Digital Agenda for Europe
A Europe 2020 Initiative

What does it take to innovate?

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As we are well into the Greek Presidency, we welcome a guest blog from Harris Ioannou, a Greek innovator who has some interesting thoughts on how education and entrepreneurship can boost innovation.
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Harris Ioannou wearing his exosceleton gloveI am 18 years old and I am currently studying Electrical and Software Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens. Two years ago, I won the European Union

Competition for Young Scientists (EUCYS) in the field of Engineering, by inventing a glove that can enhance and assist the strength of the human palm. My glove can be used by people who suffer from hand disabilities, like arthritis etc. Since EUCYS I have kept on with the development of my invention but at the same time I like doing new projects, mainly in the field of programming applications for devices and developing hardware for healthcare.

What I'd like to share with you here are some thoughts on Education, Entrepreneurship and what it takes to innovate in Europe today.

On education

Having just completed compulsory education, I am thrilled to see how individual teachers are able to overcome obstacles and manage to help their pupils think efficiently and out-of-the box, despite the lack of support by the educational system. I hope this lack of support will change. I am looking forward to an education for all pupils favouring openness to extracurricular activities, to school curricula fitting the needs of today and tomorrow by, for example, teaching kids to code.

A major challenge for our parents was to become citizens of the world. This required at least the knowledge of a foreign language. I think that here is a big analogy there. Consider the increasing numbers of supercomputers, personal computers, microcomputers, smartphones... There are more computers than people in our world and we have to take full advantage of what they have to offer. Then, there is another question. Let’s suppose that somehow kids, like me, grow up, graduate from high school and hopefully from university. What comes next? Where are we going to work? How long will it last? What should we do to avoid the fate of having to queue for low-paid, low-responsibility jobs that do not help us develop further?

On entrepreneurship

That’s where entrepreneurship comes in the picture. To me this is the answer to young people's concern over their future. I do meet new people who have great ideas and the proper mindset to make them real. In today's Greece, as in many European countries, young entrepreneurship is becoming a hot topic. Every day we hear about people pursuing something new, something out of the ordinary and I believe that's the new development the crisis has brought into foreground. But setting up an innovative business is no easy task. One would need a lot of tools and support.

So, what does it take to innovate? Sometimes, I am wondering, what is the main difference between a young and an old guy, who both have a great idea. My conclusion is that the young guy has nothing more than his passion and, as he has nothing to lose, he is ready to take the risk. He will not sleep for many days and will work without being paid, until he is satisfied with the result.
Until recently I was very pessimistic about the fund-raising methods and procedures that setting up a new startup would require. It was last September when I traveled to Google headquarters in Silicon Valley. I was one of the 15 finalists from all over the world to take part in Google's Science Fair, a global science competition for students. Putting aside my extraordinary experience at the competition, I was impressed by how in the valley there is one and only rule: if you are able to pursue your idea and you have a great team, then you will find the funds to make it real.

Having been influenced by this rule, I returned to Greece to find out that, not only the funds aren't rare at all, but that there is an increasing number of private investors who are constantly searching for new very promising ideas. Having already established my 1st startup with both private and European funds, I can confirm that you don't have to leave the EU, or even Greece, to find funds for your idea. The big problem, which very sadly all new businesses are faced up with, is the classic time-consuming paperwork that has to be completed in order for a business to be established and funded. The delay varies from 6 to 8 months and if you consider the speed and reaction time of competitors in today's world, this delay seems like a century. But that shouldn't stop us. Despite the dangers and difficulty, innovation, great ideas, making things happen is our way forward. I invite all young people in Europe today to join me in this fascinating path.

I would like to hear about similar experiences coming from all over Europe and to share the do's and don’t's together with the enthusiasm which keeps animating me … hoping it will be contagious, especially in my country!

 

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