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Analysis of the EIC Pathfinder Open funded projects 2021-2023 – research areas, disciplines and more

9th January 2024 at 2:19 pm

Blog series 3/7: Pathfinder

In the evolving world of scientific research and technology, the European Innovation Council (EIC) Pathfinder Open (PF Open) programme plays a crucial role in fostering groundbreaking technological advancements and innovative research projects. Continuing the dialogue from our initial discussions on the new EIC Work Programme for 2024 and the analysis of trends in Pathfinder proposal submissions and evaluation of results, this blog post delves into interesting findings gleaned from the PF Open projects funded under the 2021, 2022 and 2023 calls. These insights may offer a clearer understanding of the EU’s priorities in terms of favoured topics and research areas, potentially guiding researchers as they navigate the funding landscape. Additionally, and looking forward to the preparation of new proposals under the 2024 call, in our next blog post of this Pathfinder series we will outline the main changes in the new Part B template and the updated application requirements, comparing them with previous years’ calls to aid prospective applicants in their quest for funding success. This should save all PF Open applicants some time to get started with their proposals and a tight schedule with the fast-approaching submission deadline on 7 March 2024.

Understanding EIC priorities: A three-year overview of funded Pathfinder Open projects

By examining the distribution of funding across various research areas over the past three years, we can gain valuable insights into the EIC’s funding strategy. This analysis helps us understand if the EIC prioritises certain fields over others or if certain scientific domains have risen in strategic importance over time. With an annual budget of approximately 168 million euro and individual project grants of up to 3 million euro, the EIC PF Open instrument has already made substantial investments over the past three years, funding a total of 167 research and innovation actions. The figure below presents the distribution of previously funded PF Open projects across the main research fields for the last three calls. The three research areas outlined here align with the categorization used by the European Commission on the CORDIS platform.

*Includes only Pathfinder projects with signed GA

In the Natural Sciences category, research spans from Biological and Chemical Sciences to Earth and Environmental Sciences, along with Physical Sciences and the evolving field of Computer and Information Sciences, offering a comprehensive exploration of the natural world. The Engineering & Technology category encompasses a range of practical applications, including various forms of Engineering such as Chemical, Civil, and Electrical, as well as cutting-edge fields like Environmental Biotechnology, Materials Engineering, and Nanotechnology. Medical & Health Sciences focus on enhancing health and understanding diseases, covering areas from Basic and Clinical Medicine to Health Sciences and Medical Biotechnology, each contributing to advancements in healthcare and medical research.

Natural Sciences

The field of Natural Sciences has shown consistency in funding through the EIC PF Open programme. With an impressive 53 projects selected for funding in 2021 and a steady output of 28 and 29 projects in 2022 and 2023 respectively, it seems evident that this field enjoys a robust and unwavering commitment. While it was the top-funded area in 2021, Natural Sciences consistently received significant attention in the subsequent years, reflecting the EIC’s balanced focus on diverse research fields.

Looking at the Natural Sciences more closely, subcategories such as Biological and Chemical sciences have been the beneficiaries of a substantial and consistent flow of funds year after year, signaling the EIC’s interest in their potential to foster radically new technologies. On the other hand, Physical Sciences projects, having been significantly funded in 2021, saw a decline in subsequent years which might be due to fewer (excellent) proposals submitted in this area. Overall, this trajectory suggests a strategic investment by the EIC in foundational science that not only addresses current research gaps but also lays the groundwork for future technological applications and innovations to ensure a long-term impact on the scientific community and beyond.

Engineering & Technology

In Engineering & Technology, the EIC PF Open scheme has showcased a consistency in funding as well, with an average of around 23 projects being championed each year. This area not only benefits from a steady stream of support but also boasts the highest average EU contribution of 3 million euro per project, indicating both the significant value placed on technological innovation and the capital intensity inherent in these cutting-edge projects.

