European Commission Realises There Might Be Startups Out There To Be Funded

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European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes has decided the billions of euros stored over at the EU might well be better spent. In a speech today in Brussels she proposed a number of new ideas about how to spend EU research money under the EU’s research programme, Horizon 2020. This is effectively a fund running from 2014 to 2020 with an €80 billion budget to back the EU’s new programme for research and innovation and ultimately to drive new growth and jobs in Europe.

Out of the €80 billion available to Horizon 2020, Kroes has proposed investing €16 billion in digital technology research. Most interestingly for startups is a proposal to ring-fence significant funds for high growth technology companies and innovative SMEs. “The world is changing: the way we innovate needs to change too,” she said.

She said some 5 per cent of the funds are to be targeted towards so-called ‘disruptive innovation’ via financial prizes for companies which solve ‘major problems’. Other streams of funding will be channeled towards schemes that solve societal issues. In addition, she plans to use the scheme to increase links between academics and the private sector with the theme being “real products, real services, real jobs”. This language is welcome in Europe, given that too few universities in Europe have managed to become the ‘Standfords’ of their countries, spinning out new technologies and startups. Most tend to be buried in academic research with little productisation thought added later.

In her broad-ranging speech, Kroes said “The tools that supported ICT in yesterday’s world won’t work in tomorrow’s. The pace of change, the capacity for new disruptive ideas, is simply too great. We must update our policies and practices for the digital world.”

She also threw in words like “open, agile and collaborative…open data; new techniques like data-mining.”

So, it appears the EU Commission has got religion about the new tech world. However, the language remains distinctly top down (“financial prizes”) rather than bottom up, so I won’t be holding my breath for a raft of new EU data APIs just yet.

What EU companies and universities would welcome more is a round of de-regulation rather than edicts from on high. This language of opening up and data mining is welcome – and over-due. But de-regulation tends not to be a phrase uttered in the corridors of Brussels.