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Last week we met with Roland Strauss, the initiator and coordinator of Knowledge4Innovation, an initiative supported by ERRIN. It aims at engaging policy makers, the business and science communities and related networks in a dialogue on the future of innovation in Europe to promote the adoption of adequate policies, programmes and budget allocations. To this end it has launched the ‘Lisbon Forum” establishing a policy dialogue with Members of the European Parliament. The launch event will take place on 1 and 2 December at the European Parliament.

One important point here, it seems, is to raise awareness among policy makers, particularly in the EP, on implementation-related issues, which are often below their radar screen. It is not only about throwing money where the problem is, but also to make sure the related programmes and their rules of implementation allow for sufficient experimentation and innovation.

One example here is the Framework Programme for Research. One of the speakers at the launch event of K4I, Gunilla Herrgård of Borealis, for instance, was quoted as having said that “ The EU Framework Programs do not promote innovation. The projects are big and open, with many companies from the same business area participating. As none of the companies want to disclose exactly the targets for their own interest, the scientific research topics conducted is kept on a very general, uncompetitive level. The research is thus neither basic research nor applied, but something in between. The results are not mature to be further developed into innovations. Funding should be provided for basic research at universities, in order to grow centers of real excellence, which in turn attract businesses. These centers of excellence should be diverse, so that the diverse businesses in EU find their own area of interest. Innovation, that is commercialisation of inventions, is then promoted by funding the university partner in closed university/business two-party projects. In such closed co-operations the know-how of the university in question can be taken to commercialisation.

My friend Paul Goldsmith, who ran a Biotech start-up in Cambridge and now runs Largren, a consultant company, said that he agrees with Gunilla Herrgard’s initial assessment, but not her conclusion: “There is plenty of academic excellence already. It is the commercial side, which is lagging. There are lots of small startups, but often they seem to be created to fulfil the University or Region’s annual assessment of ‘creating new companies’, but a couple of years down the line the companies have died as they were never sufficiently capitalised or with experienced management. The US just do things on a much bigger scale and give their new companies a big financial push. If I was putting EU money in I would look much more along the lines of the SBRI grants in the US, which I perceive as being successful. Another thing would be to increase the % of public money which must go to SMEs (& not require multi site cooperation), e.g. I think the aim is for 2.5% of NHS budget to go to SMEs (& similarly for MRC), vs academics or big companies, but the figure could be higher and more public money could be forced to flow this way. Doesn’t require any new money, just different distribution.”

Another example certainly concerns the Structural Funds, which have been edged closer to supporting innovation in the regions, but whose funding rules and administrative environment often make it difficult to allow for true innovation. There is an opportunity to address those issues during the consultation on the Green Paper on Territorial Cohesion that has been launched on 6 October and runs until 28 February 2009.

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