EIT support programs – where to look, how to apply, and what to expect
"Now is a great time to innovate – entrepreneurs have access to an enormous amount of external resources to develop their innovations," says Anda Penka, co-founder and CEO of Frementful.
Launched in 2020, Fermentful produces 100% plant-based fermented drinks from green buckwheat. Since its launch, the company has taken part in four support programs and competitions organised by EIT – The European Institute of Innovation and Technology.
Anda reveals that participation in EIT programs has played a significant role in Frementful's development. For example, the original idea was to produce “standard” green buckwheat milk. The turning point was when she and her co-founder Oksana Dasko participated in the national selection of the EIT Food Innovation Prize.
“One of the jury members asked us how we are going to differentiate the product in the already saturated plant-based milk market. My co-founder Oksana was familiar with plant-based product fermentation processes, so we spontaneously answered that we were going to create a fermented drink out of green buckwheat. And so we stuck to this idea without any clue if it’s even doable,” Anda says.
What can companies expect from EIT support programs?
By participating in EIT competitions and support programs, Fermentful has received a total of over 25,000 euros in cash prizes and grants. But even more important than the funding were the other benefits – from industry expertise to network expansion and access to future opportunities regarding R&D, commercialization, and fundraising.
Anda says their participation in the EIT FAN program has been the most valuable for their business. Fermentful was one of 10 of a total of 500+ applicants to be invited to take part in an intensive, 4-month-long acceleration program in Helsinki.
And here's what they came out with:
- A 10,000 euro grant, used to explore the Finnish market – one of the company's primary target markets;
- An opportunity to participate in the major plant-based food fair in Helsinki, Vegemessut, to validate their product and gain exposure among Finnish consumers and industry experts;
- Brand awareness in Finland from partnering with Sugar Helsinki PR agency that has a strong focus on sustainable and ecological values;
- Brand credibility – participation in EIT FAN allowed the company to draw international attention to the brand, which increased their credibility in the eyes of investors, retailers, and partners;
- Industry network – Fermentful gained access to a broad network of international contacts in the food-tech industry and had the chance to start a pilot project with one of the top 3 probiotic producers in the world;
- Ongoing EIT network support – as an EIT FAN alumni, Fermentful is regularly offered exclusive media exposure opportunities and invitations to industry fairs and exhibitions, as well as possibilities to participate in internal competitions with chances to win cash prizes.
The application process depends on the program
Anda says that depending on the EIT program or activity you're applying for, the application process may last from a few hours to several months. For example, the application process for the EIT FAN program included several phases – from filling out an online form and having a remote interview to pitching their product to a jury in Helsinki – and lasted 5 months.
Here's how Anda advises applicants to prepare so that their invested time is not wasted:
- Do research and have a clear idea of how your product or solution will differ in the market. What are your unique selling points (USP)? What will be your technological advantage and scientific component that you plan to develop in the future? Anda reveals that this was one of the questions asked by the EIT FAN jury;
- Define your sustainability goals and how your product will affect society – these are one of the key things both EIT programs and other accelerators, as well as investors, pay attention to. In Fermentful's case, the company had defined that their focus will be on society's mental and physical health, responsible, zero waste manufacturing, and recycled packaging;
- Be 100% certain about your product. “You have to really believe in your product for the jury to believe in you. Make sure your team has the skills and competencies to build a successful product and business,” Anda explains;
- It is an advantage if you can demonstrate traction. Anda reveals that the first time they applied for EIT FAN, they weren't accepted to the program. A year later, they had actual sales results to present, they had a validated idea and a product for the jury to taste. And this time, their application was successful.
Where to find information about EIT support programs?
EIT offers over 50 support programs in nine focus areas – climate, digital transformation, food, health, energy, raw materials, urban mobility, manufacturing, and culture & creativity. You can follow open calls on the dedicated webpages of each focus area.
Startup Latvia has also published an infographic – a great overview of EIT programs, support available, application criteria, and more. You can access the infographic here.
Additionally, Anda recommends following other startups and founders from the industry on LinkedIn to see what support programs they apply for. It's a great opportunity to discover new support programs you may not have heard of before.
“Most importantly, be proactive and actively look for opportunities. If you do it, then there are really plenty of them. Besides, EIT Food's local offices are really responsive and helpful in helping startups find the most suitable programs. In Latvia, for example, it's led by Alina Dolmate,” Anda concludes.