EIC Accelerator Writing Tips - Preliminary Considerations
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
DISCLAIMER 1: Please, everything I say is just my personal and very subjective opinion and sometimes my opinions might not be 100% coincident with those focusing ONLY on achieving the highest score possible, as the focus of my advises is helping SMEs to maximise their scoring while ensuring that the proposal is aligned with their strategy.
DISCLAIMER 2: Please, take into account that the EIC changes templates and rules every now and then, so take these posts as general methodological guidelines and always, ALWAYS, check the last version of the official writing templates, evaluation templates, rules of the game and eligibility guidelines at the official site. Indeed, this year, because of #covid19, #greendeal, and being the last year of H2020 and Horizon Europe coming in 2021, I do expect quite a few updates on all these materials.
RHETORIC: MODES OF PERSUASION: ETHOS, PATHOS, LOGOS, KAIROS & TELOS
Rhetoric can be defined as the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques. It was considered one of the three ancient arts of discourse, the so-called TRIVIUM, together with grammar and dialectic.
Aristotle, one one of the greatest philosophers of all time, introduced the concept of “modes of persuasion”: ETHOS, PATHOS, LOGOS, TELOS and KAIROS. The first three are the actual persuasion modes, while the latter two are more of general considerations that guide us on how to prepare and plan the strategy of our narrative. There are great books on rhetoric and writing (e.g. The New Oxford Guide to Writing, by T.S.Kane and my favourite, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, by E.P.J.Corbett and R.J.Connors) if your want to dig deeper. In the following lines we will just make a VERY superficial and incomplete introduction to the topic (definitions found on Merriam Webster):
ETHOS (from the greek work for "character"). In rhetoric, it refers to ways to persuade an audience upon the speaker’s social standing or knowledge. “I am a brain surgeon, and after 20 years of clinical practice, I have learnt that the most critical step in during an aortic aneurysm surgery is…”. It is logical that the knowledge and experience of a reputed professional makes us more prone to believe whatever would come later. There other times, however, where it is all about the social standing of the speaker: it happens with doctors, priests, even celebrities and influencers: their opinions about many topics they are actually not experts about, are usually valued by their audience. This is less logical, right? Why is that? In very brief, this is because we aspire to be like the people we admire. We want to be like them, and part of what they do. It is important to handle ETHOS-driven communication with care, as some non-careful communications can risk credibility, and then, we will achieve the exact opposite: we will lose our audience trust. The ETHOS-driven communication MUST be credible, sincere, rational, fair, moral and kind (and yes, I am aware that many communicators make a wicked use of this techniques, not to persuade their audience, but to manipulate them, which is different). A last note: many times it is our projects the ones that bring ETHOS with them: "We are a young startup funded by 2 women who always have been concerned with pushing forward gender balance in developing countries. We think that our project can contribute to facilitating women entrepreneurship, and hence, economic independence to them, the first step towards...". Your project might capture your audience from the very beginning even if you are not a top expert: it is the nature of the project and your moral credibility what attracts the audience. In EIC Accelerator, it is convenient to consider ETHOS to build up our credibility, and take care of preserving coherence and consistency to not losing it.
PATHOS (from the greek word for suffering). In rhetoric, it refers to ways to persuade an audience appealing to their emotions (positive or negative). A typical case is used to create an emotion in the audience that paves the way to support some of our claims. For instance, the next sentence could support two claims: why a project is necessary, and to transmit a powerful sense of urgency: “Did you know that the world smallest seahorse faces extinction in less than 2 years if we do not...?”. Some other times, we can use mechanisms to precisely change one emotion with another. Examine experienced speakers, they talk anxiously and fast or loud when they talk about the problem they face, and when they present their solution, they then change their tone, their pace, and speak in a way that inspires the opposite feeling in their audience. In EIC Accelerator, we must have great care with Pathos. I have seen many companies abuse of it to compensate their weaknesses. As we mentioned earlier when talking about ETHOS this is bad practice. Indeed, abusing Pathos is very dangerous as our audience might end by ignore it and emotionally disengage or worse, develop the opposite emotion we are trying to build. Please, make a very strategic and "delicate" use of it. Reserve it for a few specific precise aspects. There is no magical recipe here, but a few places where it can work could be to, e.g., build a sense of urgency (why now), relate the personal story that give birth to our business idea/motivation/vision, show the commitment of the founders and how they struggled to bring the company to where it is now. There is one another use that I found interesting if made with care, which is a general use in our narrative to subtly dramatise the homework we made, the challenges we found and the way we address them. This use may make the reading of the proposal easier, indirectly making your audience feel they are part of the project.
