Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning and welcome to Brussels. Thank you for coming.
Thank you for showing your commitment to this topic.
I love events about the blue economy. They make me feel energised. Because they are all about exploring unknown territory. About grasping opportunities. About building a sustainable future for our coastal communities, and for the EU at large. I’m sure today’s event will be no different.
And I bring good news! After the successful edition of our Blue Growth calls in 2016 and 2017, we have decided to launch a new wave this year… With an even larger budget!
For this years’ call, we have allocated more than 18 million euros, bringing the total budget to well over 40 million, in just three years. This shows that we are serious about investing in the blue economy.
And you here, in this room, prove that our efforts are worth it. I am glad that some of the champions from our previous call are here today. And I’m really looking forward to hear about the innovations you have been testing over the last two years.
But surely, most of you are here to learn about our new blue economy call.
For this edition, we have decided to focus on three key areas of the blue economy: Blue Careers, Blue Labs; and grants for the blue economy.
Let’s look at Blue Careers first.
The labour market is changing quickly, and so are the skills we need to find our way in it. At a recent conference in Vigo, stakeholders called “flexibility” the most important skill for our students and future employees. Not the kind of flexibility that means lower social protection or unpredictable working hours, of course. But the flexibility we need to quickly adapt to new circumstances and new technologies. To innovate. To launch new businesses. So this year, we have put the emphasis on entrepreneurial and social skills. Skills that help us thrive in a fast-changing environment and that are crucial to develop new ideas into products and services.
But focus on the individual skillset is not enough. We need to accompany our young people as they transition from school to work. Training should be more practice-oriented and flexible. We have to do a better job at integrating recent technological and market developments into our children’s education.
This call offers support to projects where education meets industry: apprenticeships, job shadowing, vocational education and training… enabling to reply to labour market needs. We also support cooperation with innovation hubs, incubators, social enterprises and more.
Young people often have the brightest ideas. That’s a fact – I know it from a very distant experience. But most of these ideas never leave the classroom. Lack of business know-how, contacts or funding can be very discouraging. But how many game-changing discoveries are we missing out on, as a result? How much of our young people’s potential is wasted?
That is the starting point for our Blue Labs. By supporting multidisciplinary partnerships between young scientists and experienced mentors, we want to channel creativity into the blue economy. And who knows which hidden gems we will discover in the process!
The 2016 call has produced inspiring examples. Microbes cleaning up oil spills. Unmanned robotic devices protecting underwater cultural heritage. A drone fighting marine litter… Who’s thinking ‘moonshot’ projects can only be developed in Silicon Valley?
With this year’s call, we are challenging budding scientists to discover just how exciting the blue economy can be. All with the helping hand of experienced mentors from the local business community.
We are looking for a wide variety of innovative solutions, from recycling of leisure boats or dismantling unexploded ammunition to breaking down marine pollution or creating value from marine biomass. And much more, so it’s really up to you!
The third and last part of our call, but the largest in terms of budget, are the grants for innovation in the blue economy.
Blue economy start-ups and SMEs continue to face difficulties to access funding, particularly for high risk, innovative ventures. Our grants will help companies to fund pre-commercial demonstration projects, so they can go to market and scale up much faster.
Again, what are we looking for? I can think about underwater sensors, big data analytics, biotechnology, subsea engineering, and much more.
Last year’s call was very competitive. It has shown that there is a great demand for these grants, with lots of promising submissions. To be able to support the projects that have the best market potential, we will give preference to projects that already have secured partial financing from a third party investor.
And as we are on the topic of investments, allow me to make another announcement.
Across the EU, there are many innovative ventures with high potential rewards for the blue economy. However, our financing landscape for ocean investments is still very immature. Only a few specialised institutions exist, and most of them are less than 5 years old.
As one solution, we are exploring different options to set up a dedicated European blue economy investment platform. In early 2019 we will launch an assistance platform to monitor and coach projects so they can reach maturity and investment readiness quickly.
We will also continue our Blue Invest events. These bring together innovators and investors looking for business partners. At our first edition in May, we’ve registered over 1200 bilateral meetings. This shows there was a need! The next edition is a regional chapter, called Blue Invest in the Med. It is taking place on 24 January in Malta. Applications for pitchers are now open, so don’t hesitate to apply. I hope to see many of you there.
Dear colleagues, dear friends,
With this call, we are equipping students with the skills for tomorrow’s jobs. We are rewarding creativity. We are upscaling technologies to the market. With this call, we will boost the blue economy.
We need to continue investing to ensure healthy oceans. And this can be done only in cooperation with everyone involved: students, teachers, scientists, business leaders and investors.
Our blue economy call is there for you.
It is now up to you. The calls are open. Express your interest. Apply for funding. And spread the word.
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