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Deeptech: a step ahead for EU funding

The European Commission is trying to make faster investment decisions for companies in the deeptech sector, as the original process was too ineffective


Investing in successful advanced tech companies, especially startups, is hard. How can you estimate the potential returns of a technological innovation that hasn't been yet tested by the market? More than a choice, it looks like a gamble, and it takes a venture capitalist to know how to make (sometimes) the right guess. That's what happens for generic innovations. When it comes to the so-called "deeptech" companies, things get even messier.

Deeptech, as Wikipedia explains, is the field where startups and innovative companies wants to provide "technology solutions based on substantial scientific or engineering challenges". It means that deeptech companies spend a lot of money for their research and development activities, need a long time before actually producing results, imply the technical risk of never getting to their goals.

Choosing the right deeptech company where to invest money is an high risk job. Can a big and often slow organization like the European Union do it? There are some doubts. And what happened to the European Innovation Council (EIC) Fund doesn't help to dissipate them.

The EIC Fund was launched in 2021 to catalyze investments into high risk, deeptech companies trying to reach the market. In some ways, it worked. The EU Commission says that it is the most active public European deeptech investor in 2022 and that, since its launch, it evaluated almost 4.000 full applications, resulting in 236 companies selected for funding. Unfortunately, the selection and granting process is so slow that almost none of them got the funds.

If you want to blame something specific for a fund that is not funding anyone, you have many choices here. The non-existing experience in directly managing an high risk fund. The bureaucracy. A vetting process involving, among others, the European Investment Bank, complex investment guidelines and an advisory committee.

The EU Commission finally decided that an outside help is sorely needed, so it just appointed an external fund manager - AlterDomus Management Company - who "will be responsible for taking investment decisions". But still after the selection and due diligence process already in place.

Nonetheless, this step means that the EIC is now fully operational, the Commission says: "the expectations are that the backlog of investments can be addressed in the coming months, with the most urgent cases being treated in the short term". Now the time from when a company applies to when it receives its first grant payment should reach the target set by the EIC Board: five months.

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