Editorial: Europe's more fertile soil

Change in policymakers' mindsets is perhaps the most encouraging outcome.

There are several approaches to boosting funding for entrepreneurs: helping the demand side through better business plans through online training or classes, boosting the supply side by creating lots of state-backed funds, or economic autarky through shutting off international investors from the best companies.

Naturally, these points were all raised in the European Commission-sponsored policy conference, boosting investment readiness in Europe, last week in Brussels.

Or there is an approach to building a borderless or virtual ecosystem around learning and openness, speed, transparency, collaboration globally, connecting innovation hotspots and generating exits that can create opportunities to reinvest capital and skills.

After 20-plus years of the former, this second approach is gaining increasing attention by policymakers, albeit from a low base of awareness. The published list of attendees to the event included no obvious hands-on university, government and corporate venture investors, which one senior official described as a “mistake” in the original consortium behind the event, although angel investors were present.

This change in the mindset is perhaps the most encouraging outcome from the event as the EC’s €79bn Horizon2020 programme has only just started – it runs for seven years to 2020. (Ignacio Puente, in the European Commission’s unit on SMEs, Financial Instruments and State Aid, part of the Directorate General Research & Innovation, set out the plans in a presentation.)

While the consensus at the separate Science Business event held in March in Brussles was, with one or two exceptions, Horizon 2020 had generally lived up to its promise of making things simpler for scientists, the average odds of getting a Horizon 2020 grant in the first 14 months were 14.5%. In comparison, in the predecessor Framework Programme 7 (FP7), success rates were around 19% to 22%.

Despite the large budget for Horizon2020, along with national and regional schemes, Europe remains an ecosystem without critical mass, according to Erik Vermeulen, professor of business and financial law at Tilburg University, in his InvestHorizon presentation, Better Practices on Strategies, Indicators, Schemes and Tools for Investment Readiness. As Vermeulen, who is also senior counsel corporate at Netherlands-based conglomerate Philips International, said on a call after the presentation: “Europe lacks it [critical mass] and the US has it so it makes sense to connect Europe to the US.

“Look at Japan, this is what Tokyo University is doing by taking selected entrepreneurs to the US to meet investors three times a year and encouraging exits to US corporations, such as Google.

“Or Shapeways, a spin-out of the lifestyle incubator of Royal Philips Electronics, that then relocated to the US after Union Square Ventures and then A16Z invested, but is now back in Eindhoven [its former home in the Netherlands] big time and creating jobs.

“Mass is not just about supply of capital and demand from entrepreneurs but how they know what and where to look for – that is investor readiness, which comes from data, news, social media and transparency and connections for who is on what board or invested in whom. Silicon Valley might be a religion but ideas can be transferred to Europe.

“That the EC’s mindset is shifting to understand this latter way is the viable one is encouraging. Data is not just for researchers but used by investors and entrepreneurs to validate each other.”

The forthcoming early-stage report by our sister titles, Global University Venturing and Global Corporate Venturing, will be published at a Symposium on 2-3 June in London after receiving more than 150 corporate and universities respondents from around the world. This data, which will also be included in Vermeulen’s forthcoming analysis for the EC as part of InvestHorizon, shows not only that less than half of corporations view universities as a source of ideas and entrepreneurs but how continental European groups are less international in their focus than UK or UK peers.

Much groundwork remains to be done but if the mindset changes then there is hope the seeds of understanding will start to fall on more fertile soil.

See more from this Government Report: Brussels

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