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At her speech to the Lisbon Council’s 2010 Innovation Summit last Friday, the EU’s highly charismatic and enthusiastic Chief Innovation Officer, Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn laid out her vision of transforming Europe into an “I-conomy”, connecting and speeding up innovation all along the whole policy chain from research to retail, building a functional single market for innovation and tearing down cross border barriers to IP and VC.

She advocated a broad-based concept of innovation with implications for the economy, for education, energy and for government. “Indeed, innovation is not limited to the private sector. It can – and must – happen in schools and hospitals, crèches, community centres and care homes. In an age of fiscal austerity, we must get more for less from our public sector.” More attention should also be paid to other forms of innovation, such as business model or management innovation, design and marketing, and services innovation.

She defended the 3% R&D target, but also called for the development of an indicator to capture research and innovation performance. The new Research and Innovation plan that is currently being drawn up (the dossier used to be with DG ENT but has now moved to DG RTD), and to be discussed at the informal Competitiveness Council in July, and to be presented to EU Heads of State in September, will take account of this and will be refocused on the grand challenges facing our society, i.e. climate change, energy, food security, health and an ageing population.

She also mentioned the ‘European Innovation Partnerships’ highlighted already in Barroso’s 2020 paper, published on 3rd March, which are thought as actions “to speed up the development and deployment of the technologies needed to meet the challenges identified”, i.e. climate change, energy and resource efficiency, health and demographic change. According to Barroso’s blueprint the first of these partnerships will include: ‘building the bio-economy by 2020’, ‘the key enabling technologies to shape Europe’s industrial future’ and ‘technologies to allow older people to live independently and be active in society’;

Also on the panel:…

Andrew Williams, co-author of the influential “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything” and cheerleader of the internet revolution. He sang the song of openness, collaboration, sharing, integrity and interdependence as described in his Lisbon Council sponsored paper on “European Innovation at a Crossroads” that was presented and distributed at the event. He pointed, among others at the speed and magnitude of the unfolding internet revolution, a disruptive technology, which facilitates and gives rise to yet more disruptive technologies. “Europe must ‘collaborate or perish’ – across borders, cultures, disciplines, and firms, and increasingly with masses of people at one time”. The question, I asked myself during that intervention, it all sounds terribly exciting and there are so many opportunities for the fast movers, the bold and the bright, but is the homo europeensis, ready to embrace all that change, compared to his counterpart across the Atlantic?

Prof. Martin Schuurmans, Chairman of the EIT. He urged the EU to focus on People, Impact, Leadership and Entrepreneurship, meaning the University system should be reinvented to develop more excellent people, a better focus on impact and leadership should ensure goal setting and their timely delivery (“while we in Europe are world-class in setting up targets that were never met, we should go beyond policy coordination to real delivery of impact”) and to strengthen entrepreneurship and open innovation was more important than simply focusing on R&D.

Andrew Wyckoff, Director of the Science, Technology and Industry Directorate at the OECD. He gave an outlook on the forthcoming OECD report on “Developing Policies for Innovation for the 21st Century”. Apart from the well-known such as “Innovation is a driver of growth” and “Innovation is more than just R&D” he stressed the importance of collaboration between scientists as well as between companies to deliver on the grand challenges and to increase R&D intensity. He also stressed that small companies are important for game changing innovations and that services and the attractive bundling of them are important (e.g. i-pod). As Mr. Schuurmans he also stressed the need to rethink universities that should act as a node to attract talent and the need for more cooperation of governments that need to make more of their data available in knowledge networks and markets.

A not so small innovative company, Google, was also on the panel represented by Rian Liebenberg, information systems director Europe. He praised the democratisation of information, the ability for anybody to tell their story and contribute equally to history. At Google they distinguish between incremental innovation, i.e. obtaining efficiency gains; innovational side-effects, e.g. improvement to their ads to generate more hits/revenue; and transformational game-changing innovations. Most successful online businesses do not brake into new ground but offer a unique value proposition.

An example was also provided: Playfish, a site that lets you play games with your facebook friends. Never heard of it (I don’t play games on facebook), but looked it up, and, yeah, sure great. When I asked how many jobs this company created and how these kind of innovations benefit the wider community, for instance, those people that loose their manufacturing jobs, Mr. Liebenberg kindly got back to me stressing the importance of these kind of start-up internet companies in addressing youth unemployment. He clearly got a point there, which did not occur to me. So does that mean we need to create jobs for the young and talented to compensate for the job lost in manufacturing? I know, I am being polemical, but deliberately so. I am just not sure whether this was a good example for the kind of innovative companies we need to pull us out of the crisis and create opportunities by providing solutions to the the “grand challenges”, unless you define teenage boredom as one. 🙂 Apart from that, of course, it would be great, if the next Google or a similar ICT game-changer would be created in Europe. So heads on for Europe into tackling the innovation challenge. We are on the right track. Let’s pull this through.

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