Initiated as a research project and funded by the European Commission, the EU Startup Monitor showcases the current state of the art of startup ecosystems. It is the only startup study purely based on primary inputs of active European founders and with 21 countries the most authentic study of the European Startup Ecosystem. It is produced based on an online survey targeted at European startup founders (or senior management executives e.g. CEO, CFO, CTO, etc.) of active startups in all stages and sectors and supported by national startup ecosystem stakeholders, such as associations, networks and events as well as the European Commission SME Envoys.

Amongst the facts and figures revealed in 2018, the report shows that startups are being created all over Europe, with the biggest geographical hubs in London, Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen and Lisbon. The average founder is male (82.8%), holds a university degree (84.8%) and was 35 years old when founding the startup. Startups are commonly founded in teams (on average 2.7 co-founders). The startups can be found in multiple sectors varying from traditional IT/software development (19.1%) to trending green technologies (4.0%). They offer online solutions (only 0.7% offer offline solutions), generate revenues mainly or entirely through business to business markets (71.8%) and on average employ 12.8 people.

The web publication can be downloaded at

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In mid-October EU government officials sat round the table to discusse the proposal of five research missions and 10 industry partnerships which have been tabled by the European Commission to receive funding under Horizon Europe, the EU’s 2021-2027 research programme. Together these mechanisms would account for 40-50% of the €94.1 billion framework programme.

The five missions suggested are in the fields of digitisation, health, “clean Europe”, and food and agriculture. According to a Commission briefing paper, the specific targets in each of these fields are: to build the first universal quantum computer in Europe; to cure paediatric cancer; to eliminate plastic waste in rivers and seas; to create the first carbon-neutral cities with clean air, and to restore soil health. The five suggestions come from an original long list of 12 themes for missions that Commission staff had prepared, all of which with an important societal impact.

The member states must also decide whether to give their support to 10 proposals presented by the Commission for future industry partnerships, many of which are conceived as successors to existing EU-funded groups. These would cover fields such as:

  1. Health innovation, for the rapid development, deployment and safe use of medical treatments, devices and technologies enhanced by digital technologies.
  2. Global health, including links to national health research systems and philanthropic funding.
  3. Key digital technologies, including novel technologies such as AI and linking to downstream sectors.
  4. Metrology, to develop new tools for the speed, accuracy and cost of measurement.
  5. Air traffic management, including new tools and technologies for flexible use of airspace (including for novel avionics, drones).
  6. Aviation, to reduce CO2 emissions and noise, including through electric or other alternative propulsion systems.
  7. Rail, including transformative change in rail through automation and digitisation.
  8. Bio-based solutions, including CO2 uptake technologies for food and energy, biomass, and maritime resources.
  9. Fuel cells and hydrogen energy storage technologies.
  10. Connected, autonomous mobility.

This selection emerged from “more than 50 ideas” collected by Commission officials. Each mission is earmarked around €1-2 billion in total of the Horizon Europe budget, while partnerships would account for 30-40%, according to the Commission.

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On 17 October the European Commission and Bill Gates-led Breakthrough Energy  signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish Breakthrough Energy Europe (BEE) – a joint investment fund to help innovative European companies develop and bring radically new clean energy technologies to the market. With this initiative, the Commission takes action to continue leading in the fight against climate change and to deliver on the Paris Agreement – giving a strong signal to capital markets and investors that the global transition to a modern and clean economy is here to stay.

President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “Europe must continue to take the lead in tackling climate change head on, at home and across the world. We must push for the modernisation of Europe’s economy and industry in order to meet the ambitious targets put in place to protect our planet. Pooling public and private investment in new, innovative clean energy technology is key to enabling long-term solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If Europe is to have a future that can guarantee the well-being of all its citizens, it will need to be climate-friendly and sustainable.”

Bill Gates, Chairman of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, said: “We need new technologies to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Europe has demonstrated valuable leadership by making impressive investments in R&D. The scientists and entrepreneurs who are developing innovations to address climate change need capital to build companies that can deliver those innovations to the global market. Breakthrough Energy Europe is designed to provide that capital.”

Breakthrough Energy Europe links public funding with long-term risk capital so that clean energy research and innovation can be brought to market faster and more efficiently. With a capitalisation of €100 million, the fund will focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting energy efficiency in the areas of electricity, transport, agriculture, manufacturing, and buildings. It is a pilot project that can serve as a model for similar initiatives in other thematic areas.

Breakthrough Energy Europe is expected to be operational in 2019. Half of the equity will come from Breakthrough Energy and the other half from InnovFin – risk-sharing financial instruments funded through Horizon 2020, the EU’s current research and innovation programme.

On the margins of the COP21 climate conference in Paris, global leaders launched Mission Innovation, an international partnership to accelerate clean energy innovation and provide a long-term global response to climate challenge. By joining Mission Innovation, 23 countries and the European Commission (on behalf of the EU) pledged to double their clean energy research and innovation funding to about $30 billion per year by 2021.

On the same occasion, a group of investors from ten countries announced their intention to drive innovation from laboratories to the market by investing long-term capital at unprecedented levels in early-stage technology development in Mission Innovation participating countries, thereby creating the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.


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Six cities championing outstanding innovation strategies to improve the lives of citizens and business entered the final stage of this year’s European Capital of Innovation contest funded under Horizon 2020, the EU research and innovation programme.

The finalists are:

Aarhus (Denmark): the Danish city is a pioneer of smart city technologies such as using cutting-edge sensor technology to tackle peak traffic and reduce fuel consumption. It has a long tradition of open data, accessible and usable by everyone, and it has made engagement a policy matter. With almost 2700 active volunteering clubs, this is a place where every other citizen volunteers. All city departments have resources dedicated to foster dialogue and contact with citizens, and make the most out of such civic spirit.

Athens (Greece): In times of national austerity and economic hardship, the Greek capital broke fresh ground with new social innovation initiatives. With “Curing the Limbo”, Athens is giving refugees and underprivileged citizens the chance to afford housing, develop work skills or find employment. In addition, the Digital Council formed an alliance with private partners to support digital literacy and foster civic technology such as smart recycling bins.

Hamburg (Germany): An economic and innovation powerhouse, the German city is running for the crown of innovation capital by linking science, business and governance, and putting them to work on solving societal challenges. To name but a few examples, Hamburg’s university and climate clusters are helping scientists predict and mitigate climate change, the city hosts Europe’s biggest district for car sharing and electro-mobility, and it organises a workshop fostering 6 200 citizen contributions and urban dialogues.

Leuven (Belgium): Hosting one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities, Leuven is working hard to transfer its wealth of knowledge and talent to all corners of society through collaborative governance. Leuven MidGate, a network organisation, stimulates cross-pollination and closer ties between its members. Leuven 2030 brings together 100 organisations and private members committed to climate-oriented measures that will make the city carbon neutral by the end of the next decade.

Toulouse (France): The strategy of ‘Open Metropolis’ involves citizens as innovation players and mobilises them to back innovation processes (they were even consulted about the city’s application to become European Capital of Innovation). The Laboratory of Usages is one of the locations bringing together start-ups, citizens, business and administration to propose and experiment ideas, such as the “artificially intelligent” chatbot Violette, who assists citizens in public administration matters 24/7.

Umeå (Sweden): This tiny city in North East Sweden become a leader in urban innovation by harbouring great ambitions for its citizens whilst remaining truthful to its values of community, inclusiveness, creativity and gender equality. The merits of Umeå, which is working to increase its population size by more than a half by 2050, go from hosting world-class universities to testing new methods of engaging citizens, as for example asking them to paintball buildings as a way of expressing their preferences during their renovation.

The winner – European Capital of Innovation 2018 – will be announced on 6 November at the Web Summit in Lisbon (Portugal). The city demonstrating the best innovation ecosystem will win a prize of €1 million to scale up its innovation activities. The five runners-up will receive €100 000 each.

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A total of 246 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from 24 countries have been selected for funding in the latest round of the SME Instrument. Between them, the companies will receive a total amount of €12.2 million from the EU’s research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, to bring their innovations faster to market.

The projects selected include a water-injection system to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from commercial vehicles, a decision-making tool for fully exploiting big bio-data, a digital platform for hands-on cybersecurity training, a novel cancer therapy targeting cancer networks and a technology that dissolves wood waste to extract raw materials.

