The aim of this paper is to initiate a discussion about links between epistemic properties and institutional conditions for research by providing an exploratory analysis of such links featured by projects funded by the European Research Council (ERC). Our analysis identifies epistemic properties of research processes and links them to necessary and favourable conditions for research, and through these to institutional conditions provided by grants. Our findings enable the conclusion that there is research that is important for the progress of a field but is difficult to fund with common project grants. The predominance and standardisation of grant funding, which can be observed about many European countries, appears to reduce the chances of unconventional projects across all disciplines. Funding programmes of the ‘ERC-type’ (featuring large and flexible budgets, long time horizons, and risk-tolerant selection processes) constitute an institutional innovation because they enable such research. However, while the ERC funding and other new funding schemes for exceptional research attempt to cover these requirements, they are unlikely to suffice.