In a significant move to fuel Europe’s innovation ecosystem, the European Commission has greenlit the European Innovation Council’s (EIC) 2024 work programme, opening funding avenues surpassing €1.2 billion. This strategic investment is earmarked to foster breakthroughs in crucial sectors, with a notable focus on generative artificial intelligence (AI), space exploration, critical raw materials, semiconductors, and quantum technologies.
Policy Alignment and Strategic Priorities
One of the standout features of the EIC 2024 work programme is its alignment with key EU policy frameworks. Over €420 million is directed towards novel technologies that directly contribute to the European Green Deal, REPowerEU, the Chips Act, the future AI Act, Net Zero Industry Act, and other pivotal policies outlined in the New European Innovation Agenda. This deliberate alignment signifies a commitment to addressing pressing global challenges, positioning innovation as a driving force for sustainable development.
Economic Security Measures
In tune with the Commission’s economic security strategy, the EIC has incorporated stringent measures to safeguard critical areas such as artificial intelligence and quantum technologies. Foreign ownership and investment in these areas will undergo rigorous scrutiny, underscoring the importance of protecting Europe’s technological sovereignty and ensuring that strategic innovations remain within the European landscape.
The EIC’s funding structure for 2024 is divided into three main schemes, each catering to different stages of innovation.
1. EIC Pathfinder (€256 million)
Supporting multidisciplinary research teams, this scheme emphasizes visionary research with the potential to lead to groundbreaking technological advancements. Grants of up to €4 million provide the necessary financial support for teams embarking on high-risk, high-reward projects.
2. EIC Transition (€94 million)
Focused on translating research outcomes into tangible innovation opportunities, this initiative opens avenues for projects originating from EIC Pathfinder, European Research Council Proof of Concept projects, and, for the first time, results from Horizon collaborative projects. Grants of up to €2.5 million facilitate the crucial transition from research to application.
3. EIC Accelerator (€675 million)
Geared towards start-ups and SMEs, this scheme aims to catalyze the development and scaling up of innovations with the potential to disrupt markets. The funding range, from grants below €2.5 million to investments between €0.5 and €15 million, reflects the diverse needs of enterprises at different growth stages. Additionally, €405 million is reserved for investments managed by the EIC Fund, with an additional €180 million allocated for follow-on investments in companies previously selected under EIC Accelerator calls.
EIC Fund Restructuring
The completion of the EIC Fund restructuring, including the transfer of shares to the European Investment Bank, marks a pivotal moment. This move not only injects €585 million into the fund but also provides greater flexibility in managing the portfolio, currently comprising over 500 of Europe’s most promising start-ups and high-growth companies. The restructuring enhances the EIC Fund’s capacity to play a catalytic role in nurturing innovative ventures.
The EIC 2024 work programme showcases a strategic and holistic approach to fostering innovation across multiple domains. By aligning with key EU policies, addressing economic security concerns, and tailoring funding schemes to different innovation stages, the EIC aims to position Europe at the forefront of the global innovation landscape. As these funds flow into groundbreaking projects, the impact on technology, sustainability, and economic growth promises to be transformative, solidifying the EIC’s role as a key driver of European innovation.