Startup Europe (HORIZON-EIE-2024-CONNECT-01-02)

  • Action type: HORIZON-CSA HORIZON Coordination and Support Actions
  • Opening date: 11 January 2024
  • Closing time: 24 April 2024 17:00 (Europe/Brussels)
  • Budget per project: € 1 500 000 of total € 12 000 000
  • Estimated number of projects funded: 6
  • Official website


Project results are expected to contribute to the following expected outcomes:

  • Increasing the market footprint of European start-ups in strategic digital technologies and deep tech innovation, notably Artificial Intelligence, Advanced Computing, Cybersecurity, Next Generation Internet, Blockchain, Internet of Things, Metaverse, Energy, Greentech, AgriTech, and Fintech;
  • Better connection of start-ups, including European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) and European Innovation Council (EIC)-supported start-ups and Seal of Excellence holders, to relevant local and/or European ecosystems, communities, and potential new markets;
  • A scaling up of capabilities in matching technology solutions developed by highly innovative European Union (EU)-funded digital and deep tech start-ups with investment and growth opportunities in collaboration with other initiatives such as: the EIC, the EIT and the Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs), InvestEU, the Digital Europe Programme, Women TechEU, public and private buyers, or investors and corporate innovation ventures, and start-up villages.

In pursuit of the above outcomes the projects are expected to prioritise:

  • Start-ups that have either already achieved market-product fit or have raised at least a round of financing (seed or later); and
  • Start-ups established in ‘moderate’ or ‘emerging’ innovator countries and/or regions; or
  • Women-led start-ups.

Target group(s): Start-up ecosystem builders, business angel organisations, venture capital entities, accelerators, incubators, start-up associations, clusters.

This action will connect local digital and deep tech start-up ecosystems and support cross-border acceleration activities for start-ups that demonstrate traction (i.e. market-product fit or at least a seed round raised). Among the start-up ecosystems to be connected, specific attention will be given to the inclusion of ecosystems in ‘moderate’ or ‘emerging’ innovator countries and/or regions.

While cross-border acceleration activities are open to all European start-ups demonstrating traction, the action will also target scale-ups identified in Horizon Europe (e.g. though the EIC (including the EIC Scaleup 100 action) and EIT-supported companies) and the Digital Europe Programme (e.g. from European Digital Innovation Hubs), and the use of Innovation Radar intelligence and other relevant data sets. Targeting of start-ups funded by national programmes, particularly those part of “Plug-in” certified programmes (see EIC Work Programme 2022 Annex 5) should also be considered.

In terms of outreach and amplification, actions should be publicised where relevant in the EIC Community and should actively engage with activities and events of the Europe Startup Nations Alliance. Special attention will be given to support European digital and deep tech start-ups and scale-ups in accessing innovation procurement opportunities (public or corporate procurers).

CONNECT – Interconnected Innovation Ecosystems (2023/24)

Today’s urgent challenges are inherently complex and systemic and will not be solved by individual actors or territories in isolation. Fostering enabling innovation ecosystems across the European Union (EU) requires a systemic approach that is inclusive and collaborative, involves diverse actors, institutions and places, maximises the value of innovation to all, and ensures equitable diffusion of its benefits.

As highlighted in the European Commission Communication on a New European Innovation Agenda[[A New European Innovation Agenda, COM(2022) 332 final]], by increasing the inclusion and interconnection of less represented regions and actors into a more strongly integrated European ecosystem, the EU can capitalise on the experience, needs, visions, and perceptions of an increasingly diverse range of people, companies and places. In doing so, it can also take forward a uniquely inclusive European innovation model that is sustainable, guards against substantial labour market and wage gaps, and associated threats to territorial and social cohesion.

Moreover, such well-connected and diverse ecosystems provide innovative companies with the necessary support and conditions to thrive, i.e. through additional capabilities, data, customers, knowledge, and talents. Network connectivity within and between innovation ecosystems greatly contributes to sustainable business growth with high societal value. Therefore, the actions of this destination aim at strengthening and expanding cooperation between innovation players to better support the next generation of innovative companies whose solutions will lead the shift towards a more competitive EU and a more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient world.

Besides stronger innovation performance, increased competitive sustainability, and more rapid transitions to a green and digital society, ecosystem integration can provide ecosystem actors and companies with access to new resource, markets, customers, and contribute to disruptive strategies and innovative solutions. By being actively engaged in their local, regional, national, and European networks, companies can increase their overall growth potential.

