The EIC Pathfinder Challenges is a funding opportunity supporting innovative and ground-breaking research and development of early-stage game-changing technology which carry the potential to disrupt existing fields and markets. Under this funding scheme, proposals are expected to tackle pre-defined major scientific and technological challenges in different areas. The unique structure and requirements of the EIC Pathfinder Challenges scheme and its dynamic nature are not always straightforward and intuitive. For this reason, we’ve put together this article which outlines the basic guidelines of this funding scheme.
The purpose of EIC Pathfinder Challenges
The EIC Pathfinder program encompasses two funding schemes:
- The bottom-up EIC Pathfinder Open scheme
- The top-down EIC Pathfinder Challenges
While both schemes support high-risk research aiming at laying the scientific and technological foundation for a novel, game-changing technology, the main difference lies in the fact that different from the EIC Pathfinder Open – EIC Pathfinder Challenges has pre-defined and specific areas which projects are expected to focus on. Therefore, proposals under the EIC Pathfinder Challenges scheme should propose a project aiming at realizing a novel technology and contribute to the aims of a pre-defined challenge. These challenges can be from various fields such as biology, health, information technology, climate, etc. The challenges and the objectives and expected outcomes of projects responding to each challenge are thoroughly described in the EIC Work Programme.
Practically speaking, this means that the envisioned technology and proposed research should have a clear, specific and significant contribution to achieving the challenge’s objectives. Proposals exhibiting weak or no connection to the challenge plan and aims as described in the Work Programme will most likely not be selected for funding.
The challenge’s portfolio of projects
A dedicated project portfolio will be established for each one of the call’s challenges, based on the defined objectives and desired outcomes of the challenge. The portfolio will be composed of projects tackling the challenge from different perspectives and aspects, eventually covering all the aspects of the pre-defined need-driven plan. This means that projects are selected for funding based on the alignment of their scope and objectives with those of the challenge. Furthermore, applicants may be asked to modify the proposed project to ensure its alignment to the challenge’s needs, and the project may even change throughout its lifespan in accordance with changes relating to the portfolio aims and the relevance of the project to the challenge.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance to become familiarized with the specifications and unique requirements of each challenge. This can be done through the challenge guide that is created and updated in line with the challenge’s progress.
The challenge guide includes the following components:
- State-of-the-art – The guide begins by outlining the relevant current state-of-the-art and recent developments in the scientific field of the challenge. It also describes the limitations and barriers that should be overcome, paving the way to the presentation of the challenge’s objectives. The brief overview of the state-of-the-art aims at providing applicants with relevant background information. It is therefore recommended to refer to the developments and work mentioned while composing the proposal.
- Challenge’s objectives – The specific objectives and aims of the challenge will be presented in the challenge’s guide. While for some challenges only an overarching objective will be stated, other challenges will elaborate on the specific objective’s areas and aspects. It is important to note that while the guide presents all the objectives that are expected to be achieved, a single project is not required to contribute to all of them. This is due to the unique structure of the projects’ portfolio, which brings together different projects covering different aspects that together fulfil all the objectives.
- Additional information and conditions – Each challenge guide also includes the specific conditions and requirements that should be met by applicants. This can be in relation to aspects such as the approach or content, or requirements regarding the outcomes of the project, as well as technical aspects such as the consortium’s structure.
- Portfolio management – The portfolio management section describes important aspects that should be taken into consideration in the proposal stage, as well as the post-award stage. First, the considerations and categories based on which proposals will be selected for funding are outlined. Namely, proposals will be categorized in line with their compliance to the different aspects and objectives of the portfolio, and the top-scoring proposals from each category will be selected for funding. This procedure ensures the selection of diverse projects that will cover all the challenge’s objectives. Second, the roadmap and objectives of the portfolio are also presented. Unlike the challenges’ objective which focuses on tackling the specific challenge, the portfolio objectives are peripheral to the research and focus on the proper functioning of the portfolio, for example, by enhancing collaborations between projects and addressing mutual needs and barriers. In some cases, the portfolio objectives will be pre-defined, while in other cases these objectives will be formulated mutually once projects are selected for funding. Finally, the management section includes the foreseen portfolio activities in which participating projects are required to take part. Furthermore, each EIC Pathfinder Challenges proposal should also include plans for such portfolio activities. These common activities are aimed at enhancing collaboration, mutual fertilization and co-creation within the portfolio. Such activities can include events, data sharing and synergies, and they are eligible for funding.
EIC Pathfinder challenges – proposal evaluation
In the first stage, proposals are evaluated based on the following three award criteria:
- Excellence (60% of the score) – The project’s concept and the vision of the novel technology are presented in the excellence section. The sub-criteria based on which the excellence section is evaluated are relevant to the challenge, the novelty and the plausibility of the methodology.
- Impact (20% of the score) – The impact section is evaluated based on the potential economic and societal impact of the project, the innovation potential, specifically the exploitation stakeholder engaging measures that will be taken, and the initial plan for dissemination and communication.
- Quality and Efficiency of the Implementation (20% of the score) – This section focus on the implementation of the project including the quality of the consortium and the extent to which it encompasses all the necessary skills and expertise required for the execution of the project, the coherence and effectiveness of the work plan, including the Work Packages, tasks, deliverables and milestones, and the appropriateness of resources allocation to the different tasks and consortium members.
A score ranging between 0 to 5 is given by each evaluator to each of the three evaluation criteria. To advance to the next stage, the final score which is represented by the average of the individual evaluators’ scores for each of the three criteria, should pass the following thresholds:
- Excellence: 4/5
- Impact: 3.5/5
- Quality and efficiency of the implementation: 3/5
In the next step, an evaluation committee, chaired by the Programme Manager, sets up a list of projects to be funded out of all the proposals that met the required threshold. The selection process is grounded on both the scores of the proposals and their potential contribution to the challenge’s portfolio. Each challenge has specific objectives, expected outcomes and technical specifications, and the evaluation committee aims to create a consistent and comprehensive portfolio that will meet the objectives of the specific challenge, as set by the EIC. This will be done by categorizing proposals according to various aspects (e.g., building blocks or subsystems, technical areas and/or competing technologies, risk level, size). Typically, the challenge guide will include additional information regarding the categorization and the priorities according to which projects will be selected. The highest scoring proposals in each category will be selected for funding.
EIC Pathfinder Challenges is a great funding opportunity. Yet, the focus on specific challenges, combined with the requirement for research that is oriented towards novel and ground-breaking technology may mean it isn’t the best fit for all research projects. Should you consider applying for this grant, be sure to contact us for additional assistance.