Willem Jonker, Chief Executive Officer of EIT Digital speaks to SciTech Europa Quarterly about the growth of digital technologies.
The digital world is currently dominated by US and Asian players; and Europe must step up. We had a strong position in the past, but lately others have jumped more eagerly on the opportunities offered by the digital world. We have the technology, talent and education systems necessary to be a prominent player in the digital world; but others have been more proactive in seizing these opportunities.
We do have the technologies in our labs to bring new technologies to market. However, we don’t have the infrastructure which others have built; and innovation takes place in ecosystems. The big players in innovation can only exist with a flourishing ecosystem bringing them talent and technology, which they can then absorb to strengthen their position; for example in the case of Facebook buying Instagram – they didn’t create it themselves; the ecosystem around them allowed them to buy and integrate it.
Digital innovation is drastically different to more traditional research and development. The only issue is that in the digital world, certain processes run a lot faster than offline: for example, the speed with which online platforms can grow into real world players. The digital world allows this because there is no need for physical infrastructure when the network is already there.
In terms of the regulations and policies which benefit everybody in society, we are very much a leader. However, we have to restore the balance; because just shaping the future is not good enough – you also shape a lot by making.
We have to value data much higher than we do today. The focus at the moment is on the fragmentation of the market and venture capital. However, we should also focus on building
a deeper understanding of European multinationals. Industries should start to realise the value of investing now in concepts which will become big in the future – even large corporates need greater education to really understand the enormous influence of data and digital technologies on their businesses.
The other big challenge facing Europe is talent. We have a lot of talent at our universities; however, we still lack people in digital and STEM; and we need to get more women interested in tech and in digital. The real talent is displayed when students meet their talented peers; and when they see good prospects for interesting and meaningful jobs.
Personnel is a big challenge for two reasons. First, people leaving education are disappointed that their career options are more limited than they expected; and secondly, young people are motivated by doing something which adds meaning to their life. Therefore, Europe should promote our balanced approach to technology and its role in society, because that is a competitive advantage which does attract talented people who want to work on a mission, rather than only for financial reasons.
In Europe we make sure the talent and startups are there and we support them. At the same time, we influence policymakers and point them at the bigger picture. We also address our industries and identify to them where threats are, both in terms of technology and threats to business models.
In the last 10 years, we have grown from a small organisation in five locations with 30 partners, to an organisation in 18 locations with more than 250 partners who understand this ecosystem and are willing to give back in some sense. Many European locations see a lot of interest in entrepreneurship, as being an entrepreneur is really supported.
The only thing which causes slight concern is talent, because although the supply of talent is growing, the demand is soaring; almost everybody is recruiting data scientists. Sometimes when we want to recruit students for temporary positions, it is very difficult to get them a work permit in some European countries. The growth of the world population will be mostly outside Europe and we will have to attract people from other places of the world to keep our production – and also our quality of life – at the level that it is now.
The above-mentioned topics will be discussed at our annual conference in Brussels on 10 September. We will look at the pressing issues for the digital sector, alongside demonstrating concrete solutions and amazing innovations with great potential. People should be inspired by the conference; and we should show concretely the people in our ecosystem that are working on the innovation. The conference is a mix of global programmes, where everybody is exposed to some inspiring thoughts, with plenty of scope to network and build community. People should not only get inspired; they should also get the sense of belonging. It is not just about fun; it is something meaningful.
Chief Executive Officer