This destination offers a holistic package of actions that:

  • Strengthen innovation ecosystems across the EU through fostering more efficient, inclusive, gender diverse, and connected innovation ecosystems, by accelerating the development and deployment of innovation, including deep tech[[Deep tech innovation aims to provide concrete solutions to our societal problems by finding its source in a deep interaction with the most recent scientific and technological advances and by seeking to produce a profound impact in the targeted application areas.]] innovation and encouraging co-planning, co-implementation, and co-investments around European strategic priority areas;
  • Ensure the inclusion of all key innovation players from across the quadruple helix,[[A model of cooperation between industry, academia, civil society and public authorities, with a strong emphasis on citizens and their needs.]], and all EU territories, including rural areas[[Long-term vision for the EU’s Rural areas (COM(2021)345 final.]];
  • Mobilise policies, funding instruments (EU, national, regional) and fostering synergies between them;
  • Improve public and private buyers’ capacity to procure innovative solutions and enhance coordination on innovation procurement initiatives within Member States and Associated Countries;
  • Improve the connection of individual innovators with other ecosystem actors and innovation support providers;
  • Ensure openness and cross-fertilisation of the innovation ecosystem within and beyond the EU’s borders.

In particular, the actions under this destination should promote the creation of links:

  • Between all key innovation stakeholders, including the private sector, in particular between SMEs, start-ups and other innovators, including social innovators with investors, industry and public and/or private buyers for faster access to funds and markets and the public sector including authorities in charge of national, regional or local innovation policies and programmes and bodies responsible for smart specialisation strategies; also between SMEs, start-ups and foundations, civil society organisations, citizens, and individual inventors; with universities and research and technology organisations (RTOs) as sources of innovation and talent, to ensure that innovations match existing needs, values, and expectations of society, thereby accelerating deployment and up-take towards tackling societal challenges, and, if applicable, with innovation actors from peripheral or rural innovation ecosystems (such as start-up villages[[More information under “Start-up villages: a commitment to a long-term vision for rural areas.”]]);
  • Among ‘innovation leaders’ and ‘strong innovators’ with ‘moderate’ and ‘emerging innovators’[[References: Regional Innovation Scoreboard (RIS)European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS)Global Innovation Index (GII).]] across the EU and Associated Countries[[Associated countries are described in General Annex B.]] to increase innovation cohesion[[The work programme will act in complementarity with the “Widening participation and strengthening the European Research Area” work programme]];
  • With networks such as National Contact Points, Partnerships for Regional Innovation (PRIs[[More information under “Partnerships for Regional Innovation.”]]), the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs), and European Innovation Council (EIC) communities, the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), clusters and Euroclusters, European university alliances, Missions, pan-European platforms such as Startup Europe, public and private regional or local innovation actors, in particular incubators and innovation hubs (e.g. European Research Area hubs and Digital Innovation Hubs), that could be interconnected to favour partnering among innovators.

Where appropriate, the applicants should consider and actively seek synergies with possibilities for further funding from other relevant EU, national and/or regional innovation programmes, including Cohesion Policy funds, the Recovery and Resilience Fund, the EU’s External Action instruments, the Economic and Investment Plans for the Western Balkans, Eastern and Southern Neighbourhoods, and other public and private funds or financial instruments.

Expected impact

Proposals for topics under this destination should set out a credible pathway to strengthening robust interconnected innovation ecosystems and creating a favourable environment to promote the scalability potential of businesses, including in the deep tech sector, and more specifically to one or several of the following impacts:

  • Interconnected, inclusive, and more efficient innovation ecosystems across the EU that draw on the existing strengths of European, national, regional, and local ecosystems and engage new, less well-represented stakeholders and less advanced innovation territories, including rural areas, to set, undertake, and achieve collective ambitions tackling challenges for the benefit of society, including green, digital, and social transitions, and advancing the European Research Area and the New European Innovation Agenda;
  • Enhance cross-border network connectivity and inter-regional collaboration of regional innovation valleys by reinforcing their capacity to create, reshore, and renew European value chains towards the sustainable green and digital transition and the EU’s open strategic autonomy in EU countries and/or regions;
  • Strengthen and expand cooperation between innovation ecosystems worldwide;
  • Foster more inclusive and gender equal innovation ecosystems;
  • Reducing territorial inequalities in access to innovation support.


The action may be implemented through financial support to third parties or directly by the consortium partners to allow start-ups to best benefit from the services described above. For consortia opting for the financial support to third parties scheme, the monitoring of the support to third parties provided for each action, as well as the management of the financial support to third parties, will be ensured by the coordinator.

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