This paper investigates the allocation of R&D subsidies given to start-ups. Considering the coexistence of various R&D project schemes, we take an aggregate view and analyze the determinants of the receipt of (any) R&D subsidies within the first three business years of the start-ups. We argue that policymakers and funding authorities follow a strategy of picking the winner. Analyzing a unique data set of start-ups in the East German state of Thuringia, we conduct logistic regressions and find ambiguous support. R&D subsidies are given to start-ups with innovative business ideas, especially academic spin-offs. On the other hand, the ambitions and the patent stock of the founder(s) do not decide the receipt of R&D subsidies. These insights into the overall allocation of R&D subsidies are important since they have implications for policy effectiveness and efficiency. The implied difficulties of policy targeting fundamentally question the massive subsidization of private R&D.