Europe can still be a rather bumpy landscape for innovators, although innovators should learn to market better their achievements, argues Robert Madelin, Senior Adviser for innovation within the European Commission and former Director General at DG Connect.
The Digital Post: What are the major challenges facing the DSM strategy?
Robert Madelin: The Strategy itself identifies several challenges under its 16 actions. It’s also clear that some of the changes brought in by the Strategy will imply winners and losers. The main political challenge is whether we are ready to accept this because we care enough about improving our society.
RM: We have entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a period where everything is changing and evolving so fast that it is difficult to grasp what’s next. Under these circumstances, the successful strategies should go to the basics. The Digital Single Market strategy is precisely future-proof in this sense, since nobody knows what the future is. Delivering infrastructure, capacity, industrial transformations, skills awareness, cyber security while investing enough in research into Quantum, Big Data and 5G: This is a good portfolio effort. But it’s impossible to avoid taking risks in a period of big change. The Digital Single Market Strategy take such risks and it is likely that some of its actions will fail.
TDP: On 1st September 2015 you were appointed senior adviser for innovation within the European Commission. Jean-Claude Juncker tasked you with drafting a policy review on innovation in Europe. What can you tell about this report?
RM: I think the missing piece is often the recognition that research is a component of European innovation and competitiveness. Let me put this in figures: less than one euro in five spent by European companies on innovation is poured into research. Moreover, in some areas we don’t have a positive conversation about innovation. At European level we don’t have a conversation at all. What we have, instead, is little pockets of reaction to disruptive innovation.
This resistance to innovation may be legitimate or not, but it is difficult to act on it if we don’t have a proper debate. That’s why Europe can still be a rather bumpy landscape for innovators and that’s the problem we have to fix. The report should be released by the end of June.
TDP: So are you saying that Europe is not a positive environment for innovators?
RM: Let’s talk first about the environment in the world. In 2015 the communications firm Edelman carried out an extensive survey on innovation by interviewing tens of thousands people in a hundred countries.
What came out is that two out of three respondents understand that innovation is good for growth and jobs, but only one out of three think that innovation is doing something good for the planet as well as for their communities and families.
I believe this proves that innovators are marketing their intentions and achievements very poorly and that’s not true only in Europe. The same survey tells us that Europeans want innovation to primarily look at issues such as health, family, community, environment. The two things fit together.
Everybody wants innovations, and wants innovation to benefit the areas they care about. Therefore, the vision underlying the European approach to innovation is right: ‘responsible innovation’ is a key concept within our research programme Horizon 2020. That’s the theory. As far as the execution is concerned, we are beginning to learn.
Coming to your question, is the atmosphere positive for innovators? Not yet. Can it get better? Yes. Do we understand how to? I think so. Are we working on it? Yes.
TDP: Let’s switch to the telecom sector. What do you think should be the priorities of the upcoming review of the telecom framework?
RM: The reason to have a telecoms framework is systemic empty competitive mechanisms in the market. Now we have to revisit how far that’s a problem. We’ve already narrowed enormously the number of markets to which the regime applies.
The second question to ask is to what extent we need a framework. We still do because telecoms it’s a network industry. But how do we tune the framework to ensure the best possible supply of infrastructure? That’s a big problem that we haven’t fixed yet.
Of course, everybody has different views on the best answer to this. My personal view, having been for five years Director General of DG CONNECT at the European Commission, is that the theory of the ladder of investment doesn’t reach to fiber to the home.
If it doesn’t work, we need to apply another theory: Which means we might need to either invest more public money or structure differently the market in order to generate very high speed connectivity investment.
This is part of a series of interviews held during the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. The event featured keynote speeches from Commissioner Oettinger Juhan Lepassaar and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.
Picture credits: Dennis Skley
One of the most remarkable crowd-fuding stories of the last years comes from Sweden. The Digital Post talks with Minut co-founder Marcus Ljungblad about how his project Point made a splash on Kickstarter.
The Digital Post: Behind “Point“ there is an outstanding crowd-funding story. Tell us more.
Marcus Ljungblad: Although we founders, Nils Mattisson, Martin Lööf, Fredrik Ahlberg and I are all from Sweden, we actually started out in Shenzhen, China. By the time we arrived in China we had put together a working prototype of a connected fire alarm. But no first prototype survives contact with user testing.
On the ground in Shenzhen, we were able to utilise the enormous eco-system to rapidly prototype and test different ideas—those who survived ultimately lead to Point. We knew we were on to something when, during a customer interview, the customer asked to buy one of the products then and there.
