EIC instrument has an impressive impact track record since its inception:

Eligible organisations

Highly ambitious SMEs and start-ups looking to develop, bring to market and scale innovative products, services or business models with a large impact at European level. Examples of activities that will be supported are product/service development, trials, prototyping, validation, demonstration and testing in real-world conditions, and market replication.

Financial support

Depending on the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of your envisioned innovation and activities, the support can be:

  1. A grant amount between €0,5 – €2,5 million covering 70% of the project budget for TRL 5 to TRL 8.
  2. Blended finance composed of a grant amount between €0,5 – €2,5 million and equity of up to €15 millionforprojects including activities aboveTRL 8.

Changes and opportunities for 2021

An impressive € 9.7 billion has been budgeted to the European Innovation Council for the 2021-2027 programme, part of which will go to the EIC Accelerator instrument. A new approach will be published soon and although we are still awaiting a formal announcement, a revamped application process with two significant changes is expected (subject to further modifications):

  • the addition of a continuously open pre-application step – requiring a short description (up to 5 pages) covering the innovation, the potential market and the team, a pitch deck and a video pitch – with short evaluation times (up to 4 weeks) preceding the full proposal step;
  • estrictions on the number of resubmissions allowed both for the pre-application step as well as the full proposal step. If unsuccessful during one of these steps, applicants will be allowed to resubmit only once before entering a 24-month cooling off period.

The large funding amounts and the adapted efficient evaluation procedure present a great opportunity to further develop and scale your high-risk, high impact innovations. Our experts can determine how this applies to your organisation. 

Chapter 2

Innovation Fund

A €10 Billion Budget over 10 Years

The Innovation Fund represents one of the world’s largest funding programmes for the demonstration of innovative low-carbon technologies and will foresee about €10 billion until 2030.

The Innovation Fund aims to finance a varied project pipeline achieving an optimal balance of a wide range of innovative technologies in the energy intensive industries sector, carbon capture and utilisation (CCU), construction and operation of carbon capture and storage (CCS), innovative renewable energy generation and energy storage.

Eligible organizations

All enterprises looking to develop and test break-through technology in the field of clean tech that can contribute to the transition into a climate neutral economy. 

Financial support

The grant amount covers up to 60% of relevant project costs. The grants will be disbursed in a flexible way based on project financing needs, considering the milestones achieved during the project lifetime.

Changes and opportunities for 2021

A first call closed in October 2020 yielding 311 projects proposals requesting a total of €21.7 million. Whereas then, the focus was on large-scale projects (with CAPEX ≥ €7.5 million), a call for proposals for small-scale projects (CAPEX < €7.5 million) is currently open until 10th of March 2021. The application process for these small-scale projects is simplified: it has only one stage (as compared to the two-stage procedure for large scale projects) during which a full proposal covering selection criteria such as project effectiveness, innovation, maturity level, scalability and cost efficiency should be handed in.

The Innovation Fund call for small-scale projects is an excellent risk-sharing opportunity for organizations rolling out innovative technologies contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Evaluation of the proposals within the current open call is expected by August 2021 already, meaning mature technologies that are ready to reach the market can be funded relatively fast. Our team is ready to assess your case for the Innovation Fund. 

Schedule an intake session with our funding experts here.

Get in touch directly with our Subsidy, grants and incentives experts.

Chapter 3

Horizon Europe

Most Ambitious Research and Innovation Programme in the World

Horizon Europe is the largest transnational programme ever for supporting research and innovation. This new programme will have a budget of €95.5 billion for 2021-2027 which represents an increase of 30% as compared to its predecessor Horizon 2020

With Horizon Europe programme, the European research community, research organizations and our citizens can count on the world’s largest research and innovation programme. It is our main tool to strengthen our scientific and technological base, develop solutions for healthier living, drive digital transformation and fight climate change, for our collective resilience. 

