EIT Digital: the European Innovation Summit and the future of Europe

EIT Digital: the European Innovation Summit and the future of Europe
© EIT Digital

EIT Digital is the leading organisation driving Europe’s digital transformation by delivering entrepreneurial education and innovation.

EIT Digital is part of the global organisation EIT. Created in 2008, a unique EU initiative that boosts innovation and entrepreneurship across Europe.

We spoke to EIT Digital CEO Willem Jonker in the context of the 10th European Innovation Summit in Brussels (26-30 November 2018) about EIT’s contribution to the European digital transformation, the future of EIT Digital in the new Horizon Europe programme, and how the governments of EU member states can ensure Europe competes with the US and China on technology innovation.

What were the discussion trends at the 10th European Innovation Summit 2018?

The 10th European Innovation Summit organised in close collaboration with the European Parliament. It is an event based on public-private collaboration on the topic of innovation in Europe generally. My specific contribution was on the challenges and opportunities of the digital sphere in Europe, and what Europe needs to achieve its digital transformation.

EIT Digital is pleased to see the European Parliament’s continued investing in ensuring that Europe is at the forefront of global innovation. Horizon Europe, the new framework program, has given Europe a strong research and innovation pillar which is a positive step towards achieving Europe’s innovation goals. We hope that the member states and the European Commission support the European Parliament’s strong plan for more investment in innovation in Europe, because it is what Europe needs.

EIT had its tenth celebration recently, and it is one of the most successful instruments created by the European Parliament in terms of its contribution to innovation. EIT places a strong emphasis on its connections and is present in every EU country working towards the future of innovation.

How has EIT Digital contributed to the digital needs of Europe?

The future of innovation is about ensuring that the ecosystems are in place to ensure successful innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe.

Europe needs great technology, talented entrepreneurs, a market, and the necessary regulation to support innovation. EIT Digital is facilitating this by attracting talent to Europe with our education programmes, breeding strong students with both a technical background and an entrepreneurial mindset. We are able to deliver graduates who are not only computer scientists, for example, but also digital entrepreneurs. Our Digital Masters School is a concrete example of our contribution to delivering products and businesses to the European market.

Once start-ups are created, the EIT Digital Accelerator Program helps to scale them up to impactful companies with a high value. The challenge in Europe compared to the US, is the fragmentation of the market.

One of the success stories is that of Xin Hu, an EIT Digital alumnus. He came to our Digital Master School as a Chinese student. He started his studies in Paris and he completed his second year in Berlin, studying 75% technical skills and 25% entrepreneurship and business innovation skills. He stayed in Europe to create his start-up company, MatchX. When he was approached by an American investor who offered to buy his company for millions, he rejected this offer because he realised that he was capable of increasing the value of his company himself. Instead, he joined the EIT Digital accelerator and we helped him to scale up his company at a European level. EIT Digital is proud to enable these success stories and encourage entrepreneurial talent to stay in Europe.

How will EIT build on their achievements in digital innovation with the research funding programme Horizon Europe?

Under the new Horizon Europe program, EIT yesterday received an increased budget which has been proposed at around 3 billion euros. The European Parliament has even suggested that this could be raised even further, to around 4 billion euros. This shows the confidence from people outside of EIT in the value that we are creating.

EIT Digital contributes to all of the pillars of the European Institute of Innovation & Technology by helping to turn research into results and scaling up products in the market and collaborating with the industry to address specific societal challenges. EIT Digital’s unique setup connects research and innovation partners across Europe and ensures that there is a strong ecosystem connecting the European instruments, so that we are able to deliver impactful results.

What role should governments play in social innovation? Would you like to see more collaboration between the public and private sectors in the future?

European governments have policy and financial instruments which they can utilise to facilitate an innovation-friendly environment. It is important for governments of EU member states to emphasise precompetitive procurement to stimulate innovation. In Europe, our governments are somewhat risk-averse when it comes to innovative procurement, instead often choosing to use existing suppliers. However, a company needs customers so in order to commercialise Europe’s research, the government should be help by creating a market for innovative products.

The government should also facilitate the attraction of talent by ensuring that mobility and the inflow of new talent is easier. The fragmentation of the European market, which puts Europe at a competitive disadvantage, can be overcome by investing in education which is in line with the digital reality of Europe and regulation which supports innovation.

EIT Digital’s 5 priorities for the future of European innovation

1. Bring European values to the digital world by building global digital European businesses
2. Further address fragmentation to support digital enterprises and entrepreneurs
3. Raise R&D investment in digital technologies with an emphasis on software
4. Strongly increase investment for Deep Tech innovations
5. Adapt the European Education system to reflect ‘digital reality’

Willem concluded by saying that the main priority should be bringing European values to the digital world. “GDPR is a great thing, however, what we really need is big European digital companies.”

EIT Digital believes in extracting value from data but also ensuring that the value is redistributed back to the citizens delivering this value.

“If there is no European choice, then there is no choice.”

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