SME Instrument

Updated last 26.03.2021

What is the program about?

SME Instrument is a pilot initiative of the European Innovation Council launched in October 2017 as part of Horizon 2020 Program. Currently the programme period has expired. Ongoing is the preparation of the future framework program Horizon Europe which is a followup of the Horizon 2020 Program.

What is the main goal of the program?

The goal of the initiative is to promote fast growth of companies and their business oriented innovation via staged financing and supply of services for acceleration of business activities.

What is the budget of the program?

For 2018-2020 the SME Instrument is with a budget of around EUR 1.6 bln. for supporting innovative ideas for products, services or processes ready to be deployed on global markets.

How is the budget under the program allocated?

Candidates can get funding for their innovative ideas to translate them into new products, services or processes after they go through three phases.

Who is eligible to apply under the program?

SMEs (incl. startups) are eligible to apply. The instrument supports SMEs with radically new ideas backed by a business plan, for market innovation solutions and ambitions for expansion. High-risk SMEs with high potential for designing and dissemination of new products, services, and business models that can further economic growth are financed.

What are the main stages of the program?

The SME Instrument includes the following three phases:

  • Stage 1: Concept and evaluation of implementation capabilities – focused on looking at the technological, practical and economic viability of an idea that is highly innovative for the relevant sector. Eligible expenses can include risk assessment, design, or market research, intellectual property research. At the end of the project under Stage 1 the beneficiary must present a business plan for applying in Stage 2. Stage 1 funds 70% of necessary project implementation expenses up to EUR 50 thou. Average duration of this phase is 6 months;
  • Stage 2: Research and development, demonstration, commercialization – financing for proof of concept, testing, prototyping, pilot projects, upscaling studies, miniaturization, design, market replication and other similar activities related to translation of innovative ideas into readiness for industrial deployment and commercialization maturity. Eligible expenses are for personnel, trips, equipment, infrastructure, goods and services. Stage 2 finances 70% of necessary project implementation expenses in a range between EUR 0.5 and 2.5 mln. Average duration of this phase is 1-2 years;
  • Stage 3: Business development acceleration – this phase provides no direct funding, yet for the most successful and robust projects it provides facilitated access to venture financing, loans, guarantees, public procurement and other instruments under Horizon 2020 or COSME that are designed jointly with financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank, the European Investment Fund, etc.

What are the deadlines for application in calls for proposals under the program?

The call for proposals is open all the time, with four separate cut-off dates in a year for submission of project proposals.

How can you apply under the program?

For more information
For more information

Additional information about applying is available on the website of:

Application guidelines are available on the website of:

For more information
For more information

More general information on the SME Instrument is available on the website of: