Europe funds another data accelerator to get startups tackling societal problems

A new European Commission-funded startup accelerator, Data Pitch, is being launched today with the aim of connecting established businesses and organizations with lots of data with startups that might be able to help them unlock the value of the info they hold and thereby tackle industrial and societal challenges.

The EC says it’s committing €7.1 million into “data driven innovation” over the next three years, with €4.8 million going directly to fund startups and SMEs via this “startup-corporate collaboration” Data Pitch program.

Data Pitch will provide up to 50 European startups and SMEs with up to €100,000 in equity-free funding, it said today, as well as mentoring, investment opportunities and access to data from established businesses and the public sector — with each program running for six months.

A spokeswoman told us that Data Pitch will operate across Europe, with the aim being to accelerate between two to three cohorts per year. Startups will be able to apply for a place from July 1, 2017, with successful teams selected in October and November, and the first cohort joining the program in December.

“The ambition is to create an innovation ecosystem for Europe, where larger organizations work closely with agile startups to innovate and learn from each other, using data as an enabler to solve problems,” the EC said in a statement.

The funding for the initiative is coming from the EU’s Horizon 2020 program. And the three-year data-focused accelerator project will be delivered by The University of Southampton, the Open Data Institute, Portuguese accelerator organization Beta-i and French data marketplace platform Dawex.

If you’re getting a sense of déjà vu that’s because the EC funded a similar project in 2014, called the Open Data Incubator Europe (Odine) — also providing the same level of funding to startups to do creative and innovative things with data. That three-year project led to 57 successful projects generating €16 million in sales and investment and creating 268 jobs, according to the EC.

In terms of particular areas of interest for the new data accelerator, the spokeswoman said the program has an “open brief” and will be led by “the datasets available from data providers,” although it does also intend to structure this into a set of sector-specific tracks and challenges — identified in discussions with industry leaders and experts over coming weeks.

Among the areas and challenges it’s going to consider are:

  • Smart cities
  • Food and agriculture
  • Health and well being
  • Retail
  • Data privacy
  • e-tourism
  • Finance and telecoms

Data-driven hackathons (aka “datathons”) will be used to define challenges, with the accelerator planning to partner with established hackathons across Europe — such as Pixels Camp, AngelHack, Hack HPI and The Port Hackathon in Cern — as well as taking crowdsourced suggestions to feed into these idea-sourcing events, the first of which will kick off this spring.

To give you an idea of the kinds of projects Data Pitch might fund, the spokeswoman said it’s drawing on the Open Data Challenge Series as its model — giving an example from that program where applicants for a Crime and Justice track were asked to submit products and services using open data that would increase community involvement with the criminal justice system; create further evidence for what are effective interventions for rehabilitation; and address the rise in personal crime.

The winner in that instance, Check That Bike!, is a free online service that lets people check whether a second-hand bike they want to buy has been stolen — with the service tapping into (open) databases of stolen bike details (such as police data, national and local registers, manufacturers, insurers); and also the Bing search engine to identify crime hot spots. The team apparently also makes use of Freedom of Information requests to try to get more police forces to open data on bike unique frame numbers that have been registered as stolen.

Commenting on Data Pitch in a statement, Elena Simperl, professor at the University of Southampton and project director for the accelerator program, said the aim is to create “a European ecosystem for data-driven innovation.”

“In the digital age, every organization, public or private, big or small, generates and owns substantial data assets. Not all them have the opportunity to use this data effectively. With Data Pitch we take an established open innovation model and apply it at European scale — we pair some of the most creative entrepreneurial minds in 28 countries and help them to solve data challenges that matter — for the economy, for the environment, for science, and for society as a whole.”

Startups wanting to apply for the Data Pitch program must —

  • be registered with the European Commission
  • have fewer than 250 employees
  • have less than €50 million turnover
  • be single companies only, consortia are not allowed
  • eligible countries are EU member states, associated countries eligible to receive Horizon 2020 funding

In the case of the U.K., which last month initiated the two-year negotiation process of leaving the European Union, the spokeswoman confirmed U.K. startups can still apply to the program even though Data Pitch is envisioned to run until the end of 2019 (so after the exit process should have concluded).

“The U.K. government has re-assured organizations that have been awarded EU funds before March 2019 — which will be the case with all startups in Data Pitch — that they will be supported financially through national funds,” she noted.