The European Union (EU), under the Portuguese Presidency, announced last week (18th March 2021) the launch of the new European Innovation Council (EIC), which aims to identify and develop revolutionary technologies and disruptive innovations. With 10 billion euros worth of funding for 2021-2017, this is the EU’s most ambitious research and innovation program to convert scientific research into new successful businesses.
If Europe wants to compete in a global market increasingly defined by the development of new technologies, it needs to harness and benefit as much as possible from research, innovative SMEs and start-ups.
The EIC is part of the €95.5bn Horizon Europe initiative, building on a pilot programme that started back in 2018. This preliminary project supported more than 5,000 SMEs and start-ups, as well as more than 300 scientific research projects.
The EIC aims to find and support not only research groups but also start-ups that work on high-risk, high-impact innovations as a way to contribute to the EU’s Recovery Plan. Portugal’s Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education Manuel Heitor said at the launch that the EIC intends to “stimulate, facilitate and complement the financing to give new stimulus to the growth of science-based small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).” This will be achieved through the new EIC equity fund, which not only will be investing €3bn directly in start-ups and SMEs but will also aim to attract further capital from the private sector.
“The European Innovation Council is Europe’s most ambitious initiative to support the breakthroughs Europe needs to recover from the economic crisis and accelerate the transition to a green and digital economy. By investing in visionary research and innovative companies, it will reinforce European technological sovereignty, scale up hundreds of Europe’s most promising start-ups, and pave the way for the upcoming European Innovation Area”, added Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.
The EIC has several aspects that make it unique in the way that it supports new projects. This includes, for example, measures to encourage women innovators and start-ups from lesser-known areas. Besides, several prizes are also part of the EIC to commemorate those shaping the future of research and innovation in Europe. This includes the European Capital of Innovation Awards (iCapital), which recognises how cities support and promote local innovation, as well as the European Social Innovation Competition, which aims to reward social innovations helping organisations to strengthen the skills they need to adapt to a changing world.
French start-up CorWave was the first company to receive EIC funding, securing €15 million to develop an innovative medical solution to improve the lives of patients with life-threatening heart conditions. More than 40 other companies also received combined funding of about €178 million to develop their own breakthrough innovations in a wide range of areas, from health to manufacturing.