Within Engineering & Technology, the persistent funding of ‘Materials Engineering’ and ‘Environmental Engineering’ underscores their critical role in advancing technological innovation and addressing sustainability challenges. Based on the observed data, we can assume that Materials Engineering in particular remains a priority, reflecting its fundamental role in driving technological advancements across a range of research areas. Meanwhile, Environmental Engineering has seen a steadily increasing influx of funding, aligning with the escalating global focus on sustainability and the urgent need to address climate change. This uptrend is likely a response to the decreasing immediacy of COVID-19-related projects, redirecting attention towards long-term environmental challenges. Additionally, Nanotechnology appears to carve out its niche within the EIC’s funding landscape. After a subdued beginning with no projects funded in 2021, it has gained momentum, receiving support for 13 projects in the subsequent two years. We expect this escalation in funding to continue, especially with one of the new EIC Pathfinder Challenge topics spotlighting ‘Nanoelectronics for Energy-Efficient Smart Edge Devices’. The increasing investment in nanotechnology by the EIC signals a recognition of the field’s broad potential to influence a variety of sectors, from healthcare and electronics to new material development and beyond.

Medical & Health Sciences

In the Medical & Health Sciences sector, the EIC PF Open has shown a fluctuating funding trend, with an increase in projects funded from 23 in 2021 to 39 in 2022, followed by a decrease again in 2023. This pattern may reflect shifting EIC priorities or the completion of specific funding cycles. Notably, the ‘Basic – and Clinical Medicine’ subcategories received heightened attention in 2022, likely influenced by the global focus on healthcare challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic. This emphasis is consistent with the Pathfinder’s overall commitment to basic science, ensuring vital medical research to address pressing health issues.

Additional observations

From our analysis of the EIC PF Open projects, several additional observations have emerged. The average project duration is between 3 to 4 years, shorter than initially anticipated. This observation is likely influenced by the anticipated progression into the EIC Transition and other related funding schemes for further Technology Readiness Level (TRL) advancements. Typically, a consortium consists of around 6 partners, which often includes 2 SMEs (startups included). While the inclusion of SMEs in the EIC Pathfinder is not mandatory, applicants are encouraged to involve key players who are poised to become future leaders and create new markets in their fields, like outstanding early-career researchers or high-tech SMEs and startups.

Interestingly, about one in every five projects is led by a Spanish coordinator, making Spain the top coordinating country in the EIC Pathfinder Open projects, followed by France and Italy. It’s important for applicants to consider building a consortium with partners from multiple countries, as those with a broader representation of member states and associated countries are given priority. This approach not only enhances the project’s scope but also aligns with the EIC’s emphasis on diverse and collaborative research efforts.

Considering the EIC PF Open programme’s funding insights, researchers in underrepresented fields might prefer exploring other funding avenues or thinking about how their work could intersect with areas receiving more substantial funding. Given the EIC Pathfinder’s emphasis on interdisciplinary science collaborations, there is significant potential for increasing funding chances. Proposals that bring together high-risk/high-gain, radically new technologies and establish a highly complementary consortium are likely to be viewed favourably. This approach aligns with the EIC’s objectives and maximizes the overall added value of the research, making your proposal a more compelling candidate for funding.

Support for your Pathfinder proposal preparation

Are you racing to meet the tight deadline of the EIC Pathfinder Open call on 7 March 2024? Please check out our next blog on changes to the new Part B template and other requirements which we are going to publish in our next Pathfinder blog in the coming days. Additionally, you can benefit from our experience in our winning PF Open projects CORENET, POLINA and PIONEAR as well as the PF Challenge project PEARL-DNA. Our team is ready to help you develop a strong, compelling project proposal that stands out towards evaluators. Do not hesitate to reach out and discover how we can enhance your application’s potential for success. Contact us now and take a significant step towards turning your innovative vision into a funded reality.

Dr. Jörn-Frederik Wotzlaw
Research & Innovation Project Manager

Andreia Cruz
Research & Innovation Project Manager

Blog series 3/7: Pathfinder