At that time we didn’t even know if it could be mass produced, let alone had we given Point its name. Fast-forward a couple of weeks and we launched on Kickstarter.
Over the next 30 days we raised almost 5x our goal and had received customers from every continent all across the world.
After the crowdfunding campaign ended we headed back directly to Shenzhen to get to establish the supply-chains we needed and to get Point to production. Today we are shipping our first batch, which is all sold out, to more than 2000 customers and we are a week from producing the second batch.
The Digital Post: What is Point about? How does it work?
ML: As apartment owners ourselves we felt there is a disconnect between us and our homes when we weren’t there. How can I know everything is OK at home when I’m away? Point is camera-free option to stay informed about the important things when you are away.
Did my fire alarm go off? Has there been unexpected noise? Or, if I rent out my home, how do I know that no one is smoking inside or staying quiet during late hours? Point uses a range of sensors and combines a lot environment data to inform users when something is amiss.
Everything is computed on Point, so no sensitive information ever leaves your home. It’s dead-simple to install and is designed to blend-in into any home.
The Digital Post: What should be improved in Europe to help young startups?
ML: Make it easier to offer shares and options to the earliest employees in the company. It is not only the founders who contribute to a company’s success, your first hires and are equally important and you want to reward them accordingly. While starting out, however, it is often expensive to compensate on salary only.
Shares and options offers a way to reward your employees if the company does well. A reward they are rightly entitled to! We’d love to see governments in Europe make it easier for startup founders to share their success with their employees.
The Digital Post: Can Europe match the success of Silicon Valley and Shenzen? What should be the ingredients?
ML: The aim should not be to compete with Silicon Valley or Shenzhen, these are unique ecosystems and they are extremely good at what they do already. Rather, Europe as a whole, should spend its energy doing what it does best: nurturing companies that start global from day one.
Sweden is an important market for us. Users are connected and it has an tech friendly culture. But it is too small on it’s own. If we want to truly affect users relationships with their homes we need to look beyond Sweden.The EU should continue to focus on lowering the barriers to entry to other European markets.
Soon every new company will be ready to take on the much larger, and much much more diverse, global market. And it can do so faster than it’s American and Chinese counterparts. Europe is small, diverse and open, we should use that to our advantage to compete—not to become another Silicon Valley or Shenzhen.
Photos Credit: Iwan Gabovitchhttps
Two years ago the European Commission launched the SME Instrument to address a notorious funding gap in small early-stage companies that is a major barrier to innovation. Here’s the key steps your start-ups should follow to enjoy this funding opportunity.
The European Commission has fully recognised the key role of ICT in improving the business landscape in Europe and many efforts are being made to foster digital entrepreneurship.
Firmly embedded in Europe 2020 – the European Union’s ten-year growth strategy – the Digital Single Market strategy (formerly known as Digital Agenda) recognises the revolutionary potential that information and communication technology (ICT) offers to boost growth, increase productivity and improve the welfare of citizens and consumers.
The Digital Agenda has set goals with 101 actions, spread over 7 pillars, which will help to reboot the EU economy and enable Europe’s citizens and businesses to get the most out of digital technologies. ‘Pillar V: Research and innovation’ hopes to attract Europe’s best minds to research, acknowledging that world class infrastructures and adequate funding are crucial.
From an economic perspective, the importance of SMEs for economic growth and jobs creation is increasingly obvious: Start-ups create the majority of new jobs. However, Europe is clearly lagging behind other geographical areas in terms of global leadership in this sector.
Therefore, EU level action is essential, as a complement to existing initiatives at local, or national level. The issues identified, such as the need for a stronger culture of entrepreneurship and innovation, or insufficient access to financial resources and human capital, extend well beyond the borders of individual EU member states.
In an effort to maintain Europe’s competitive edge through increased coordination and its attempt to go beyond national fragmented efforts, the European Commission has taken action to help entrepreneurs and SMEs fully exploit the potential of technologies, both in terms of supply of new digital products and services and in terms of demand and smart use of these technologies.
In this spirit, Start-up Europe and the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan were designed to unleash Europe’s entrepreneurial potential, to remove existing obstacles and to foster the culture of entrepreneurship in Europe.
The challenges ahead
Yet, efforts to remove obstacles alone are not enough; turning research/science based innovation into new services and products is a challenging endeavour, as commercialising new forms of innovations is inherently high-risk and requires significant investments and follow-up funding.
It is worth noting that private investments in ICT research in Europe continue to lagging behind (less than half of investments compared with the US).