The companies will be funded under Phase 1 of the SME Instrument, which means that each project (244 in total) will receive €50 000 to draft a business plan. Several companies can team up to propose one project. The companies will also receive free coaching and business acceleration services.

The majority of the companies selected for funding are in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), health and engineering. Most are based in Spain (33), Italy (28) and Switzerland (23). The European Commission received a total of 2 111 proposals for the 5 September cut-off date. The next application deadline for the SME Instrument Phase 1 is on 7 November 2018.

The European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot will support 38 innovative projects to develop new ideas towards radically new future technologies. In total, the projects will receive €124 million under the future and emerging technologies (FET Open) strand of the EIC pilot, run under the EU’s research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. If successful, these projects will create new markets in Europe.

Neuromorphic and quantum computing, de-orbiting of spacecraft, fighting brain viruses, early and non-invasive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease are just a few examples of the challenges that these projects are targeting. FET Open offers grants of typically €3 million to promote collaborative, inter-disciplinary research and innovation on future and emerging technologies. These grants are for consortia of at least three entities.

In its first round of funding under the EIC pilot, FET Open received 375 proposals and granted funding to 236 beneficiaries in 23 countries across Europe. As part of the EIC pilot, FET Open projects receive additional support for innovators and entrepreneurs. SMEs participating in FET Open projects can also benefit from networking, coaching and mentoring.

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On 24 October the European Commission launched a €30 million scheme to build ‘Networks of European Universities’ with the aim of promoting a stronger sense of European identity among students and boost the attractiveness of European degrees. The funding will support the creation of six cross-border alliances of at least three universities each, along the lines proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron last year.

While universities collaborate ad hoc all the time in Europe, the Commission says the goal of this particular programme, which has existed as an idea for years, is to strengthen academic performance and boost European cooperation. The money will pay for an exchange of students, researchers and even administrative staff. A student reading European studies, for example, could take history in Brussels, EU law in Rome and economics in Warsaw. The Commission says students or staff should attempt to learn the language of the country they live in.

The scheme follows a proposal last September by French President Emmanuel Macron to create 20 cross-border university networks. The Commission have set the target date of 2024 to achieve such a goal. Applicants are invited to submit applications by 28 February 2019, with the alliances starting later in the academic year. It is planned to hold a second round later in 2019 with a full roll-out foreseen under the next long-term, seven-year EU budget from 2021.

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A new business insight provided by Roger La Salle, innovation thought leader and pioneer of “Matrix Thinking”™

The IT Dilemma

I was recently at a conference at RMIT University Melbourne where a young lady, Ms. Juliana Proserpio, gave a great presentation on the Four Degrees of Design. I must say I sat there prepared to be bored but it was really engaging and well-presented, with an interesting end point.

The first degree is design by nature, where nature does all the work and the scenery is our gift.

The second is where nature does the work modified by man; this it typically a farm.

The third is where man does the design and man does the build, for example, a toaster.

The fourth is where the man made machine, an intelligent robot, does the design of yet another robot machine. Man and nature are eliminated.

Fascinating stuff, but this leads into a classic paradox, as the IT dilemma. Suppose a robot designs the software for a new autonomous vehicle such as a car. The software is intelligent and can make decisions for itself as it manages the car. Consider now this car driving down a road making all the divisions for itself. It detects a problem ahead with a crash inevitable.

The car detects a young lady with a baby in a pram. Separately it also detects a group of perhaps a dozen old age pensioners standing by the road side ready to cross; as well as it detects a solid brick wall supporting a bridge structure ahead. In this situation the “driver”, actually the robot controlling the car, has to make a decision.

Shall I drive into the brick wall and spare everybody, but kill the car occupant? Shall I drive into the group of old age pensioners, no doubt killing them all, albeit at the twilight of life? Or shall I run over the young lady with a child in a pram, killing them both. This is the classic paradox that IT designers need to face as they design intelligent machines able to make “reasoned” decisions and ultimately build machines that themselves build machines.

No doubt intelligent machines are the thing of the future, but as machines begin to design machines, who can forecast the end game? One wonders if Isaac Asimov forecast this many years ago when he postulated the design rules for robots?

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