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Trends in EIC Pathfinder evaluation results – open to accepting the challenge

5th December 2023 at 3:08 pm

Blog series 1/7: Pathfinder

The Pathfinder programme of the European Innovation Council (EIC) supports the exploration of bold ideas for radically new technologies. It has been a popular funding scheme for researchers and innovative companies since the start of the Horizon Europe framework programme in 2021. The programme is divided into two instruments, the Pathfinder Open (PF-Open) and the Pathfinder Challenges (PF-Challenge). The bottom-up nature of the PF-Open, to which proposals for any research idea can be submitted, has made this strand particularly competitive. Chances of success in the PF-Challenges are highly variable and strongly dependent on the challenge topic.

Trends in Pathfinder proposal submissions and evaluation results

We have compiled the statistics from the past three Pathfinder Open calls of 2021, 2022 and 2023 and the 2022 Pathfinder Challenge call to assess trends in the number of submitted proposals and the success rates.

Overview of the number of submitted proposals and number of funded projects in the last three PF-Open calls and the 2022 PF-Challenge call. Also shown are the number of projects funded from the PF-Open reserve list in 2021 and 2022.
Overview of the number of submitted proposals and number of funded projects in the last three PF-Open calls and the 2022 PF-Challenge call. Also shown are the number of projects funded from the PF-Open reserve list in 2021 and 2022.

The data reveal the submission patterns and success rates for the PF-Open and PF-Challenge. As expected, the bottom-up nature of PF-Open proves more appealing, drawing in a larger number of proposals compared to the more targeted PF-Challenge calls. For the PF-Open calls, we observe a small decrease in the number of submitted proposals from 868 to 783 from 2021 to 2023, however, without a systematic increase in the success rate—with a success rate of around 7% over the past years, competition is fierce. Interestingly, in each PF-Open call several projects are funded after initially being placed on a reserve list: four in 2021, nine in 2022 and a yet unknown number in 2023. Making it on the PF-Open reserve list is therefore a very promising evaluation result and the final decisions are usually communicated within a reasonable timeframe of 2-3 months.

Apart from the Healthcare Continuum challenge, PF-Challenge submissions enjoy a higher success rate than their Open counterparts—a predictable outcome given the focused scope of their calls. As the PF-Challenge budget is split approximately evenly between the different challenges, a similar number of projects is funded in each of them—in the 2022 call 7 to 9 projects were funded per challenge with success rates ranging from 5% in the Healthcare Continuum Challenge to as high as 30% in the DNA-Based Data Storage Challenge.

In the 2023 call, PF Challenges received between 39 (In-space solar energy harvesting for innovative space applications) and 116 proposals (Responsible electronics). Hence, we expect a similar range in success rates as in 2022.

Breakthrough technologies supported through EIC Pathfinder grants

PEARL-DNA was one of the seven projects funded in the ‘DNA-based digital data storage’ challenge and recently started with a kick-off meeting in Ljubljana. The project will develop a scalable proof-of-concept platform for high-throughput DNA-based data storage. POLINA and PIONEAR, two projects that were recently funded in the 2023 PF-Open call, are tackling completely different challenges. POLINA is set to revolutionise 3D bioprinting through photolithographic structuring of light-sensitive materials. PIONEAR will develop a novel laser-based sensing technology to deliver a microphone with acoustic performance that is better than the human ear. We supported all three of these projects during the proposal writing phase and grant preparation and look forward to supporting them during project implementation with our expertise in project management as well as project communication and dissemination.

Looking for experience in the EIC Pathfinder Programme?

The Pathfinder programme generates highly innovative results and provides exciting insights into a potential future world. After being involved in multiple FET Open projects (e.g., the ongoing FRINGE and CLASSY), the predecessor of the PF Open programme, we are very glad to be also involved in several recently funded EIC projects: three Pathfinder Open projects, namely CORENET, POLINA and PIONEAR, as well as the Pathfinder Challenge project PEARL-DNA. Whether you plan a resubmission or consider submitting a completely new proposal in 2024, we are curious to hear about your ideas – the crazier the better!

Dr. Jörn-Frederik Wotzlaw
Research & Innovation Project Manager

Andreia Cruz
Research & Innovation Project Manager

Blog series 1/7: Pathfinder