As such, the EU is currently losing the race on scaling-up disruptive, market-creating innovation with the US leading the pack (101 Unicorns) and China following (36 Unicorns). By contrast, the EU only counts 19 Unicorns.
The lack of sufficient public information for potential investors about technologies developed by small firms or the leakage of new knowledge that escapes the boundaries of firms and intellectual property protection, are amongst the many different challenges young entrepreneurs face.
The challenges of incomplete and leaky information pose substantial obstacles for new firms seeking capital. The difficulty of attracting investors to support an imperfectly understood, as yet-to-be-developed innovation is especially daunting.
Indeed, the term, “Valley of Death”, has come to describe this challenging transition when a developing technology is deemed promising, but too new to validate its commercial potential and thereby to attract the capital necessary for its development.
Lacking the capital to develop an idea sufficiently to attract investors, many promising ideas and firms perish.
Despite these challenges, many firms attempt to make their way across this Valley of Death by seeking financing from the wealthy individual investors (business “angels”) and, later in the development cycle, from Venture Capital firms.
But because the angel market is dispersed and relatively unstructured, with a wide variation in investor sophistication, few industry standards and tools, and limited data on performance and VC funding typically oriented towards much later stages of development, capital remains very difficult to obtain for many high-technology start-ups.
The SME Instrument
In this spirit, the European Commission launched the SME Instrument within Horizon 2020 in the purpose to address a key funding gap in financing for small early-stage companies that is well recognised as a major barrier to innovation.
The instrument addresses the financing needs of internationally oriented SMEs, in implementing high-risk and high-potential innovation ideas. It aims at supporting projects with a European dimension that lead to major changes in how business (product, processes, services, marketing etc.) is done.
The purpose is to launch the company into (new) markets, promote growth, and create high return on investment. The SME instrument addresses all types of innovative SMEs so as to be able to promote growth champions in all sectors.
Unlike private risk capital which flows relatively freely during good times but plummets during economic downturns, this programme provides stable support for high-risk ventures throughout the ups-and-downs of the volatile business cycle. It cushions economic shocks that might otherwise lead to major extinction events for the industry.
To achieve these goals, the SME Instrument project has been bolstered with an €3 billion budget until 2020.
A piece of Advice: 3 steps you should follow
Define the reasons for application
Are you an entrepreneur who has established your own startup/SME? Is your startup/SME based on an innovative IT concept, product or service harnessing the potential to disrupt existing markets? Moreover, don’t hesitate to use the SME instrument basic eligibility check which can tell you if your project is eligible or not.
Build up your business strategy
You are an entrepreneur, planning to start your Startup / SME or have already started and are in the early stages. Your startup / SME is an innovative ICT based concept, product or service which has the potential to ultimately disrupt existing markets.
Bear in mind that a professionally written business strategy is the first thing that will help you grow and sell. Whatever your capital source, you will need to demonstrate to potential investors and lenders that you have taken the time to research the market and competition, identified your target customers, developed a business model and have a marketing plan in place to accomplish your goals and achieve success.
In short, you will need a well polished and compelling business plan that will satisfy lenders and get you in front of potential investors.
Check the application process and start implementing
Make sure that:
– you know the deadline for the phase you apply for. There are three phases: phase 1, phase 2, phase 3, each of them having a different deadline in each semester of the year. All proposals are submitted online;
– the written proposal has met all the requirements proposed by the European Commission;
The Commission has an online register of the organisations participating in the EU research and innovation or education, audiovisual and cultural programmes. This allows consistent handling of the organisations’ official data and avoids multiple requests for the same information.
Interested in learning more about EU funding opportunities for your startup?
The EU Startup Services Team can provide you the useful information you need for every phase of your application process. The services include consulting, evaluation, proposal writing and workshops.
The EU Startup Services Team worked with more than 1300 startups, operates in 21 countries and has held 33 workshops on EU Funding so far, with 9 successful proposals in the last year. The representatives can provide expertise on who should apply, when and which are the steps, but also help you choose the instrument which best fits your stage and your current needs.
Planning to attend the upcoming workshop? Here you can find all the details you need.
 Source: Fortune, ‘The Unicorn list 2016’; ‘Unicorns’ are start-ups with a market value > $1 billion
Picture credits: Susanne Feldt
London’s status as the digital capital of Europe would be at risk if we shut the door on the world’s largest market, says the leader of UK Liberal Democrats Tim Farron.
The Digital Post: What are the major dangers the UK might face if it chooses to leave the EU?
Tim Farron: Leaving the EU would damage the UK’s prosperity, security and influence in the world. Our ability to tackle major international challenges like terrorism or climate change depends on us being able to work closely with our neighbours.
