Moving Europe forward: innovating for a prosperous future

Seminar highlights

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In April 2013, EY and the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) hosted the 2013 Growing Beyond Innovation seminar. It gathered experts on innovation from the worlds of business, academia and public policy.

The event was a great opportunity to present Moving Europe forward: innovating for a prosperous future and for an in-depth discussion of implications and recommendations for government, industry and entrepreneurs.

Innovation and growth

Alessandro Cenderello, Managing Partner for the EU Institutions, EY, in Brussels, was careful to outline the global context of innovation in the EU in his address to open the seminar: “Europe will muddle through, but at too slow a pace."

Many rapid-growth markets are world leaders in innovation, Cenderello said. In the near future, some rapid-growth markets are likely to "leapfrog" mature markets in terms of innovation. For example, Africa’s development of mobile banking is now spreading to the West.

"One key to turning around the situation [in Europe] is to find efficient and strong ways of supporting innovation in the market," Cenderello said. Innovation is a complex process but it is a crucial part of enabling job creation and growth and ultimately getting Europe back on track.

Top-down or bottom-up?

A top-down approach to innovation has been very successful in many countries but it is not always the most effective way to promote excellence in innovation. There must be an overall direction from policy leaders; however, the best innovation often comes from agile and responsive small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs.

The report, written by Andrea Renda, Senior Research Fellow at CEPS, recommends a "bottom-up and layered” approach to innovation. Public and private intervention should provide infrastructure that facilitates innovation. This should include:

  • Programs to facilitate entrepreneurship
  • Frameworks to aid knowledge transfer between big and small companies
  • Public-private partnerships to address societal challenges

In this way, the benefits of bottom-up innovation are preserved, but policy-makers retain a very broad steering and facilitative role.

A delicate balance

The survey also made it clear how important business leaders think that links between industry and academia are in enabling innovation. Successful innovation depends on all of the right elements being in place at the same time, as emphasized by Maria da Graça Carvalho, a member of the European Parliament and formerly Portugal’s Minister for Innovation.

As well as excellence in education and science, countries need to have the right framework for innovation in place. This requires:

  • Propitious macroeconomic conditions
  • Well-oiled and appropriately sized markets
  • Favorable fiscal policy
  • Reduced bureaucracy (especially in Europe)
  • An efficient public administration
  • Attractive immigration rules

If one of these factors is lacking, innovation capacity will be limited — even if everything else is functioning well.

Building excellence

Clearly, facilitating excellence in education and research is a key part of promoting innovation. As Robert-Jan Smits, Director General for Research and Innovation at the European Commission, explained, achieving excellence will be the only way that Europe can set itself apart from the rest of the world.

The Horizon 2020 initiative is a cornerstone of European innovation policy. This program will attempt to avoid a heavy-handed top-down approach, in favor of a lighter touch that gives guidance and direction and encourages strategic thinking.

Most importantly perhaps, Horizon 2020 is not sector-based in its approach to innovation. Rather, it will attempt to orientate innovation in the EU toward "grand societal challenges," such as climate change and ageing populations.

Innovation beyond technology

Innovation is not always and necessarily synonymous with "technological innovation." About 25% of innovation involves non-technical products and services, said Lutz Mehlhorn, Managing Director of mehlhorn.concept and former Vice-President New Business at UW Henkel. Innovation is about more than just product development. Creative thinking is central to the development of new business models. Partnership should extend beyond just links between academia and industry; Mehlhorn encouraged companies to explore open innovation and collaboration on single projects.

In his closing remarks, chair Staffan Jerneck, former Director of Corporate Relations, CEPS, offered “global contexts” and “excellence” as two key terms to sum up the discussion. This seemed an accurate and succinct coda to a thought-provoking seminar.

For more information about this event, please download the following PDF: Growing Beyond Innovation seminar.