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Why the help of consultants is essential when applying for a grant

14 March 2023

This last autumn, both Odd.Bot and SolarDew received a large grant and follow-on investment from the EU’s European Innovation Council Accelerator (EIC-accelerator) programme. Applying for grants can be complex. To obtain this funding, Odd.Bot and SolarDew got help from the ImpactCity programme Grants for Impact (formerly: Make Impact, Get Funding). We talk to Alexander van der Kleij of SolarDew and Martijn Lukaart of Odd.Bot on how they were able to obtain this and what their plans are for using the money.

The EIC-Accelerator was created to help startups develop or scale up their innovation. How essential is such a grant for a startup?

Martijn: “Grants are very essential at this stage of our business. It is the last step to the market. We find that private investors prefer to invest only after we can demonstrate sales. The grant helps us accelerate our product to market. Afterwards, we will be investor-ready for Venture Capital.”

Alexander agrees: “We also find that raising money from investors is very difficult when turnover has not yet been achieved. This is why you can perfectly use a grant to start generating turnover and become interesting for investors.”

“Raising money from investors is very difficult when turnover has not yet been achieved. This is why you can perfectly use a grant to start generating turnover and become interesting for investors”

Alexander van der Kleij – SolarDew
So what does such a process look like to apply for funding from the EIC accelerator?

Alexander: “For such a journey, you will need a long breath. In our case, we already submitted our first application in 2020. You register for the programme digitally. This is incredibly complex, and the interface is difficult. I seriously think we submitted as much as 180 A4 sheets of text. We did not receive the subsidy then, but were given a high score. In 2021, we applied again. We then got a ‘seal of excellence’. That means our application was considered good. However, out of the many applications, we were not selected then. In June 2022, we applied again and were awarded a grant.”

Martijn: “This sounds very familiar. We also applied several times before securing a grant. However, we did get valid feedback on the applications that were rejected. For instance, we were told to focus on our core competences. Among other things, this has led us to focus purely on our application to detect and remove weeds. We now leave the construction of the robot itself to others; that is not our main USP.”

What was your experience with the ImpactCity programme ‘Grants for Impact’?

Martijn: “The EIC platform to apply for grants is quite complicated. It is therefore incredibly valuable that Balance’s grant advisers worked with us when submitting our application: we would most likely have skipped important steps otherwise! Balance also taught us to find the sweet spot between ambition and reality in our grant application. Being ambitious is good, but the feasibility of your plans is at least as important. Thanks to their feedback, we learned what the EIC jury looks for when assessing grant applications.”

Alexander adds: “It is in fact almost indispensable to work with a consultant who understands the EU way of thinking. This is the only way to write down the right things. For example, we noticed that we perceive risks in a very different way from the EU. We considered it good to involve different partners in the manufacturing to spread risks, keep investments low and remain flexible. The EU instead regarded all these different partners as a risk: our business depends on them.

In addition, the subsidy consultants know the processes. Very valuable, because these are really not always clear. They often had to point out logical steps in the process that we would not have noticed otherwise.”

“Balance taught us to find the sweet spot between ambition and reality in our grant application. Being ambitious is good, but the feasibility of your plans is at least as important.”

Martijn Lukaart – Odd.Bot
Do you have any advice for other startups considering participation in Grants for Impact?

Alexander: “Think carefully before starting this. Realise that applying to the EIC programme takes a lot of time. Therefore, also look into other types of grants the consultants can assist you on within the programme: these may be less complex.”

Martijn also sees the time investment as one of the main concerns. “Before engaging in this whole process, I would make the consideration whether you can commit your time to this. Of course the consultants will help you, but it is you who has to provide the content!”

Alexander adds, “A lot of time passes before you know you will be awarded a grant. An EIC grant has little flexibility. If you’ve said beforehand that you’re going to spend a certain amount on X, you can’t just spend it on Y. You have to request that through an official process. You then have to apply for that through an official process That is tricky for a startup sometimes, especially as you are working on an innovation and need to change course sometimes. You also have a lot of administrative responsibilities.”

What are you going to use the money for?

Alexander: “We are going to use the investment to get the product ready for manufacturing and then manufacture a first batch. We will apply the products in two demonstration projects in different locations around the world this year. This way we will demonstrate in practice that our WaterStations are technically and commercially ready to take to the market. In 2024, we aim to launch the WaterStations commercially.”

Martijn: “We are going to use this investment to accelerate our 3rd prototype, the ‘Weed Whacko’ robot, to market. We will make the robot available in 2023 to arable farmers participating in the trailblazer programme. Together with them, we will further develop the robot. We expect to start taking the first pre-orders for the robots in 2024.”

Want to know more about the Grants for Impact programme?
SolarDew: clean water through solar energy

SolarDew offers a new solution for producing clean drinking water from virtually any source of polluted, contaminated or saline water. SolarDew uses a patented new membrane technology, relying only on the sun for its energy. Clean water systems from SolarDew are simple to install, easy to maintain and affordable for families, households, or small communities.

Odd.Bot, a robot that weeds without the use of chemicals

Odd.Bot has developed a robot that can smart & sustainably remove weeds. This unique robot uses advanced sensors and AI technology to remove weeds in an efficient and environmentally friendly way, without the use of chemicals. The technology used in the ‘Weed Whacko’ robot, can accelerate the transition to more sustainable arable farming.