As the UK’s most internationalist and outward-looking party, the Liberal Democrats’ position is clear:
[Tweet “Britain is better off in Europe and Europe is better off with Britain in it.”]
The Digital Post: What Brexit would mean for the thriving UK tech sector? How leaving the EU could affect this industry?
TF: Brexit would be a disaster for the UK’s tech sector. Almost nine in ten firms in the tech sector oppose leaving the EU. The ability to recruit skilled people easily from across the continent is hugely important. Many tech start-ups in the UK have been set up by people from around Europe, driving growth and creating new jobs in our economy.
London’s status as the digital capital of Europe would be at risk if we shut the door on the world’s largest market.
The Digital Post: David Cameron’s policy on immigration has drawn criticism from the UK tech industry given that this latter is highly dependent on foreign talents. What is your opinion?
TF: I see immigration as a blessing, not a curse. Since the turn of the century, immigration has added £20 billion to the UK economy. The Conservative Government must also stop sending mixed messages to the world’s entrepreneurs. Our country thrives when we are open to the world and welcome those who want to work hard, pay into the system and contribute to our economy and society.
photo credits: Boston Public Library
The Digital Single Market is not about bits-and-bytes, not about technologies, not about virtual media. It is about the people, it is about the citizens, it is about the jobs, quality of life and civic participation. Therefore it is important to look into the role of regions and cities in making the Digital Single Market work for Europe.
Our task is to boost digital skills, learning across society and the creation of innovative start-ups. We need to ensure digital literacy and skills for citizens, workers and jobseekers. This also includes the need to imbed digital technologies in education in order to prepare the future generations. We are looking forward to the European Commission’s New Skills Agenda 2016, which promises the promotion of life-long investment in people.
Not only is it enough to have local and regional authorities involved, we must engage our citizens and business to co-create and develop regions and cities together with all stakeholders, if we want to be successful and create thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems in our regions. Public sector, universities, schools, and the private sector all have to actively participate.
The main task of the European Committee of the Regions is to create a “bridge” between the policies and actions. In Europe, we need to connect to digital world in our everyday life in schools, universities, civic organisations and companies. Broadband connectivity in all regions, including remote and rural areas, is a prerequisite for this. The European Commission should report regularly on progress made in overcoming the digital divide, particularly at regional and local level.
Poor profitability means that in the rural areas there is often no market-driven development of high-speed broadband networks, so that the support options at European and national level need to be consistently further developed.
We need to engage cities and regions to invest in digitalisation and broadband connectivity and to use different financing including innovative public procurement and other funds. Here partnering is key to create growth and boost European economies.
In addition, we must continue to promote synergies between different programmes and financing instruments like EU structural funds and Horizon 2020 and European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), and promote European multi-financing and integrated European funding in order to support cities and regions to reap the full benefits from the Digital Single Market. Cross-border, transnational and inter-regional cooperation are also crucial to exchange the best practices between regions.
Entrepreneurship is one of the strongest drivers of growth and job creation. Digital and web entrepreneurship in particular have the potential to boost the economic recovery of Europe. Cities and regions can create a favourable climate for innovations through their interaction with citizens, universities, civic society and local businesses. They have a pivotal role in creating a friendly environment for public and private investments and necessary conditions for the strong startup ecosystems.
In my own city, Espoo, I have participated in the creation of several initiatives to promote innovation and entrepreneurship, such as Aalto University, Startup Sauna, Urban Mill, and the Espoo Innovation Garden.
Investing in entrepreneurial culture and entrepreneurship education is an investment in the future. We have to make sure that promising entrepreneurs can obtain the funding they need to start a business. We have to cut down the regulatory burden our entrepreneurs face. We have to support start-ups that are ready to grow and internationalise, and we should also equip entrepreneurs with the necessary skills to successfully start and run a business.
The CoR is promoting entrepreneurship in Europe’s regions via the European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) awards, created in 2009. EER regions provide us with living examples that illustrate what regions and cities can do to promote entrepreneurship education.
One of the very first EER winners was Kerry County in South-Western coast of Ireland. The County has focused on the early stages of educating future entrepreneurs via Junior Entrepreneur Programme, which introduces entrepreneurship in schools for pupils from 8 to 12 years. The programme has been so successful that it was adopted nation-wide, with 10.000 pupils participating in 2015.
Along with digital divide, we should address the question of innovation divide in Europe. Particularly in rural regions, the public sector is a driver for change and a key player in raising local awareness. There should be a focus on innovation in the public sector itself, as well as on rethinking management processes in public institutions. This will enable these regions to catch up.
