War in Ukraine hastens EU push for more innovation

The European Union has outlined its plans to become a global deep tech hub creating innovative solutions to pressing societal challenges, such as climate change and cyberthreats.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hastening the need for more innovation across the European Union, the European Commission last week adopted a New European Innovation Agenda to position Europe at the forefront of the new wave of deep tech innovation and start-ups.

The Commission says that it will help Europe to develop new technologies to address the most pressing societal challenges, and to bring them on the market. The agenda is designed to position Europe as a leading player on the global innovation scene, making Europe a place where the best talent can work hand in hand with the best companies and where deep tech innovation thrives and creates breakthrough innovative solutions across the continent that will inspire the world.

By leading on innovation, in particular on the new wave of deep-tech innovation requiring breakthrough research and development (R&D) and large capital investment, Europe wants reinforce its central role in shaping the green and digital transitions.

The Commission believes that deep tech innovation will reinforce Europe’s technological leadership and generate innovative solutions to pressing societal challenges, such as climate change and cyberthreats.

Such innovations, it says, are likely to irrigate and benefit all sectors from renewable energy to agri-tech, from construction to mobility and health, thereby tackling food security, reducing energy dependency, improving people’s health and making our economies more competitive. The severe consequences of Russia’s war of aggression has given these issues even greater urgency and prompted strategic policy changes to ensure the EU’s prosperity and security.

“We need to boost our innovation ecosystems to develop human-centered technologies,” says Margrethe Vestager,  Commission executive vice-president for a Europe fit for the digital age.

“This new innovation agenda builds on the significant work done already on innovation in the last years and will help us accelerate our digital and green transition. The agenda is rooted in the digital, physical and biological spheres and will enable us tackle better burning concerns, such as breaking the dependence from fossil fuels or securing our food supply in a sustainable way.”

Building on Europeans’ entrepreneurial mindset, scientific excellence, the strength of the single market and democratic societies, the new innovation agenda will in particular improve access to finance for European start-ups and scale-ups, for example, by mobilising untapped sources of private capital and simplifying listing rules.

It will also improve the conditions to allow innovators to experiment with new ideas through regulatory sandboxes, help create “regional innovation valleys” that will strengthen and better connect innovation players through Europe, including in regions lagging behind, and attract and retain talent in Europe, for example by training one million deep tech talents, increasing support for women innovators and innovating with start-up employees’ stock options.

It also intends to improve policy framework through clearer terminology, indicators and data sets, as well as policy support to member states.

Deep-tech innovation is rooted in cutting edge science, technology and engineering, often combining advances in the physical, biological and digital spheres and with the potential to deliver transformative solutions in the face of global challenges. The deep tech innovations that are emerging from a growing cohort of innovative startups in the EU have the potential to drive innovation across the economy.

Changing landscape

The toolkit of EU innovation policy has expanded over the past few years and the institutional landscape has changed with it.

With its Innovative Europe pillar, Horizon Europe has given rise to both existing and new tools to support start-ups, scale-ups and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs). The European Innovation Council (EIC), established in 2021 and with a budget of 10 billion euros, aims to support innovation throughout the whole innovation lifecycle, from the early stages of research to proof of concept, technology transfer, and the financing and scaling up of start-ups and SMEs.

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) meanwhile took on additional tasks by establishing new Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) such as on culture and creative sector, putting more emphasis on addressing regional imbalances, and looking at increasing the entrepreneurial and innovation capacity of higher education institutions.

Via the European Innovation Ecosystems initiative of Horizon Europe, the EU also aims to create more connected and efficient innovation ecosystems to support the scaling-up of companies, encourage innovation and stimulate cooperation among national, regional and local innovation actors.

Greater urgency

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given the need of innovation even greater urgency. It has also spurred additional support to the Ukrainian innovation community – scientists and researchers who have been key contributors to EU research and innovation. The EU has made available 20 million euros support for Ukrainian start-ups through the European Innovation Council. This complements the ‘European Research Area for Ukraine’ (ERA4Ukraine), Horizon4Ukraine and ERC for Ukraine initiatives, as well as the dedicated fellowship scheme of 25 million euros under the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions (MSCA) for displaced researchers of Ukraine.

The New European Innovation Agenda will ensure innovators, start-ups and scale-ups, their innovative businesses to become global innovation leaders,” says Mariya Gabriel, commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth.

“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. Together, we will make Europe the global powerhouse for deep-tech innovations and start-ups.”

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