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Time to step up the game: the European Innovation Council comes into play!

“This is the opening verse of the opening chapter of the book of endless possibilities”

This is the readjusted quote from Rudyard Kipling that Mark Ferguson, Director-General of Science Foundation Ireland, selected to open the ceremony for the official launch of the European Innovation Council (EIC), a key novelty of Horizon Europe inaugurated on the 18th of March 2021, conceived to be the most ambitious innovation initiative that Europe has ever taken.

Inaugurating the Council was the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, who started the ceremony by highlighting the importance of innovation for turning Europe into a trailblazer of breakthrough discoveries.

Also the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, during his welcoming speech, emphasised the need for Europe to be in the lead of the current and future ground-breaking innovations, in order to catch up with a fast-paced competitive global environment leading the way towards the same direction.

‘Technological champions’ is the expression used to describe the role that Europe is expected to play in the near and far future, and ‘giants of tomorrow’ are all those entrepreneurs that are willing to take risks to spur innovation. The European Innovation Council is here to smooth the game.

As pointed out also by the Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, three are the reasons that legitimise the birth of the EIC.

  • The resolution of the European innovation paradox

“Europeans are excellent in making science with money, but we are not so good in making money out of science”

That’s the quote stated multiple times by the protagonists of the ceremony.

Indeed, the purpose that lies behind the EIC is the need to bridge the gap between scientific discoveries and the subsequent business development that would derive from them. Europe needs to be ready to overturn the low revenue generated by science and make real business opportunities out of research discoveries.

  • The support for building business from science and investing in deep tech

What the EIC aims at creating is a diverse ecosystem that gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to create world-leading companies in the field of deep tech, which ranges from synthetic biology, advanced materials, photonics, to quantum computing and artificial intelligence. In this regard, the EIC will provide a budget of €10 billion for the period 2021-2027, and they will be directed to support high-risk and high-impact small and medium-size companies, and research-leading innovators with ideas for the next breakthrough technologies, to help set up a business from scratch.

This year, 1.5 billion euros are foreseen to be available and most of the amount will be addressed to support SMEs and start-ups. Half of the finance will be devoted to the promotion of the Green Deal and the digital agenda, together with health-related innovations.

The ultimate goal? Building a more sustainable, more digital and more resilient Europe.

In accordance with the same principles that led to the birth of the European Research Council 14 years ago to acknowledge scientific excellence in the research environment, the EIC today is ready to support breakthrough technology and scale up disruptive innovation.

  • The fragmentation of the ecosystem

Today, ¾ of start-ups are founded by men. This lack of diversity translates into low amount of capital invested into women-led companies. Upgrading the overall European innovation ecosystem also means involving women in decision-making process and pave the way for women-management businesses. The percentage of women-led start-ups receiving support from EIC has already grown from 8% to 24%, while keeping excellence as the selection criteria. And the aim is that of going all the way up to 50%.

Ecosystem means also opening the game to many less-known regions who face the risk to be left behind. Everyone has to be on board on an equal foot. EIC will change the landscape of EU innovation and contribute to the pandemic recovery by changing the application process and shortening it.

Cristian Ehler, Member of the European Parliament, put emphasis on the nature of this large process: a bottom-up one, boosted by stakeholders, entrepreneurs and young people that want to give a tangible realisation to their ideas and projects.

Manuel Heitor, Minister for Science Technology and Higher Education in the Government of Portugal, on his side, remarked the difficulty involved in the engagement of stakeholders, small businesses and research organizations, in the broader international and governmental framework, but their contribution is fundamental to spur innovation and will be facilitated by the EIC’s actions. This requires an inclusive science policy framework that will share the set strategy of involving all European regional actors to create a better future and a more avant-garde Europe.

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