Zaz Ventures Guest Editorial

H2020 SME Instrument

The first “Dragon’s Den” of the European Innovation Council awards €94M of grants to 57 companies

Over 1100 companies applied to the first round of the new SME instrument format, now part of the European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot. For the first time, the selection process involved face-to-face interviews where 124 companies were invited to pitch their innovation projects in front of a panel of experts, consisting of business angels, entrepreneurs, venture-capitalists, larger corporates, innovation hubs and accelerators.

The executive agency supervising the programme (EASME) successfully managed a tight schedule, ensuring the evaluation of 1100 proposals in 3 weeks before coordinating the invitations of 124 companies and 38 jury members the following week.

Based on the interviews, the jury made a final selection of 57 companies that will be awarded up to €2.5M of non-dilutive, non-reimbursable grants to scale up their innovations and accelerate path to market. Three of our clients were successful in this final step and provided useful feedback from their interviews. The jury members had a large number of questions on their initial market traction and commercialization plans. They also wanted to understand their alternative fundraising plan in case they would not be selected in this programme.

We have now supported 80 funded projects since the start of the H2020 programme, working exclusively on a no-win-no-pay model. This is a challenging undertaking when considering extremely competitive funding instruments such as the EIC SME instrument programme (3-5% success rate on average). We act as investors in the companies we work with:

  • stringent initial qualification: eliminating 75% to 80% of cases that do not fit our standards
  • thorough due diligence: making sure we are ready to spend a significant amount of time (400 hours +) at our own cost and risk
  • long-term support: understanding that cases can take up to 24 months to come to fruition



Xavier Aubry is the Founder of Zaz Ventures, a consultancy providing innovation grant preparation services (proposal writing) across a variety of domains (ICT, Security, Transportation, Space, Energy, Environment, Manufacturing, Health, Agtech).

We work exclusively on a no-win-no-pay basis. This means that we only invoice our services when (and if) the client receives public funding. This formula is particularly attractive for very competitive schemes where the average success rate is below 5%, such as the H2020 SME instrument.

Zaz Ventures has raised over 110M Euros of funding for its clients since the beginning of the Horizon 2020 programme.  

Twitter: @h2020experts