Young European talent gathering over innovative ideas!
A major power outage in downtown Brussels did not mar the UNConvention, held in Brussels in June and which brought together young Europeans with innovative ideas, investors, business leaders, academics, policy and decision makers, including European Commissioner Neelie Kroes.
Microsoft’s own Chairman of Europe, Jan Muehlfeit, shared his experiences with just dim lighting and without a microphone, but his message still came across loud and clear: Europe needs to adopt an Innovation Education model, one that is fit for the 21st century and which will truly support young entrepreneurs to fulfill their dreams.
Jan and the audience debated just how this can be achieved, including top-down efforts led by the European Commission and other policy-making organizations and ‘bottom-up’ initiatives led by local programs and forward-thinking individuals, such as inspiring teachers (we all remember having at least one of those at school, right?). Jan also shared what Microsoft is doing to support education: how technology enables different learning styles to thrive, creating a more global environment and supporting collaborative learning. He also described how Microsoft works with startups and mentioned the MACH (Microsoft Academy of College Hires) programme, which is all about Microsoft offering jobs to talented graduates.
Other speakers included Haiyan Zhang, co-founder of Open IDEO, a great idea that is all about using crowd-sourcing and social media to address world problems (one example being uncovering the radiation readings in Japan). She had the audience in the palm of her hands with the way she described how her organization is disrupting the status quo and her ‘just do it’ attitude. Wise words included the fact that ideas are cheap: it’s the execution, the tenacity and who entrepreneurs choose to collaborate are what make the difference.
The rest of the roll call was equally impressive, including Dr Burton Lee from Stanford School of Engineering and Director of Innovarium Ventures who provided the audience with a great insight into what the big trends in ICT are right now and how the US startup situation is so different to the US (where 500,000 new jobs have been created just through software this year).
Laurent Probst - PriceWaterhouseCoopers Regional Innovation Ecosystem Leader – provided a fascinating update on the world of investment and the challenges that startups face in getting funds. This is not the first time it has been said, but Laurent reminder to the audience that startups need to accelerate growth and think global very quickly is solid advice.
VIP speakers aside, one of the event’ s highlights was the InnoPitch Session, where six promising young startups had the chance to pitch in front of a panel of judges to win the title of European Young Innovator of the year. And what a varied line-up, from a Portuguese start-up Wishareit, a clever gifting service combined with social media to an initiative to convert waste into new products (for instance, roofing material from old coffee bags). The winner was Tamas Haidegger with Hand-In-Scan - the next generation of hand hygiene technology. Hand-In-Scan aims to improve global health by promoting better handwashing hygiene to prevent the spread of infections and diseases, thereby saving up to 50.000 lives per year in Europe alone.
I’m delighted that Microsoft was able to be one of the supporters for this event. We need these forums, not just to showcase how much young talent there is the region, but to debate what real actions are needed to help the next generation and their great ideas to thrive in Europe.