LOGOS (from the Greek word for reason). In rhetoric, it appeals to the sense of logic. There are three main approaches: induction, deduction and abduction: -> Deduction (de-ducere: to lead from). It is an inference in which "the conclusion about particulars follows necessarily from general or universal premises". The deductive reasoning produces conclusions upon generally accepted statements or facts: “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal”. In EIC Accelerator proposals, it is important to show that our premises are solid, always considering that some of our audience might not be experts, so something obvious for us, might not be obvious for f them. Take the time to educate them so that they feel they are in solid ground before presenting the conclusions. If we fail to this right, or to educate them apropriately, it might hinder our credibility (and may be, indirectly, our ETHOS). -> Induction (in-ducere: to lead to). It is an inference in which we reach "a generalised conclusion from particular instances": a process of generalisation based on observations on a sample of the study. In deduction we were covered: as we are particularising the general case. However, in inductive reasoning, we are not guaranteed to obtain certainties, but only probabilities: likely conclusions that must be checked. We scrutinise a sample of data, then we establish a TESTABLE hypothesis over the general case, an hypothesis that we can then examine to check if it is true (it is critical to provide the tests). "Many people in Ireland has red hair. Tom is red-haired. Maybe Tom is Irish". In EIC Accelerator, it is very important to provide ways to validate these conclusions and the premises, so consider including measures to test and check them in your KPIs / metrics! ->Abduction (ab-ducere: to lead by taking away). Contrary to induction and deduction, it is not an inference process, but “a syllogism in which the major premise is evident but the minor premise, and therefore the conclusion, only probable". It is based on the elimination process: We examine what we know, and then proceed to eliminate all possibilities we are certain that are not possible, therefore, the remaining possible conclusions are more likely to be true. Next step will be elaborating an hypothesis (as we have no solid -deduction- nor weak -induction- ground here, we have to make it up). "My ice-cream has disappeared. We are only 3 people in the office. Paula suffers diabetes, so maybe Tom took it inadvertently". In EIC Accelerator, it is also very important to provide ways to validate both conclusions and premises, so consider including measures to test check them in your KPIs / metrics!
KAIROS (from the Greek word for the right moment). In rhetoric, it refers to the right way to deliver the information to the audience from a (reading) time perspective. In EIC Accelerator, we need to consider that we have a number of limitations: we are limited in the high level structure (writing template), and we are limited in space (just 30 pages for the 3 sections to be scored). Moreover (although here we are intersecting a bit of TELOS, as we will see later), there are specific aspects that are scored in one section, but not in another, and we need to be wise about what, when and where to deliver the information. Even if we are anxious to communicate some specific fact, may be the audience is not yet ready for that, and this requires an exercise of containment. Now, a word of caution here. You may think I mean that you should not mention some piece of information in a section if it will not help DIRECTLY the scoring, but it is more difficult than that. For sure we need to ensure that we cover effectively all scoring aspects, but more importantly, sometimes, it is necessary to add extra information to ensure that the evaluator understands what we try to communicate: we need to ensure he has the right context in order for our explanations to have full sense.
TELOS (from the Greek word for purpose). In rhetoric, it refers to the specific goal that the communicator aims at achieving, which can be different from the goals of the audience, and we need to devise the right way to sync both goals. In EIC Accelerator, it is clear that the main goal of the company is achieving the funds they need to carry out their project. The EIC, instead, needs to be sure that they select the best proposals that comply with theirs and the EC’s rules of the game. Therefore, we need to elaborate the right strategy to communicate our project making easy for our audience to identify how well we comply with their selection criteria, and also, if possible, try that those aspects we are not so good at are presented in a way that minimises its negative impact in our scoring.
