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EIC Work Programme 2024 vs 2023 – changes in Pathfinder Open and Challenges

16th January 2024 at 5:14 pm

Blog series 4/7: Pathfinder

The Horizon Europe EIC Work Programme for 2024 was recently published outlining new funding opportunities and changes within their three key instruments:

  1. EIC Pathfinder – encouraging interdisciplinary research teams and SMEs to undertake breakthrough research with the potential to disrupt the market and create new technologies.
  2. EIC Transition – funding to drive experimental results into innovation opportunities with potential market value.
  3. EIC Accelerator – supporting SMEs and start-ups to develop and scale-up high impact innovations with potential to create a new market.

In the three key instruments, the applicants can submit their proposals on a topic of interest to the “Open” call (bottom-up) or the “Challenges” (top-down) which consist of pre-defined call topics. It is important to note that the EIC Transition “Challenges” calls have been suspended in 2024. Based on our experience with Pathfinder Open and Challenges, we focused this blog on highlighting the key changes to the proposal templates and introduced some insight to guide you in project proposal writing.

Changes to the Pathfinder Open template

The Horizon Europe EIC call for Pathfinder Open – HORIZON-EIC-2024-PATHFINDEROPEN-01 – opened last week, introducing some key changes to the program from previous years. Many applicants who obtained high scores on their proposals last year but did not succeed in obtaining the funding, might be trying their luck again in 2024. This year’s proposal deadline falls on 7 March 2024, with a proposed total budget of 136 million euro and about 40 to 45 projects to be funded. As the changes to this year’s Application Form – Part B are minimal, the resubmission and new application processes should be easier. However, if you are planning to (re-)submit a Pathfinder Open proposal, please be mindful of the changes listed below.

One of the main adjustments includes an increase in the page limit of Part B, which is now set to 20 A4 pages, a slight increase from the 17-page limit in 2023 and previous years. You have full flexibility in the use of the extra 3 pages of the application form and are encouraged to focus your proposal on the three key criteria. The evaluation criteria of the Work Programme 2024 have remained unchanged, with “Excellence” accounting for 60% of the assessment, “Impact” for 20% and “Implementation” for another 20%. We encourage you to adhere to the new page limit as any content beyond it will be made invisible to the evaluators. Small revisions have been introduced to the three award criteria. An additional section has been added under the Impact section of Part B, addressed towards the potential of the newly proposed technology to disrupt the scientific field and create new market opportunities. It is also crucial for your consortium to note the updated rules on Intellectual Property (IP) as measures must be taken to ensure the possibility of future uptake, such as securing formal protection of any IP generated, aligning with the latest IP recommendations from the EIC Board.

Unlike all other EIC calls which transitioned to a lump-sum cost model, the Pathfinder Open will continue to operate under the actual cost model and financial reporting requirements as set in previous calls. Additionally, the rebuttal pilot, previously part of the evaluation process, has been eliminated. This should encourage you to submit a Pathfinder Open proposal. Upon proposal evaluation within a maximum of five months after the submission deadline in early March, an Evaluation Summary Report will provide you with evaluator comments. In the case that the evaluator’s comments are not entirely justified or scientifically supported, you can make an appeal at this stage.

The EIC Pathfinder Open structure for Part B is almost the same as in 2023. There is one new point: "Potential for generating disruptive innovations in the future and for creation of new markets", which is part of section 2.2, innovation potential.

Preliminary changes to the Pathfinder Challenges template

The calls for the Pathfinder Challenges are expected to open later in the year and allow for project proposal submissions until the 16 October 2024 deadline. Even though the Application Form has not yet been published, your consortium can prepare for some important changes, as outlined in the 2024 Work Programme. An initial change to Part B includes an increase in the proposal page limit to 30 A4 pages, instead of the 25 pages in 2023 and before. Similar to the Pathfinder Open, the rebuttal process has been discontinued and a reference has been added to the assessment of relevant aspects of regulation, certification and standardisation for expected project results. Additionally, as a change from last year, the evaluation procedure in 2024 includes a consensus meeting to agree on common evaluation comments.

The most significant change in the structure of this instrument includes the transition of Pathfinder Challenges to a lump sum cost funding, ceasing to operate under the actual cost model. The lump sum model was predominantly introduced to reduce the time spent on financial management and allow you to focus on the science-related content of the proposal. Additionally, the lump sum model was designed to be a more user-friendly interface for new applicants and with the potential to significantly reduce financial errors. Overall, the template, payment schemes and the structure of the evaluation criteria remain the same. The only difference includes the additional detailed budget table (to be submitted as an Annex in Part B). Now, the cost estimation for the project will be based on the approximation of the actual costs. Your consortium is encouraged to be reasonable and non-excessive with the calculation of the project budgets. More information regarding the lump sum funding can be found on the Funding & Tenders Portal. Additionally, the EIC has announced a follow-up Lump Sum webinar to take place on 8 February 2024.

Our experience in the EIC Pathfinder Open and Challenge

We at accelopment have successfully supported many EIC Pathfinder projects, including three recently approved Pathfinder Open (CORENET, POLINA and PIONEAR) and one Pathfinder Challenge (PEARL-DNA) projects. Whether you are writing a new proposal or are planning a re-submission, we hope that these small, yet significant highlights from our blog will help you in your proposal writing journey and avoid last-minute surprises. If you have an innovative idea and are interested in our support for proposal writing, feel free to contact us. From FET-Open to EIC Pathfinder, our taste for project ideas that address global challenges stays the same. Have a look at our Proposal Writing services and contact our EIC Pathfinder experts to discuss how we can best support you with your ambitions.

Dr. Jörn-Frederik Wotzlaw
Research & Innovation Project Manager

Jacqueline Strehler

Jacqueline Strehler
Research & Innovation Project Manager

Andreia Cruz
Research & Innovation Project Manager

Dr. Anna Ziemele
Research & Innovation Project Associate

Blog series 4/7: Pathfinder