January 18, 2024

EIC to ramp up deals in first half of 2024

AI, quantum and semiconductor startups likely to become big winners of European Innovation Council support

The first half of 2024 will see an increase in the European Innovation Council’s (EIC) investments into tech startups via its Accelerator programme, compared to last year, according to an EU official.

The EIC is aimed at de-risking deeptech companies and has a €1.2bn budget to spend this year: €675m of that will be channelled through its startup-focused Accelerator programme, one of its three schemes for backing early-stage, research-led businesses. 

The EIC Accelerator offers startups grants of up to €2.5m combined with equity investments through the EIC Fund ranging from €5k upwards. In 2023, the EIC Fund made 71 deeptech investments in total, becoming one of Europe’s most active supporters of these technologies.


A slow start

Following a bumpy start and delays in the rollout of Accelerator, founders should now experience a more agile experience of dealing with the EIC, says the official, who asked not to be named. 

The funder is implementing a number of changes to its processes, including the transfer of its shares in European startups to the European Investment Bank (EIB).

“There’s a ramp-up of the deals,” the official says. “There was the expectation that many of these deals [from previous years] would go faster but many of them could not actually be implemented that quickly.”

Many of these deals will involve companies working on AI, quantum and semiconductors, three areas deemed strategic for Europe, the official says.

“The hype is AI,” they add. “We have re-orientated ourselves to a large extent towards advanced AI applications in the context of Accelerator.”

The downturn in VC investment is forcing founders to present their businesses in a “more modest and structured” way, the official says. “This creates a more solid basis for these deals to go through… I expect the market to continue to improve but there will not be a complete turn because of the general uncertainty that we see around the world.”

A big year in politics

As Europe heads for a raft of elections this year, including the European Parliament in early June, there’s also uncertainty over whether the EIC would receive a top-up in its budget, as it did in 2023. 

In a speech earlier this week, Belgium’s prime minister Alexander De Croo, whose country has just taken over the rotatory presidency of the Council of the EU, rallied the EU to increase innovation funding. He argued that the bloc should “switch to a higher gear” to remain an “innovative, creative, capital-rich and productive continent”.

“The climate policies of China and the US contain an abundance of carrots for their industry while we, here in Europe, all too often grab for the stick. We are leaving too little room for our companies, too little room for innovation,” De Croo said.

Is the rest of Europe listening?

The difference today, the official says, is that Brussels and most EU member states have understood that the US innovation is going beyond tech companies focused on entertainment and social media. 


Initiatives like the US Inflation Reduction Act and the Chips Act are going to have a direct impact on Europe’s core industrial base, manufacturing, innovation and jobs. 

And with greater global insecurity, the EU is increasingly aware that many deeptech innovations will also be essential for its own defence.

“Certainly the level of money we have is not still sufficient,” the official says. “The realisation that this [tech and science innovation] is the basis on which we should build is different today — so I’m optimistic.”

Cristina Gallardo

Cristina Gallardo is a senior reporter at Sifted based in Madrid and Barcelona. She covers Europe's tech sovereignty, deeptech and Iberia. Follow her on X and LinkedIn