UNDERSTANDING THE EIC ACCELERATOR PILOT
As we have seen below, it is important to structure our writing to consider TELOS, so let's try to understand the EIC's motivation. EIC Accelerator was initially born (when it was called SME Instrument Phase-2) because past programmes, although successful at producing novel, interesting R&D, failed when trying to get these innovations to the market. It was a strange situations. The EU is an R&D leader but lags behind of the US and China in e.g. number of deep-tech based unicorns. For this reason, they extended former "Innovation Actions" to walk a longer path and cover the road until TRL8.
The change that EIC Accelerator brought was a bit more ambitious, as instead of just helping to reach TRL8, it tries to also facilitate fundraising to resist until reaching the break-even, so the EIC created a blended finance model where they also offered optional equity investment in addition to a grant. Therefore, innovative companies can apply for a grant only or up to 17.5 million in combined grant and equity financing to scale-up quickly and effectively. The grants available will be between € 0.5 and 2.5 million and equity investment can amount up to €15 million. The aim is to increase support for ground-breaking concepts that could shape new markets or disrupt existing ones in Europe and worldwide (please, check here the full and complete information).
EIC Accelerator was born with a very specific focus: helping SMEs that have chances to become market leaders thanks to innovations based on deep-tech, to cross the so-called “valley of death” and reach the market (firstly) and break even (secondly). However, EIC Accelerator is not for every company, not for every innovation, not for every “readiness level”. A shortlist and possibly incomplete list of the criteria follows (please, visit the official site to check the actual criteria):
A programme exclusive for for-profit small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs, see here the official definition: http://ec.europa.eu/growth/smes/business-friendly-environment/sme-definition_is) from any sector in EU Member States or H2020 associated countries.
Aiming at funding radically new ideas based on deep-tech as per the EU strategic agenda with a focus on non-defence applications.
With a solid business plan for rolling out marketable innovation solutions with ambitions to scale up.
Focus on those innovation projects that lack something to be really interesting for private investors.
Only if we meet all these criteria we should think on an EIC Accelerator. Even if I have seen some projects granted that fail in one or two of these criteria, those are exceptions to the rule, and possibly they have excelled at all other criteria in a way that they compensated their weaknesses.
We have left behind the RDI stage, and be at a readiness level equal or over 6, which basically means that we have already some preliminary prototype tested successfully in near-real operational conditions.
We have already assessed the technical, commercial and financial feasibility of our business idea
We have carried out a preliminary commercialisation plan, solving aspects like business model, marketing and communication strategy
We have actual enduser support to ensure product-market fit
Bottomline: It is good practice to show in the introduction that we comply with all these requirements (you may want to try the EIC wizard). The evaluators must understand from the very beginning that we are an ambitious SME with serious options to become a market leader thanks to an innovation based on one of the deep-technologies that have been identified in the strategic research agenda of the EU. Also equally important, it must be clear that we are at the right TRL level and that we have mature prototypes tested in “sufficiently real” conditions, BUT THAT UNFORTUNATELY we have a few challenges to address that make private VCs reluctant to invest on our project, so we are deemed non-bankable.
UNDERSTANDING THE EIC ACCELERATOR TEMPLATE: A HIGH LEVEL LOOK
Please, examine the self-evaluation template of the EIC Accelerator (also available here, under Topic conditions and documents). You will find very valuable information on how the evaluator is going to score each section of our proposal. For now, I will just translate the evaluation template into a short list of general aspects that we need to consider prior to actually start writing the proposal. In following posts, I will try and make a more thorough analysis of each scoring aspect on each evaluation criterion in the evaluation template.
High-level view of the Criterion 1, Impact:
Show that we made our homework: -> Assessment of a value proposition ensuring product-market fit and willingness-to-pay. -> Assessment of our freedom to operate (e.g. regulation, IP protection). -> Assessment of the business model and the commercialisation strategy.
