It is the EIC Accelerator scheme, under the research and innovation program Horizon Europe, that has provided this funding to the three innovative Norwegian companies. EIC is considered a kind of "Champions League" for companies, and only the most innovative get through.
The companies are Ocean Oasis, Celerway and NORA.startup member Digifarm.
DigiFarm creates digital solutions for agriculture, and combines satellite data and artificial intelligence to develop solutions for agricultural production. This is used for, among other things, automatic detection of soil change boundaries and area, but other applications within agriculture. Accurate boundary data is important for agriculture to optimize operations. DigiFarm has pilot projects in a number of countries, and is part of the NCE Heidner Biocluster, Norway's leading bioeconomy cluster. They have now received NOK 60 million from the EU for further expansion and development.
Are you a startup considering applying for EIC funding?
We spoke to Nils Solum Helset, co-founder and CEO of Digifarm.
When did you start preparing to apply for the EIC accelerator?
We had not considered applying for the EIC accelerator until I was introduced to it. I was not very experienced with writing such applications, previously I have written applications for other purposes, such as joining accelerator programs. We considered hiring a consultant, however hiring a consultant is expensive and as we did not want to lose copyright privileges of the application, we decided to write the application ourselves, using internal resources. We were lucky to have help from a person who was working towards becoming a EU advisor at that time. We also received great support and help from Innovation Norway, who helped us develop the application, gave feedback on our pitch and as we rehearsed our pitch.
I never really thought that we would go through to the second round, but we did! The second round, where we had to write the full application, was somewhat easier as we could choose an EIC mentor to guide us and give advice and feedback when writing the application.
Who do you collaborate with and where does Digifarm have operations?
We have many supporters and clusters who have helped us along the way. NCE Heidner Biocluster for instance. We have also collaborated with Norsk Romsenter. We have operations in many countries, Germany, Belgia and Austria, which helped us in our application. We also received good support from Uninett/Sigma 2 who provided access to cheap GPUs and in automatic workflows.
What would be your advice to other startups who might want to apply for EIC funding?
Having experience applying for similar types of funding previously was of good value. Furthermore, don't start the application from A-Z, focus on the workpackages. Get to know the process and get an overview over the steps. Our application was well framed within the strategic focus and scope of the EU now, namely environmental and climate impact. Make sure your application aligns with your own strategic intests for the startup and have a clear IP strategy before you start. Last but not least, make sure you dedicate enough time to write the application! In addition, prepare yourself for the process if your application is approved - there is a lot of due diligence and reporting with these large grants.
How might NORA.startup be of support for startups who aim to apply for EIC funding?
Promote and educate EIC funding for the members. NORA.startup could help startups who wish to apply with the competence necessary for such an application and in supporting startups in application writing. NORA.startup could also help connect startups with investors and customers. Helping startups navigate the complex landscape of funding schemes and finding the right partners could be of value.