Diverse and open innovation

Martin Kern, Interim Director at the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) highlights the importance of open innovation…

When I am asked how the EIT Community managed to develop more than 900 business ideas, 200 innovative start-ups and 150 new products and services within only 5 years, my answer is – through a diverse and open community.

EIT is a living example of open innovation. With more than 800 partners from across Europe, we have created Europe’s largest innovation community, but we are making innovation happen not because of the numbers, but because of our diversity and our openness.

Europe has excellent business, higher education and research organisations, but still lags behind its global competitors. Why? At the EIT, we believe that a big part of the answer is the lack of cooperation between key innovation players. We live in a society where boundaries between organisations and their environment have become more permeable, with ideas passing in and out. However, innovation often occurs at the intersection of different disciplines, because it needs to work across borders and disciplines. These disciplines feed off one another. Innovation needs diverse and inspiring minds with different knowledge, experience and points of view, to meet together in a space that gives freedom to innovate. That’s the EIT.

With 30 innovation hubs across Europe, our innovation communities have created pan-European networks that embrace open innovation in all of their activities targeting innovation, business creation and acceleration and entrepreneurial education. We have more than 800 excellent partners from business, education and research, and we are open to more joining. Different experiences and perspectives, different strengths – and weaknesses – but we invite diversity, because we believe that is where innovation happens.

And it works.

With close cooperation with the European Commission, our community supports entrepreneurs across Europe to turn their best ideas into products, services and jobs. Our innovation communities are dedicated to finding solutions to major societal challenges, where we also see the biggest opportunities for innovation to increase Europe’s competitiveness, growth and jobs creation. We are increasingly seeing the results emerging from our innovation communities tackling challenges in the areas of climate, digitalisation, energy, healthy living and active ageing and raw materials. Students graduating from our courses are now becoming entrepreneurs and EIT supported start-ups are growing and raising investments. Just recently, a start-ups supported by the EIT Climate-KIC, Tado°, raised investment of €50M. Tado° sells smart thermostats that regulate household heating according to the location data of inhabitants. It has successfully launched its product internationally.

Such success would not have been possible without the strong pan-European cooperation of universities, research organisations and business. And it’s just the beginning. I believe it is crucial that we all look to improve collaboration both within our communities and with new stakeholders, to continue to accelerate the innovations that meet the needs of Europe’s citizens and society as a whole to address major challenges. Only together and only celebrating European diversity can we change Europe’s mind set to be more innovative and entrepreneurial.

Education for change

We believe that education which celebrates diversity and openness must be an integral part of European innovation policies and activities to boost entrepreneurship. There are currently more than 1000 students enrolled in our entrepreneurial education programmes, who upon graduation will join our EIT Alumni community. All are people with vision, great ideas and the ability to turn these ideas into sustainable solutions for Europe. This year, 5 of the 30 young social entrepreneurs featured by Forbes in its 30 Under 30 Europe list, were supported by the EIT Community, and of them graduated from our educational programmes. This brings us back to the importance of working together. All our educational programmes are created in close cooperation with leading higher education, business and research institutions.

When our Alumni talk about benefits from their experience with the EIT Community, they often mention the diverse pan-European network. Our programmes are fully focused on the development of entrepreneurial and innovation skills. Students cooperate with business, academia and researchers from across Europe. These programmes change mind-sets and empower top entrepreneurs and the change leaders of tomorrow to work in a way that embraces diversity. We believe this is exactly what Europe needs.

Martin Kern

Interim Director

European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)




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