Willem Jonker: the EIT Digital satellite and digital innovation in Portugal

eit digital satellite
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At the launch of EIT Digital Braga satellite in Portugal, we spoke to EIT Digital CEO Willem Jonker about how the new satellite will engage industry, academia and entrepreneurs to boost the Portuguese economy and the European ecosystem.

How will the new EIT Digital Satellite engage industrial partners in Portugal?

We are collaborating with the local university and engaging in discussions about how the industry can participate in developing the EIT Digital satellite. Today is the beginning of a new journey, not the end. The purpose of this journey is to build knowledge and gain industry partners quickly and I am already discussing how we collaborate with industry representatives. The node director from Madrid is ensuring that we are building our core ecosystem in Braga with key partners that have helped us to set up the satellite.

Industry is key because innovation does not work without it. We want to connect to the existing industry base in this area to help them with digital transformation, but also to replace existing processes with innovative digital solution. Innovation means coming with new products and services based on digital technology that can emerge suddenly. The young entrepreneurs, universities and education system will make new developments and build new companies. For us, education always means the combination of deep technical knowledge and entrepreneurship.

My hope is that in just a few years from now we will have multiplied the number of satellite partners, because building a fully fledged ecosystem is critical for the success of the satellite.

How will this commercial ecosystem benefit the Portuguese economy?

We will be attracting talent to our education programs. Access to talent is essentially the engine of all innovation: you need talented people, you need people with the right skills to drive to drive it, and what you also need is development of new companies.

If we are successful and we scale up some of the startups that are here in the incubator or the university, then we will improve research and development here, increase job creation in the region, and help existing companies that are struggling with the challenges of digital transformation to make the right choices.

I hope we will be able to connect the local ecosystem to our network and act as an early detection radar for important industry and technology developments that may be off the radar for these companies. Our link to universities and our focus on deep tech gives us a competitive advantage in terms of detecting important trends early so that they can become leaders rather than followers.

How does the new satellite fit into EIT Digital’s wider goal to commercialise innovation in Europe?

We are an innovation factory creating companies and growing talent. And the factory is delivering on a continuous basis. On top of that we have this radar function, with our trend detection influencing the policymakers by alerting our partnerships of disruptive trends in the early stages.

We want to achieve impact; and our impact is growing as our geographic footprint expands. Our regional ambition strategy means that although we are funded in some established places such as Stockholm, we are also helping emerging ‘runner-up’ regions with great potential. We are ambitious but have grown in a manageable way to ensure that we do not lose our identity and impact by expanding too quickly and in too many places. It is very important to have impact be recognized as a clear brand and as a leader.

We have a lot of support from the European Commission to expand our core infrastructure, to create new companies, grow them, and to attract and educate talent. But our sustainability is important. Gradually, we must make sure that we generate income from these activities, and we find complimentary sources of income, because the funding support from the European Commission will gradually decrease. Therefore, we are proving the value of our existence to attract invest which would give us the financial means to act as a revolving mechanism, where we can reinvest into our innovation, acceleration and education programs.

In Braga, the operations of satellite from day one need to be supported by investments from the local ecosystem, it can not only depend on financial support from EIT Digital. We will be expanded under this model of fast growth, which is achievable now that we have a track record as an innovation brand. We are so grateful to the European Commission and Parliament for the trust they gave us to the build the organisation, and we are proud of what we have established based on that support.

Willem Jonker


EIT Digital

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