Mariya Gabriel
Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth

Horizon Europe consists of three pillars: Excellence Science to increase EU’s global scientific competitiveness, Global Challenges & European Industrial Competitiveness to reinforce technological and industrial capacities to tackle societal challenges, and Innovative Europe to make Europe a frontrunner in market-creating innovation. Lastly, Strengthening the European Research Area underpins the pillars by supporting EU Member States to make the most of their national research and innovation potential and promote researchers, scientific knowledge and technology to circulate freely.

The most important novelties from Horizon Europe are the simplified rules and frameworks. The EC’s Participant Portal will work as an actual one-stop shop with the mission to bring the most promising ideas from the lab into real world applications by attracting a wide range of participation and by reducing the administrative burden. Next, also lower R&I performing countries are being supported for building their own excellence centres. Mandatory open access for publications and research data will be reinforced. Lastly, international cooperation is encouraged also for non-EU countries to increase the impact of Horizon Europe.

Horizon Europe has the ambitions to generate a significant impact on the European Union and the life of its citizens:  increase the GDP through investments in research and innovation, allocate extra resources to projects tackling climate and environmental objectives and encourage job creation, especially highly skilled jobs. The different work programmes will describe the specific objectives of the different funding instruments, and they will announce the specific research and innovation areas that will be funded. Stay tuned for details on the work programmes, expected to be published by the European Commission soon

Chapter 4

Green Deal

Towards a Carbon Neutral Europe

The Green Deal – the European Union’s roadmap toward its objective of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 – focuses on the following high-level actions:

It is built around eight policy areas and one horizontal instrument. The policy areas can be categorized in two main groups: the innovation and demonstration topics from offshore renewables to carbon cycling industry; the value chain-based topics for which location matters such as wild fires, ecosystem restoration and circular economy; and strong role for citizen and communities such as farm to fork, toxic free environment.

To facilitate this transition, calls funding innovative projects are and will be launched within the Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe programmes. Additionally, the EU will also provide financial support and technical assistance to help those that are most affected by moving towards the green economy (the Just Transition Mechanism). It will help mobilise at least €100 billion over the period 2021-2027 in the most affected regions.

We propose a green and inclusive transition to help improve people’s well-being and secure a healthy planet for generations to come.

Frans Timmermans
Executive Vice-President of the European Commission

Eligible organisations

The Green Deal calls support multi-national collaboration projectshigh-risk, high-potential and especially high-impact projects within the 10 axes of the Green Deal are targeted.

Financial support

Budgets and grant amounts are aligned with the conditions of the type of action of the specific topic (Innovation Action – IA or Research & Innovation Action – RIA). For example, the current open call (with deadline for project proposals on 26th of January 2021) contains 4 RIA (sub)topics – with a 100% funding rate and 6 IA (sub)topics – with a 70% funding rate (100% for non-profit).

Changes and opportunities for 2021

Although the first Green Deal call has already been launched within the Horizon 2020 programme last September, the deadline for proposals is approaching very fast (due on 26th of January 2021). New calls for proposals pursuing the Green Deal objectives, however, are expected to open soon within Horizon 2020. Considering that over a third of the Horizon Europe budget will be dedicated to projects tackling climate or environmental challenges, it is well worth keeping an eye out for these calls!


Now more than ever, during these challenging times of the global pandemic and climate change, is an excellent time to rebuild and rethink your business. A wide range of funding opportunities are at your disposal to help you realize your research or innovation projects. The new research and innovation programme Horizon Europe 2021-2027, one of its successfully deployed instruments, the EIC Accelerator and two other specific instruments to tackle environmental and climate challenges, the Green Deal and Innovation Fund.

Schedule an intake session with our funding experts here.

Get in touch directly with our Subsidy, grants and incentives experts.

Wouter Desmet
EY wavespace™ Antwerp Leader, EY WEM Innovation Leader, EY Advisory Services BV

Jabran Bhatti
EY Belgium Consulting Manager

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