December 7, 2020

Funding, business support and skills: How the EIT empowers entrepreneurs

The European Institute for Innovation & Technology supports European startups with funding, mentorship and workshops — and it could help you.

Karam Filfilan

4 min read

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Whatever your business idea, at some point you are going to need funding. And while it can be daunting to think about raising money — especially given how 2020 has panned out — the reality is that there’s still plenty of support for startups and scaleups out there. 

Yes, VC funding is down 12% in Europe year-on-year, but this is less severe than many analysts initially feared and some European cities have even seen significant investment growth. 

What’s more, angel investors and venture capitalists aren’t the only sources of financial support. There are much bigger players too — like the European Institute for Innovation & Technology (EIT) — which awarded more than €500m in grants in 2020. 

The EIT is also encouraging diversity in entrepreneurship, particularly around female founders and business leaders in science and technology.

An independent body of the European Union set up in 2008, the EIT provides funding and business support to startups tackling some of Europe’s biggest challenges, split across eight main areas of expertise — climate change, digital, food, health, energy, manufacturing, raw materials and urban mobility. It has more than 2,000 partners across business, education and research — all coming together to form one of Europe’s biggest innovation ecosystems. 

climation Zürich 2017; Impressions;<br/>Image © 2017,

A big backer of startups

Since the EIT was set up, its Community has supported more than 3,200 ventures through its business creation and acceleration activities. These have gone one to raise more than €3.3bn in external funding.

This year, the EIT also set up the Crisis Response Initiative, a €60m fund designed to help startups and innovators caught up in the economic and social problems brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The initiative was split into two streams — a venture support instrument which provided emergency funds to startups affected by cash flow issues and investment freezes, and funding for pandemic response projects which directly address issues caused by the Covid-19 crisis. 

More than 200 projects including 145 startups from 32 countries were awarded funding through the scheme. 

Business support for Europe’s startups and scaleups

The EIT is committed to providing support for startups throughout the entire entrepreneurship journey. No amount of funding will help your business succeed if your product lacks a market or is unable to scale — but someone needs to guide you through this. 

Each of its eight key areas is home to a network of universities, research bodies and businesses called Knowledge and Innovation Communities. These hubs are designed to provide the environment and expertise for entrepreneurs to succeed, with partners including organisations like the University of Cambridge, Siemens, Phillips, Danone and WWF.

Founders can access one-to-one mentoring, business support in technology, HR and marketing, and tools designed to accelerate time to market. There are also entrepreneurial learning opportunities, with webinars, online courses and executive workshops designed to provide inspiration and bring entrepreneurs and educators together. 

Powering women entrepreneurs

The EIT is also encouraging diversity in entrepreneurship, particularly around female founders and business leaders in science and technology. Just 2.5% of European startups with multiple founders have entirely female founding teams, while less than a quarter (21%) of sole founders are female — despite research from McKinsey & Co showing that gender diverse executive teams were 21% more likely to be profitable than peers and 27% more likely to deliver higher value. 

To change this, the EIT is running a series of digital workshops on entrepreneurship and innovation for young women aged 12-18, providing the skills needed to create the next generation of business leaders. It is also supporting female entrepreneurs through exchange programmes with founders on its alumni programme, offering advice on the startup journey from initial set-up to funding and other challenges. Participants can also take placements with leading companies across Europe and join the EIT’s community of more than 700 female members. 

Since the EIT was set up, its community has supported more than 3,200 ventures through its business creation and acceleration activities.

The EIT Awards

The Institute also recognises female role models in entrepreneurship through a dedicated EIT Woman Award as part of its annual award programme, which celebrates successful entrepreneurs and innovators that have been supported by the EIT. Sara Guimarães Gonçalves, cofounder of Portugal-based Trigger Systems, won the 2019 award for her innovation in irrigation systems which uses data modelling to reduce water use by up to 40%. 

The 2020 EIT Awards take place on December 8 and 9, with prizes worth up to €50,000 on offer for successful nominees in five categories: EIT CHANGE, EIT Innovators, EIT Venture, EIT Woman and the EIT Public award. Nominees coming second and third will receive €20,000 and €10,000 respectively. The entire event will be live-streamed, with nominees pitching their ideas to the jury on December 8 and an award ceremony on December 9. 

To find out more about the EIT and some of the game-changing startups it has helped this year, join the 2020 EIT Awards taking place on December 8 at 10am CET and December 9 at 4pm CET.