The EU can be a “global leader” in shaping the future of European innovation. This was one of the messages to emerge from a recent gathering of more than 500 of Europe’s top entrepreneurs and innovators.
They gathered in Budapest last month for a high-profile forum organised by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). The INNOVEIT 2017 event was an opportunity to discuss past, present and future European innovation.
One of the keynote speakers was Mariya Gabriel, European digital economy and society Commissioner, who emphasised the importance of the digital economy to Europe’s GDP. The Bulgarian official, an MEP from 2009 to this year, told the participants that Europe had the potential to be a global digital leader but that “massive investment” was needed in ICT.
Speaking via a video link to the Hungarian capital, she said the EU “still lags behind” the US and Japan in ICT investment and urgent action was needed to address this.
However, she said the annual event also showed that there are entrepreneurs across Europe with “bold” ideas who are ready to bring change and contribute to increasing innovation and economic growth in Europe.
One such example showcased at the forum was UK-based businesswoman Lise Honsinger who told of the support her start-up company,
Skipping Rocks Lab, had received from the EIT in launching an innovative new product. Called “Ooho”, these are small, transparent edible spheres filled with natural or flavoured water which
Honsinger said could help provide a solution to Europe’s growing plastic waste problem.
“Ooho may not be the solution for all the applications that plastic bottles have, but definitely for short-term consumption it could be a solution,” she told the conference.
With many cities around the world struggling to dispose of vast numbers of used plastic water bottles, the edible and biodegradable ‘Ooho balls’ could prove a commercial success when they go on sale for the first time in 2018, she said.
She added, “This has the potential to make packaging disappear over time. They are biodegradable and a viable alternative to plastics.”
Honsinger added, “Our company has been lucky, though, to have had the support and backing of the EIT network. For instance, we had one-on-one coaching on how to commercialise a business idea like Ooho. This has been really important for us.”
Further comment came from Martin Kern, Interim Director of the EIT, who said the findings of a recent impact assessment study on the Institute had demonstrated its “added value.”
Kern told the event that “the findings were very reassuring because they show that the model is, indeed, working. It takes time to build an EU-wide innovation ecosystem but we are now seeing the results, with various business success stories and concrete outcomes.”
He added, “We are changing the innovation landscape and we are very proud of that.”
Kern added, “The EIT supports the new generation of European innovators turning their entrepreneurial ideas into new products and services that improve the lives of citizens, address challenges and create jobs.”
Austrian MEP Paul Rübig took part in a session entitled, “Building on a strong basis for Europe’s future”, which presented and discussed the EIT’s achievements and emerging impact in the innovation landscape.
Rübig spoke of the work being done at EU level to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. He said examples like Ooho also highlighted the importance of supporting initiatives such as the EIT.
Further contribution came from Peter Olesen, Chair of the EIT governing board, who commented, “We are very proud to see that the EIT continues to identify the European entrepreneurs that can compete on the global stage.”
Another panel speaker, Diego Pavía, Chief Executive Officer of EIT InnoEnergy, said that a sustainable energy sector needs “new products, new solutions and new services.”
He added, “But transforming the spark of an idea into a successful and marketable product can be a long and complex journey. The EIT can make a real difference in people’s lives, but we have to be able to show that it does so.”
The forum celebrated the entrepreneurial achievements of the EIT “community” with this year’s 20 EIT awards nominees. The number of ground-breaking products related to services or climate change also rose.
Olesen was “proud” of the number of women in the awards line up, saying this was “real recognition of the many women who are part of the EIT community.” It also showed, he said, that efforts to promote female entrepreneurship “are starting to pay off.”