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How to get funding for your startup through Horizon Europe

Chemical engineers develop clean energy storage solutions
Image credit: Chemical engineers develop clean energy storage solutions, Unsplash
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If you are a startup or SME working your way through the innovation ecosystem in Europe, Horizon Europe may be the funding program for you. With a budget of €95.5B for a seven-year period (2021-2027), Horizon Europe aims to boost sustainable development and competitiveness in the EU. Pillar III in the program, which supports the innovation ecosystem in Europe, is where startups will find key opportunities.

The European Research and Innovation Days, taking place between June 23-24, is the European Commission’s annual flagship event on research and innovation. Following the policy-related discussion in the event, there is also an upcoming opportunity for entrepreneurs to learn about the Horizon Europe Program in the Info Days 2021, June 28 to July 9.

On this occasion, The Recursive looked further into Horizon Europe’s investment strategy and how startups can apply for funding opportunities. 

Horizon Europe’s overall mission and scope

In a nutshell, the program strives towards 3 targets:

  • To strengthen the European scientific and tech bases and the European Research Area;
  • To boost Europe’s competitiveness, innovation capacity, and jobs;
  • To help deliver on the EU’s ambition for a sustainable transition that matches citizens’ priorities.

When it comes to finding open calls for funding, it is useful to know that Horizon Europe is structured across 3 pillars. The Excellent Science Pillar supports frontier research projects to boost scientific competitiveness. The Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness Pillar invests in research relating to societal challenges. And finally, the Innovative Europe Pillar aims to make Europe a frontrunner in market-driven innovation through the European Innovation Council. Moreover, it aims to develop the EU’s innovation landscape with help from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, whose projects span education, research, and innovation.

To further increase the effectiveness of funding, the program recently introduced the concept of missions, which revolve around commitments to solve some of the greatest global challenges, such as climate change, cancer, and food security. Missions operate as portfolios of actions, including research projects and policy measures, and bring together experts in innovation, business, science, media, and civil society. These projects should be up and running in November 2021 at the latest, after which they will engage citizens and business communities in the implementation.

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Funding opportunities for tech companies & startups

Horizon Europe has a budget of around €95.5B for 2021-2027, including €5.4B from NextGenerationEU to boost recovery and future resilience and additional reinforcement of €4.5B. Horizon Europe will be also implemented through the European Defence Fund and complemented by the Euratom Research and Training Programme.

Over half of the budget in the program is proposed for tackling global challenges and European competitiveness, while 13.5B is dedicated to innovation projects. Тhe program decided to increase support for breakthrough innovation, hence the addition of the European Innovation Council (EIC). For innovators and especially SMEs in the space, EIC is a one-stop shop for leveraging private finance to scale up, increase agility, and create the markets of the future. A key novelty of the program, the EIC has a budget of €10B for the period 2021-2027 and funding opportunities of more than €1.5B in 2021 alone. And 70% of its budget is earmarked for SMEs.

Calls for proposals are accessible in the Funding and Tenders Portal. Calls give detailed information on the research and innovation issues that applications should address in the proposal. 

In the innovation category, EIC has already opened a €1 billion round. Startups can apply to grants of up to €2.5M and receive direct equity investments, ranging from €500K to €15M. The EIC Accelerator aims to invest in innovations with major impacts on Green Deal innovations for the economic recovery and strategic digital and health tech. On top of financing, companies will also benefit from a range of Business Acceleration Services, which could give them access to top expertise, investors, and partnership opportunities in the ecosystem. The first deadline for funding already received a strong response, with over 801 full applications. The next cut-off date for full applications is October 6, 2021.

Another example of an innovation-focused open call is the Energy Harvesting and Storage Technologies grant program, which will be open until the end of September 2021. SMEs, larger companies, and small consortiums with up to five independent legal entities can apply. Proposals need to address innovative technologies and systems combining harvesting and storage that are clean, with high energy density and low cost; innovations for the combined harvesting and storage of different renewable energies; or advanced materials and devices for electrochemical storage.

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Horizon Europe also supports partnerships in which the EU, member countries, and the private sector commit to develop and implement research and innovation activities. One such example is the European Commission’s partnership with Breakthrough Energy in the Catalyst project to make cleantech solutions competitive in Europe.


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Antoanela is a Sustainability Communications Specialist and Deputy Editor at The Recursive media. From these roles, she is helping organizations communicate their latest sustainability goals, strategies, and technologies. She writes about climate tech, ESG, impact investment, sustainability regulation, and related topics.