The European Commission has called for a European effort to boost key enabling technologies (KETs). The global market in KETs, which comprises micro- and nanoelectronics, advanced materials, industrial biotechnology, photonics, nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing systems, is forecast to grow from €646 billion to over €1 trillion between 2008 and 2015; this is a jump of over 54%, or more than 8% of the EU’s GDP. Rapid growth in jobs is expected, too. In nanotechnology industries alone, the number of jobs in the EU is expected to increase from 160 000 in 2008, to around 400 000 by 2015. Full story
European innovation without frontiers
The flow of European talent across the Atlantic has long been an issue of concern. A recent event explored ways of building bridges between US-based European researchers and innovators in Silicon Valley with innovation support services in Europe so as to provide better assistance to start-ups by utilising expatriate networks.
The United States is one of the world's leading innovators, especially when it comes to radical innovations. Its enabling environment which focuses as much on research as it does on developing markets for innovations, attracts and retains some of the best research and entrepreneurial talents from across the globe.
This is epitomised by Silicon Valley in Northern California, which has been America's leading high-tech hub since the early decades of the 20th century and combines cutting-edge research with effective business incubation and abundant venture capital. As a sign of its pre-eminence, Silicon Valley has the highest concentration of high-tech workers in the United States, representing an impressive 286 out of every thousand private-sector jobs.
Silicon Valley and other parts of the United States have proven, over the years, to be very attractive not only to innovators and researchers from developing countries but also to European talent. And this foreign talent pool is crucial to the American innovation system, as reflected by the fact that an impressive 25% of US patent applications in 2006 were filed by foreign-born individuals and that a quarter of new companies in all industrial sectors are established by immigrants, especially in high-tech sectors.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States, Canada and Australia are the most attractive destinations in the OECD for people with a tertiary education: in 2006 alone, more than a quarter of a million Europeans emigrated to these three countries and New Zealand. In the EU, Germany, the UK and, to a lesser extent France, also attract significant numbers of university-educated migrants.
In 2003, a Commission analysis estimated that some 400 000 European science and technology graduates were working in the US. When seen in the light of the estimated 11 million people who work in the EU's S&T sectors, this is a relatively small number but many Europeans hold key positions in leading research institutes, major multinationals and large venture capital funds.
Transatlantic innovation bridges
Of course, in the context of globalisation, the migration of talent is inevitable. The question which arises is not so much how to arrest the flow but how to make the most use of expatriate talent. With the right strategies and networks in place, expatriates can create a significant impact in their countries of origin. For example, the rise of Bangalore in India as a software development hub can be traced back to the links made between Indian entrepreneurs in the United States and India through the Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE) network. Likewise, the flourishing venture capital industries in Israel and Taiwan have their roots in expatriate communities.
What role can and do expatriate Europeans play in their innovation systems back home? To investigate the possibilities of strengthening the innovation bridges between Silicon Valley and Europe, an EU delegation (from Germany, Italy, Belgium and Romania) led by German Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer, met with representatives of the innovation and trade promotion agencies of the EU's Member States and expatriate networks from 13 European countries. The encounters took place during a three-day visit and at a workshop (12-14 May) which was jointly organised by the German-American Business Association (GABA) and Stanford University's School of Mechanical Engineering.
"We have to make the role and the possibilities of expatriates' engagement in innovation in Europe more visible to innovation practitioners but also to politicians," said Bütikofer. "I therefore hope that this was not a [one off] event but the start of a series."
Re-attracting talent might be feasible when successful researchers return to head institutes in their country of origin. However, repatriation is hardly an option for entrepreneurs who have succeeded overseas. Here, the challenge is to adapt innovation systems in such a way that enables foreign-based European researchers and entrepreneurs to invest their know-how, experience and/or capital back into Europe. Mechanisms examined during the conference included various types of networks, from official representations to family ties but also such activities as seed investments and mentoring for young start-ups.
In fact, several initiatives have been launched in Silicon Valley to mentor young European start-ups in how to approach capital and key clients. However, these initiatives are rarely connected to public innovation support systems in Europe and their activities might result in an outflow of high-potential companies from Europe. Better links between public innovation support services in Europe and the expatriate communities might, therefore, not only create momentum for local innovation, it might also be necessary to avoid harm from the loss of start-ups with the biggest growth potential.
Probably the most important bridgeheads between expats and Europe, according to participants, are informal networks, such as GABA, which has more than 3 000 members, and Silicon Vikings, which could ideally be linked with formal innovation support structures. The GlobalScots initiative and the Innovation Centre Denmark (see box) set examples in this respect. Overall, the role and importance of such informal networks of expatriates is under-recognised and under-utilised in Europe. In this respect, the visiting delegation developed a number of recommendations. These included:
- Conducting a study on the potential role that can be played by expatriate European communities when it comes to innovation in Europe.
- Exploring the possibility of setting up an 'Innovation Centre Europe' as a highly visible focal point to support the linking up of expatriate innovators with European innovation systems by using their connections to knowledge, business and investors for the benefit of European industry and start-ups. "I strongly support the idea of a European Innovation Centre, particularly as a soft landing base for European start-ups," opined Veit Haug of the Stuttgart Region Economic Development Corporation. "The concept should include networking services, as well as basic infrastructure for young entrepreneurs, and it should, in addition, aim at creating co-operation between the supported start-ups in Europe."
- The creation of European awards to recognise the contribution of expatriate Europeans to innovation in Europe.
- The removal of barriers hindering the further development of venture capital in Europe through the creation of a common market for risk investors and by providing further support to business angels.
Innovative business model
Innovation Centre Denmark (ICDK) is widely regarded as a benchmark for successful support to start-ups with global potential. It offers a broad range of well-designed services in Denmark and America targeted at researchers, entrepreneurs and established innovative enterprises.
"We train start-ups in Denmark and assist them in establishing networks in Silicon Valley. If they want to grow globally, they have to have a presence here," explains Marianna Lubanski, ICDK's director. She adds that the creation of new high value-added jobs is crucial to the Danish economy and the ICDK assists growing innovative "in establishing these in Denmark and we try to get involved very early in the innovation value chain at research level".
Set up in 2005, the ICDK helps Danish entrepreneurs and enterprises gain access to Silicon Valley, links venture capitalists with entrepreneurs, connects the Danish and US research communities, and promotes in-bound investment to Denmark, especially in ICT, the life sciences and clean technology.
ICDK also runs regular networking events and conferences on innovation-related topics, such as the future of health innovation and innovation journalism.
GABA, the German-American Business Association, is a member-driven, non-profit organisation that fosters transatlantic knowledge-sharing and networking among German-American and Californian business and tech communities. GABA is dedicated to encouraging German-American innovation and supports entrepreneurs through its extensive network.
GABA members can connect through GABA's industry groups in entrepreneurship and venture capital, automotive, communications and wireless, software, semiconductors and IT, media and entertainment, clean technology, human resources, women in business, and life sciences.
Support for Innovation Unit,
Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry
The text only of the articles can be republished as long as the source of the article is quoted: Enterprise & Industry magazine (http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/magazine/index_en.htm), © European Union, 2008 - 2012