Show that the proposal is aligned with the SME strategy: -> “Alignment of the proposal with overall strategy of applicant SME and commitment of the team behind them”.
High-level view of the Criterion 2, Excellence:
Show that we made our homework: -> Proof we have an ambitious deep-tech innovation. -> Show the conclusions of the feasibility study. -> Thorough study of the art and competitors' benchmarking.
Show that we have a sound plan: -> We know what the next steps should be to bring our innovation to market. -> We have identified main risks and devised contingency strategies.
High-level view of the Criterion 3, Quality and efficiency of the implementation:
Show that we made our homework: -> Set-up the right team (or credible actions to build it). -> Assessment of current non-bankability and why the EIC Accelerator will change that -> Fundraising strategy and financial plan showing the ambition to lead the market.
Solid work-plan that ensures reaching break-even and considers key risks
Bottomline: At a high level, the evaluation template worries about two things: Firstly, demonstrate that the SME and the proposal comply with the eligibility criteria. Secondly, demonstrate that the SME has made all necessary preliminary homework in all relevant dimensions: i.e. technical, commercial and "financial/implementation". This means that LOGOS rules here: avoid qualitative statements on anything related to these aspects. This does not mean that you forget about Ethos and Pathos, but we must not abuse of them to compensate our weaknesses. We better acknowledge them (...the elephant in the room...) and establish actions that contribute to address them. Indeed, this approach contributes to build a strong ETHOS.
High level examination of the self-evaluation template: are there repeated patterns worth mentioning?
If we take a look to the wording used in the evaluation template, we soon find patterns and repeated. Most repeated adjectives and phrasings:
Homework. The template asks us to show conclusions of our previous homework, be it feasibility, tests, documentation available, commercialisation plan and etcetera. They assume we have made a thorough feasibility study and at least a preliminary draft of the commercialisation plan and of the business plan. Show proof, dates, references, your sources, the data obtained, the conclusions you have reached upon this data and why it has sense. We need solid statements upon which arriving to sound conclusions. Do not forget to be didactic and show references for your deductions, and be even more didactic and explicative for your inductions and abductions. In the latter, never forget that they deal with likelihoods, not certainties, so always consider to tracking metrics and KPIs.
Quantitative and Measurable. The template asks us about the facts, for the measurable data supporting our claims, and the key performance indicators we will use to measure our advances: a qualitative answer will never score high. Pure LOGOS: do not forget, we might assume some premises do not need an explanation because it is obvious for us, but may be it is not that obvious for a fresh reader, so try always to be didactic.
Convincing, realistic, plausible. Possibly the most repeated adjectives in the evaluation template. I have seen many proposals that only focus in the LOGOS here, but that is not enough: we need to ensure that everything is well-aligned. Firstly, the project goals must be aligned with the mission and everything well aligned with the eligibility criteria. Do not write that you aim to be a market leader, and then set not-ambitious goals. Do not say that the goal of the project is, e.g. develop a critical machine learning component and then subcontract it to a third party. Secondly, do not forget that this is a proposal, not 3 independent sections grouped together. The information on one section, might be indeed critical to better understand your reasoning in another.
Consistency and coherence. A few times they directly ask us for consistency and coherence, however, we can see that they indirectly ask for it a high number of times. If we say, e.g., that achieving something is important and there is no related task in the work packages, for sure we are being incoherent, and this way we are hurting our credibility (less convincing, the project plan less plausible in order to achieve targeted goals, right?).
Offtopic? Have you noticed that the first criterion in the self-evaluation template, is the second section of the proposal? Some evaluators jump to section 2 right after the introduction. It is not bad practice to ensure that this section can be read and understood if the evaluator does not read before the first section.
Bottomline: It is good practice to show in the introduction that the team in charge is ccredible and reliable, and that our proposal is fact-based, credible, realistic, quantifiable and consistent with our strategy. This will show the evaluator from the very beginning that he is reading a winning proposal, and we need them to believe so from the very first page of our proposal. It is my experience, that the top score is unconciously assigned after reading the intro. We need to be over 93% of the total score at that moment. If we fail to do so, our chances to change this unconscious score later are not great.