Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me first thank Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl and her colleagues in DIGITAL EUROPE for organising this 2021 Masters of Digital, and for inviting me again to present this year’s Future Unicorn Award ceremony.

It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you today. I remember well when it started a few years ago what we can see if that things are improving. What we need is to accelerate it and cooperate better.

I would also like to congratulate all the promising startups taking part in the Future Unicorn Award competition. I wish you and your innovative solutions to thrive, so you can become transformational leaders, and play an important role in the recovery of our European economy.

Allow me to start my intervention today by recalling why startups are so important in Europe:

On the one hand, while high-growth startups account for only 4 to 6% of all businesses with employees, they do account for very big share of all net job creation in the economy. For instance, transformational start-ups create between 22%, in the Netherlands, and 53% , in France, of new net jobs. It is not only a matter of quantity of jobs, also in terms of quality, startups boost high-qualified job creation and growth.

Therefore, startups are not only key for a sustainable recovery in the context of our green and digital transition, but also to ensure our leadership in innovation and for European tech sovereignity.

On the other hand, investments in innovation can help prevent, solve and mitigate major societal issues, as the the Covid-19 pandemic has shown.

Indeed, the nominees for the Future Unicorn Award are a perfect example that startups and SMEs play a key role in creating new products, services and markets that lead to economic activity and job creation.

Unfortunately, not all is positive for startups in Europe.

First, there is a substantial market failure in Europe that makes it difficult for startups to get funding especially at series A stages, which is a significant obstacle to their progress and commercial success.

Cecilia, I followed very closely the recommendations and the study that you have presented to us. We are on the same line.

Second, the concentration of innovative companies in only a few Member States. And this is also a symptom of the innovation divide problem in Europe, which we need to address.

Third, the lack of connections among the players of local innovation ecosystems across Europe makes extremely difficult for innovative startups to scale up across Europe.

Finally, nearly 90% of the founders of startups are men, and this must change. I remember last year, I announced my intention to take concrete measures on this. And, here, one year later. It is my pleasure to share with you the results. I am proud that since I became Commissioner in charge of innovation, the percentage of women-led beneficiaries of the EIC have grown from 2.2% to 34%. But more needs to be done to reach the 50% figure of all founders of startups to become women. And in only few weeks, I will have the pleasure to present the next step of this initiative.

So what is the EU doing to overcome those challenges? How to better join our forces?

On the one hand, it is very good that digital innovation one of its top priorities as European commission. This is one of the key areas under the new Recovery Plan for Europe and the Next Generation EU recovery fund.

In this sense, in order to nurture breakthrough innovation and key emerging technologies, the Next Generation EU recovery fund will support the European Innovation Council, in addition to health and climate-related research and innovation activities.

Therefore, here allow me to present you the most recent state of play of the EIC and, in particular, highlight the prominent role the EIC will play in the Recovery Plan for Europe:

The EIC is a mostly bottom-up, breakthrough innovation funding mechanism that aims at scaling up companies, such as those nominated for the Future Unicorn Award.

I am convinced the EIC will be the most ambitious EU initiative ever for disruptive and breakthrough innovation, aimed at ensuring our most talented innovators, and innovations, reach a global stage.

To achieve this, the EIC combines:

  • On one side, a state-of-the art instrument to support breakthrough technologies from all fields of science and engineering, the EIC pathfinder;
  • A European wide “unicorn factory”: an accelerator to scale up startups and SMEs with a unique combination of grants and direct equity investment, the EIC Accelerator; and,
  • Innovation ecosystems support activities for helping turn results from breakthrough research project into promising business ventures and marketable solutions

Moreover, beyond just funding, the EIC provides innovators with access to the innovation ecosystem all across Europe and the world, including corporates, investors, procurers, and local innovation hubs.

In fact, the EIC is already making history. It is the first ever EU funding instrument to make direct equity investments into companies through the newly EIC Fund. Since the launch of the pilot in 2019, the EIC has supported over 5700 startups and SMEs across Europe. These SMEs are already developing market innovations that will contribute to the achievement of a green, healthy and digital Europe.

The next step, and in count on you, is to turn the EIC into a European unicorn factory by working together with the EIT's new innovation ecosystems. I am very glad, that again here we have a result. Only 3 months after my suggestions on ideas about how to join forces, the EIC and EIT signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will pave the way to a more structured cooperation between the EIC and the EIT Knowledge and Innovation Communities.

The first results are promising with success stories like Cellink that has become the first EIC-funded unicorn, and Skeleton that was jointly supported by the EIC and the EIT and has become the global leader on its field.

By finding synergies and working together, the EIC and the EIT will help Europe innovate its way to a new sustainable, and innovation-driven future.

Now I would like to share with you one of the most important projects for me. We all talk about the importance of research, how to turn research intro products. We are talking about digital skills, how important is our European school, upskilling, re-skilling. And we have European Research Area, we have European Education Area.

I think it is time to have a real European Innovation Area, because Europe more than ever needs to use all the innovation potential that we have in order to provide solutions to all these social, economic and societal challenges.

I think that what we have now is that there is not a well structure framework to provide consistency and direction to all the political and financial efforts from public administrations to spur innovation.

Therefore, the European Innovation Area is needed to tackle these challenges. And my intention is exactly that: to complete the knowledge triangle with focus on regions, reducing innovation divide, and empowering more women to take the lead.

In this sense, my proposal is to co-create, together with all of you, an European Innovation Area that is a blueprint of the way forward for the next 4 years:

  • to ensure tech autonomy,
  • while providing consistency across the numerous existing programmes, to increase effectiveness of the existing resources,
  • with a focus on the regional diversity to reduce the innovation divide,
  • and, encompassing technological and non-technologically driven innovations to increase diversity in the ecosystem.

This European Innovation Area will complement perfectly what we already have with the European Education Area and European Research Area.

I am talking here about:

  • the European University Alliances,
  • about the Joint roadmaps between academia and industry involving start-ups and investors,
  • the actions of the European Innovation Council,
  • The innovation partners of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology,
  • And finally even with the new Bauhaus initiative announced by President von der Leyen.

I would like to conclude this speech by calling upon all the members of DIGITAL EUROPE, as well as all the innovators and doers following us today, to continue to share with us your actionable ideas to work together to build a European Innovation Area where no one is left behind and where exactly the five recommendations, dear Cecilia, adapt regulations to new technologies, reduce market fragmentation, improve investment framework, better access top talent, and improve data cooperation is something that we can achieve together.

I am confident that together we can bring Europe to the road of recovery and growth. A strong and united EU innovation and startup ecosystem across Europe, with digital industry as key active players of our future!

Thank you very much for your attention. You can see my support didn’t change, my enthusiasm didn’t change. That’s because you are one of our best partners, Digital Europe.

Thank you so much.