Commissioner Carlos Moedas highlighted in the CoR plenary session the new role of cities as the new global powerhouses for progress and societal innovation. Cities create favourable conditions for urban innovation – the synergic interaction between universities, civic society, local and international businesses as well as citizens. This is why we must renew the Urban Agenda to include the Digital Single Market, entrepreneurial spirit and human smart city initiatives.
Picture credits: Danka & Peter
Fintech startups and traditional banks are increasingly realizing that they need to collaborate to capture new opportunities, argues Mariano Belinky, Managing Partner at Santander InnoVentures. Traditional banks can learn from startups new ways of serving costumers while startups can leverage banks’ consumers to bring them their products.
The Digital Post: How InnoVentures is supporting the growing wave of fintech firms? What are the main aims of the fund?
TDP: Can fintech startups be an opportunity, instead of a threat, for traditional bannks?
TDP: How the rise of fintech firms are affecting and can reshape the financial sector, and in particular the baking industry?
TDP: Santander is among the banks investigating into the technology underpinning bitcoin. What is the potential for the traditional banking sector?
TDP: Is funding still a major barrier for the European startup ecosystem?
Mariano Belinky: Since December 2014 he manages Santander InnoVentures, Santander Group's global venture capital fund, focused in early stage Financial Technology investments. He joined Santander InnoVentures from McKinsey & Co., where he was an Associate Principal in the Corporate and Investment Banking and Global Risk Management practices, based in New York. Here, he spent six years advising global banks, asset managers and private equity firms acrossNorth America, Europe and Latin America on multiple strategic topics.
photo credit: Chewy734
The European Commission has taken an important first step in outlining possible elements of an EU action plan on Big Data. It is now essential to get the policy framework right. The faster the better.
A second wave of digital transformation is coming.
The first one revolutionized the way we order information and spans technological advances from the advent of the mainframe computer to the arrival of Internet search.
[Tweet “This second wave will reinvent how we make things and solve problems.”]
Broadly it can be summed up in two words: Big Data. The expression ‘Big Data’ is used to describe the ability to collect very large quantities of data from a growing number of devices connected through the Internet.
Thanks to vast storage capacity and easy access to supercomputing power – both often provided in the cloud – and rapid progress in analytical capabilities, massive datasets can be stored, combined and analysed. In the next five years Big Data will help make breakthroughs in medical research in the fight against terminal illnesses. Per capita energy consumption will decline sharply thanks to smart metering another application of Big Data.
Traffic jams will be rarer, managing extreme weather conditions will become more science, less guesswork. Makers of consumer goods of all kinds will be able to reduce waste by tailoring production to actual demand. This new ‘data economy’ will be fertile ground that will allow many new European SMEs to flourish.
Broad adoption of such Big Data applications can only happen if the data is allowed to flow freely, and if it can be gathered, shared and analysed by trusted sources. Size definitely does matter. The bigger the dataset, the more insights we can glean from it, so it’s important that the data can flow as widely as possible.
[Tweet “Some elements of Big Data might involve personal data.”]
People need to be confident these are protected by laws and agreements (such as safe harbour). All actors in the data economy must work hard to ensure that data is as secure as possible against theft and fraud.
The European Commission has taken an important first step in outlining possible elements of an EU action plan for advancing towards the data-driven economy and addressing Europe’s future societal challenges.
To complement this initiative DIGITALEUROPE has drafted a paper outlining what we see as the policy focus in relation to Big Data.
We have identified eight priorities:
– Adopt a harmonised, risk-based and modern EU framework for personal data protection that creates trust while at the same time enabling societally beneficial innovations in the data economy
– Encourage the protection of Big Data applications from cyber attacks, focusing regulatory efforts on truly critical infrastructures
– Support the development of global, voluntary, market-driven and technology-neutral standards to ensure interoperability of datasets
– Clarify the application of EU copyright rules so to facilitate text and data mining
– Boost the deployment of Open Data by transposing the Public Sector Information Directive into national law by June 2015 at the latest (EU Member States)
– Create trust in cross-border data flows by supporting the implementation of the Trusted Cloud Europe recommendations
– Continue addressing the data skills gap by supporting initiatives like the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs
– Continue encouraging private investment in broadband infrastructure and HPC technologies with public funding DIGITALEUROPE is ready to engage constructively with the European Commission, Parliament and Council to help them formulate a European action plan for the data economy
It is essential to get this policy framework right, but it is also important to move fast. While Europe is preparing the ground for widespread adoption of the new digital age, the rest of the world is not standing still.