European Institute of Innovation & Technology, a decent job, but…
Looking back at his three-year term as chairman of the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT), Martin Schuurmans has mixed feelings.
While he is proud of the three Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) that are now up and running, he feels that they could have been set up faster and have achieved more.
“We have built up the financial and legal KIC structures from nothing, we have excellent CEOs in place, and we’re driving business entrepreneurship,” says Schuurmans. “We’ve done a decent job, but there is much more that needs to be done.”
The KICs’ brief is to come up with new ways – in the three areas of climate change, energy and information technology – for industry, research and academia to work together to promote innovation. These communities had to break new ground in establishing a model for collaboration, devising a legal structure for multi-party activities that are co-located in about a dozen countries.
The European Commission rules by which the EIT is bound made a complicated situation even more complex. Drawing up contracts with partners like Nokia, SAP and Helsinki University of Technology and getting the money flowing took longer than many would have wanted.
Another complication: the way in which the projects are financed, with up to 25 per cent of the total cost coming from the EIT and the remainder from participants. The EIT acts as a seed investor, helping projects get off the ground. But with public money comes the burden of bureaucracy.
“It is the task of the headquarters, the KICs and the Commission to seek ways to make this burden lighter and lighter,” says Schuurmans. “It’s like a control-based society moving towards a trust-based society. But trust has to be earned,” he says. In the case of the KICs this means delivering results that have a real impact.
The results so far: each KIC has launched two start-ups, and 30 more are in the works. According to board member Daria Tataj, the EIT will launch a programme to recognise the best new start-ups in partnership with the Science/Business ACES awards. The KICs have also set up master’s, PhD and post-doctoral programmes that have already started accepting students.
“Most of last year was spent doing the groundwork,” says Mary Ritter, CEO of the Climate KIC. “But this year we’re really beginning to blossom.” For the KICs to continue to flourish, the EIT has called for a massive increase in funding, from €309 million in the current financial cycle, to €4 billion in 2014–2020. The increase would support the three existing KICs and nine additional ones by 2019.
Measurable targets, such as the number of ideas that get to market, are crucial, according to Schuurmans. But he also emphasizes EIT’s mission: “It’s not a case of completing programmes and then you’re done; it’s about creating successful innovative communities, and new entrepreneurs being born.”
That challenge now falls to his successor Alexander von Gabain, the new EIT Director José Manuel Leceta – and of course – the KICs themselves. That task falls to his successor Alexander von Gabain, the new EIT Director José Manuel Leceta – and of course – the KICs themselves.
This article was originally published in Issue 9 of the Futures Magazine.