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Breakthrough research for innovation: designing the way forward

The European Commission’s new European Innovation Council (EIC) will help European researchers turn their most radical ideas into innovative and game-changing new technologies. A pilot scheme is currently underway to test ideas for the EIC’s two main branches, which focus on supporting advanced research and on business growth and creating new markets.

Six panellists on stage with text 'Connect to the future of innovation' behind

European Commission

Yesterday, researchers, innovators and policy-makers from across Europe met in Bucharest to discuss the EIC Pathfinder pilot scheme, which started in April 2019 and will run to the end of 2020. The EIC Pathfinder pilot builds on the success of two of the pillars of the EU’s Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme, FET Open and FET Proactive, which have supported scientific discovery and innovation for the past thirty years. The Pathfinder pilot focuses on deep tech – the development of entirely new technologies driven by ground-breaking scientific research bringing together the worlds of science, technology and society in new ways. With a budget of over €700 million, the Pathfinder pilot scheme will fund between 150 and 200 collaborative projects. Its goal will be to make European researchers’ most promising and creative tech ideas a reality and help Europe compete on a global scale. The event continues today with a focus on the EIC Accelerator pilot scheme, which will complement the Pathfinder pilot scheme by supporting business creation, growth and economic success founded on innovative research.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, said

Building on thirty years of experience in the FET Programme, the EIC Pathfinder has the potential to become a global landmark for breakthrough science and technology, leading to disruptive innovation in Europe. Our challenge is to make sure that the concept of ‘deep tech made in Europe’ does not remain a mere aspiration, but becomes a reality for everyone.

Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, added:

Great innovation begins with a great idea, but what happens next is as crucial. The EIC is the new powerful fuel for breakthrough and disruptive ideas in Europe. The EIC Pathfinder is designed to help researchers bring radically new ideas to proof of concept and demonstration of commercial viability. At the next stage, the EIC Accelerator will fund high-risk high-return innovative projects, helping budding entrepreneurs to start up and scale up.

The EIC is a key new initiative within the “Innovative Europe” pillar of Horizon Europe, the Commission’s next research and innovation framework programme for 2021-2027.

By incorporating FET Open and FET Proactive, the EIC Pathfinder pilot will link ideas, results and participants from FET more directly with the innovators that can bring new technologies to the market.

The event was a chance for participants to work together to co-design aspects of the EIC Pathfinder scheme, as it will shape up under Horizon Europe. They shared ideas about new ways of creating connections between the EIC Pathfinder and the process of bringing innovations to market, boosting Europe’s capacity and ambition to lead in the field of disruptive, deep-tech innovation. There was also an opportunity to preview some of the trail-blazing research being carried out in Europe into the technologies of the future, a number of which are already finding their way to users.


The European Innovation Council is the main part of Horizon Europe’s Innovative Europe pillar, which will provide an agile, seamless and tailored approach to support breakthrough innovation in Europe. The EIC’s Pathfinder actions will support the development of future and emerging breakthrough innovations, including ‘deep-tech’ innovations, while its Accelerator will aim to bridge financing gaps in the development, deployment and scaling-up of market-creating innovations, and leverage private capital and investment.

In June 2018, the European Council invited the Commission to launch a new pilot initiative on breakthrough innovation within the remaining period of Horizon 2020, the current EU research and innovation investment programme which runs until the end of next year. In response to this invitation, in March 2019 the Commission announced an Enhanced EIC pilot for 2019-2020 to pave the way for an EIC in Horizon Europe. The EIC pilot will run as part of the Horizon 2020 work programme for 2019 and 2020, and the draft work programmes for FET and the EIC pilot in 2019-2020 are already available. Once the pilot phase is over, in 2021 the EIC will become a full-fledged reality under Horizon Europe.

Within the EIC pilot, the Pathfinder scheme will build on the FET programme within Horizon 2020, in particular its FET Open and FET Proactive pillars. For 30 years, FET support has been key to the development of many of the digital technologies that are today becoming a part of everyday life – like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and the Internet of Things – and to high-potential new concepts such as neuro-prosthetics and artificial photosynthesis. FET research has also pioneered soft robotics, developed smart textiles that can monitor the wearer’s body, and investigated energy storage at very high temperatures, to give just a few examples. Read more about the achievements of the FET programme here.

Between now and the end of 2020, €360 million of the Pathfinder pilot’s budget will fund FET Open, supporting the early stages of research on radically new technological ideas. In the same period, €180 million will fund FET Proactive in targeting breakthrough technology in the following areas: human-centric artificial intelligence; implantable autonomous devices and materials; breakthrough zero-emissions energy generation for full decarbonisation; future technologies for social experience; measuring the unmeasurable – sub-nanoscale science for nanometrology; digital twins for the life-sciences; and environmental intelligence.

Read the final report of the FET Traces study, which analysed and measured the impact of the FET programme.