European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel: “The European Innovation Council will be Europe’s unicorn factory”

23/09/2022 — minutes reading time
Photo Mariya Gabriel approved

Europe is a world leader in science and research. However, other regions lead on innovation. This is called the ‘European Innovation Paradox’. In order to bridge the gap, the European Union launched last year the European Innovation Council (EIC). Exclusively for Log!Ville, European Commissioner for Innovation and Education Mariya Gabriel, explains how the EIC will definitively change the landscape of European innovation. She also explains how the ‘New European Innovation Agenda’ aims to position Europe at the forefront of the new wave of deep tech innovation and start/scale-ups.

Horizon Europe (2021-2028) is the EU’s most ambitious programme ever implemented to address the challenges of society. Within the 95.5 billion euro budget, it will strengthen our scientific and technological base, develop solutions for healthier living, drive digital transformation and fight climate change.

One of the novelties of Horizon Europe is the European Innovation council (EIC), which focuses on up-scaling of start-ups and helping research to go the market and have a true impact on society. Indeed, the European Union must clearly seize its place in the competition for start-ups carrying out disruptive technical developments that are likely to lead to the establishment of new markets, while simultaneously mastering the critical technologies of the future that will secure our sovereignty.

Europe's unicorn factory

Horizon Europe, the successor of Horizon 2020 launched in 2014, offers specific tools to promote breakthrough innovation by offering financing, advice, and networking opportunities.

Part of this programme, the European Innovation Council was launched in March 2021. The EIC has a total 10 billion euro budget for disruptive and breakthrough innovation. It is a one-stop shop for innovators, helping them "from the idea to the market" by encompassing advanced research, commercialization and scale-up, including proof-of-concept through market deployment.

Since the launch of ‘Horizon 2020’ in 2014, the Commission has supported creative start-ups through the SME Instrument and the EIC Accelerator pilot (2018-2020). This successful strategy led to the present 10 billion euro EIC package of programmes under Horizon Europe.

With a budget of about EUR 1.7 billion for this year, the EIC is well positioned to realise its goal of becoming Europe's unicorn factory. The EIC Fund is also on pace to become one of Europe's largest investors in deep technology.

In that context, a new Scale-Up 100 project is being developed by the EIC to identify 100 promising deep tech EU start-ups throughout Europe that have the highest potential to become unicorns.

The EIC Accelerator

The EIC Accelerator focuses on deep tech to assist SMEs and start-ups scale up high-risk technologies during a key growth stage. Too often, private investors are not willing to finance such start-ups because of the risks. Such companies also move to the U.S. or other locations where deep tech advances are more popular. The EIC Accelerator bridges this ‘death valley’ by helping high-risk start-ups and SMEs to innovate. The EIC invests in these firms' stock to finance their growth and attract other investors. In 2022, the EIC will give the Accelerator close to 1,1 billion euro, with over half invested in equity through the EIC Fund, one of Europe's largest early-stage tech investors.

Facilitating cooperation and co-creation

I strongly believe in co-creation. Similar to Log!ville's LogiLAUNCH events - which bring together start-ups and mature companies - the European Commission supports EIC beneficiaries through EIC Business Acceleration Services (BAS) and the EIC Corporate Partnership Programme. Both facilitate cooperation and co-creation with international business partners such as leading corporations, investors, procurers, distributors, customers, etc.

This involves exploring commercialization prospects with industry, dedicated and impact-focused matchmaking events, the venture client model, and structured pilot and trials collaborations with businesses and private and public innovation procurers.

The New European Innovation Agenda

In this context, on 5th of July I proposed the New European Innovation Agenda (NEIA). For more than a year we have consulted the stakeholders, such as innovation ecosystem leaders, start-ups, unicorns, women founders, women working in the capital venture, universities, and businesses. The NEIA comes in addition to the Horizon Europe.

The NEIA is designed to position Europe as a leading player on the global innovation scene. It sets out 25 dedicated actions under five flagships:

First, funding Scale-Ups will mobilise institutional and other private investors in Europe to invest in, and benefit from the scaling of European deep-tech start-ups.

Second, enabling innovation through experimentation spaces and public procurement will facilitate innovation through improved framework conditions including experimental approaches to regulation.

Third, accelerating and strengthening innovation in European Innovation Ecosystems across the EU by supporting the creation of regional innovation valleys. This will help Member States and regions to direct funds (at least EUR 10 billion) to concrete interregional innovation projects

Fourth, fostering, attracting and retaining deep tech talents will ensure the development and flow of essential deep tech talents in and to the EU.

Finally, improving policy making tools will be the key for development and use of robust, comparable data sets and a shared definitions (start-ups, scale-up). This will ensure better policy coordination at the European level.

Education as a crucial innovation catalyst

As they prepare the next generation of European talent, educational and training institutions are also crucial innovation catalysts. They will provide appropriate tools to support innovation across their campuses and beyond, as well as facilitate connections to a variety of initiatives.

A good example is Log!Ville’s meeting centre, where innovative interactions between start-ups, companies and knowledge institutes occur. These allow for the exchange of expertise and co-creation.

Other initiatives include enhancing entrepreneurial capacity of higher education institutions, providing direct funding for collaboration between universities and businesses on education-related issues or supporting the development of innovation ecosystems in low-innovation-performance regions across Europe.