High-risk, high-reward ideas in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and synthetic biology are typical contenders for support from the EU’s new European Innovation Council (EIC), which aims to help European innovators and entrepreneurs scale up their ideas internationally, according to Dr Hermann Hauser, serial entrepreneur, who is a founding partner of Amadeus Capital and founder of ARM in the UK.
He heads up the EIC advisory board, which on 20 November published their first set of recommendations for the future direction of the EIC.
A three-year EIC pilot was launched on 27 October. Can you give us the crux of what this entails?
‘The scaling-up process is our top problem in Europe, and you’ve got to start very early in the process, telling companies even as they start what the next step of the process will be so that they can get themselves ready for that.
‘(The EIC pilot) will start with very early funding instruments to give researchers and small companies an opportunity to prototype their ideas and do feasibility studies, and then, when they grow into larger projects, to give them much more support in this second stage. Concretely, it brings together the parts of Horizon 2020 that provide funding, advice and networking opportunities for those at the cutting edge of innovation, such as the SME Instrument, the Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) and the Future and Emerging Technologies programme (FET Open). It is a first step towards a fully fledged EIC.’
What is the inspiration for the fully fledged EIC?
‘What we are trying to do with the EIC is to replicate the success of the European Research Council by ensuring that we support innovation in Europe in the same way that the European Research Council has supported research in Europe. If the pilot of the EIC is successful, as we very much hope it will be, we believe that we will be able to expand that substantially for the framework programme line (the EU’s research funding programme) after 2020, where we do believe that the EIC must be a key pillar.’
You’ve recommended that, as with the European Research Council, the EIC focuses on excellence rather than political or geographical criteria. Is this about supporting the person rather than the idea?
‘I wouldn’t say that but, like the European Research Council, there is no condition on having multiple countries involved in the project. It can be single countries and it can also be single companies. There is an emphasis on the entrepreneur and the talented people, that’s right, but the quality of the idea is very important, too. For that reason, we are recommending to apply a bottom-up approach and to design the evaluation and selection of EIC Awards (the funding it allocates) in ways that promote excellence, enable risk taking and align interest with investors, in particular private ones.’
Video courses to build new skills from start to finish.‘Europe has a phenomenal reputation for world-class research, but our ability to make the best of our research in our economy is not as good as it is in America.’Dr Hermann Hauser (Chair, European Innovation Council High Level Group)