EUREKA @ European Business Summit 2014: Innovation across borders – mobilising national R&D funds for transnational innovation in Europe

EUREKA logoWritten by Pedro Nunes, HEAD of EUREKA secretariat

Pedro de Sampaio Nunes is the Head of the EUREKA Secretariat.

Pedro de Sampaio Nunes is the Head of the EUREKA Secretariat.

When it comes to enhancing economic prosperity and growth, there is no factor more important than innovation. Our capacity to innovate has been accelerating since as long ago as the Renaissance. Today patent filings are increasing exponentially: in 2004 the European patent office reported some 180.000 filings, 10 years later this figure has increased by nearly 50% with more than 265.000 European patent filings in 2013.

Yet, innovation policy has become too complicated. Spread across innumerable public programmes, support to innovators is now curbed by complex decision-making chains, which has resulted in large amounts of public money being deployed by an unprecedented number of decision-makers, agencies and ad hoc institutions. The desire to become more innovative and competitive has led to the creation of new programmes that largely overlap pre-existing ones. Also partly due to thriving global competition, many political actions targeting the innovation economy have not generated the results expected. Against this backdrop, we need to ask ourselves what can be done in order to maintain or improve Europe’s innovative capacity in a global context.

Too much input is not good either. Albert Einstein once said that ‘innovation is not the product of logical thought’. Too much planning and organising would indeed be damaging to an innovation process largely reliant on out-of-the-box thinking. A sound innovation policy needs to be ‘blind’ and not based on the illusion that we know today what tomorrow’s technologies will be. In EUREKA, a network of national innovation agencies and ministries, this philosophy is translated through the bottom-up, industry-led nature of research projects it supports – and in the simple rules and lean administrative structure of its funding and support instruments.

A positive trend in innovation policies over the past few years is that governments are realising that large companies and high-growth SMEs should be active participants in the definition of the priorities of innovation policy. In the past, innovation was regarded as the brainchild of certain companies in a few advanced economies. But today we live in a world dominated by innovative companies, they should have their say. And we should listen.

Since 1985, EUREKA has distinguished itself from other Europe-wide mechanisms by its focus on linking raw technological knowledge and the market. This pragmatic approach directly addresses the European paradox: the fact that, despite scientific strength, Europe performs poorly in capitalising on its discoveries. To be an innovator and initiate change, we must all act like start-ups – with the ambition to take the simplest possible product to market, a product that consumers will want and need, so that we can start learning from real-life experience and then repeat the experience over and over.

89% of public funding available to innovation actors is still allocated at national level, as opposed to EU funding to research. Most innovation in Europe comes through cross-border partnerships, while most investment capacity in research is still in the hands of national governments. This is another European innovation paradox, but one to which EUREKA brings a solution. EUREKA, being an intergovernmental body, brings together both national public and private sources of financing to transnational research projects. As such, EUREKA is an important building block for the innovative environment that Europe so desperately needs. For innovators, the opportunity to exploit national funds and work with partners from different countries and sources for a single European research project means easier access to the knowledge of research partners beyond their own borders – and often to the more potential markets.

The factors that contribute to an ecosystem of innovation are many, and interconnected. We need to understand that while the costs of innovating are steep, a much higher price is to be paid for not innovating. As countries place greater emphasis on their capacity to innovate, their economic success will be increasingly determined by whether and how this innovation potential will be leveraged. The impact of innovation on our economies is only starting to be seen.

About the Author

Pedro de Sampaio Nunes is from February 2013, the new Head of the EUREKA Secretariat. 

He has an extensive international experience and keen interest in international collaboration on matters of Science and Technology, mainly in its industrial application.

Pedro de Sampaio Nunes, a civil engineer, was previously Portuguese Secretary of State for Science and Innovation, a Director at the European Commission, responsible for several R&D programmes focussed on energy and information technology and deputy Director-General for the Secretariat for Portugal’s accession to the EU.

Pedro de Sampaio Nunes is Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of Portugal. 

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