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EU Sees Opportunities in Emerging Technology

For those of us following the high-tech sector, the notion of investing in future and emerging technology is such common knowledge and baseline requirement that we forget sometimes the rest of the world may not always think about its importance.

So, it's refreshing and welcoming to hear someone else talk along these lines to a broader group of people and remind them of stuff we already know. Earlier this week, Neelie Kroes, a European Commission vice president responsible for the trading block's digital agenda, took to the stage with exactly that message.

Speaking at the FET Flagships Pilots Final Conference in Brussels, Kroes called on people to have the courage to invest now in ideas that could power our world tomorrow, and to do this in spite of the crisis and financial uncertainty that still shadows the continent. Her full speech can be read here, but below are a few key points:

    Today we take so much technology for granted. But imagine where we'd be without the efforts of those who've gone before. Think of where we'd be without the car, or the microchip. Without the technologies themselves, without the transformation they brought to every aspect of our lives, without the amazing new possibilities they enabled. Life would be very different.

    And remember that it took many people — with the vision to think differently and the patience to work tirelessly — before those ideas could become reality. That is why we need the faith to look ahead to future and emerging technology. We don't always know where that research will lead, and we don't always know what change it might bring. But we do know that maybe, just maybe, it could hold the key to our future lives.

Kroes added that member states asked the EC to set up this kind of flagship pilot program in 2009:

    Right from the start, it was clear that the Flagships [would] mean unprecedented collaboration between EU and national programmes. An unprecedented scale of ambition and support over 10 years with a unifying visionary goal. And an unwavering focus on the grand scientific and social challenges, looking at the areas that are high-risk, but high pay-off.

Since May 2011, six preliminary preparatory actions — or pilots — were funded for more than 12 months and teams had to create a design, description, and assess the project's scientific feasibility and its potential for success in both technical and financial terms. By the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013, at least two of the pilots will be chosen and launched as full FET Flagship Initiatives in 2013 with $135 million (€110 million) in financial backing. The initiatives include everything from personalized medicine, therapy and disease prevention, management of globally interactive systems, electronics built on entirely new foundations, autonomous smart devices, and machines capable of genuine human interaction.

Given all the depressing talk about the ongoing debt crisis and austerity measures, maybe it is time that the region starts refocusing its collective energy on not only beating the same economic horses dead. A collective growth-oriented vision based on technology development and research could well be one way of the crisis. I guess we'll see how Kroes resonates elsewhere around the continent.

20 comments on “EU Sees Opportunities in Emerging Technology

  1. Anand
    July 12, 2012

    Given all the depressing talk about the ongoing debt crisis and austerity measures, maybe it is time that the region starts refocusing its collective energy on not only beating the same economic horses dead.

    @Jennifer, thanks for the post. Its good to hear that EU is planning to invest in Emerging technologies. I am sure this investment will not only help create jobs in Europe but also will help Europe to come out of this crisis.

  2. Daniel
    July 12, 2012

    Jennifer, which are the areas they identified as Emerging technology. New technologies are developing day by day and companies are striving hard to find enough market for it. Due to financial crisis, the purchasing power of customers had dropped down and most of them do not prefer for any new item unless and until it's very necessary. I think medical technology is the only area, where such crises are so far not affected.

  3. Jennifer Baljko
    July 12, 2012

    Rich – LOL… that would have been a possibly comic and certainly ironic moment.

  4. Jennifer Baljko
    July 12, 2012

    Jacob, anandvy – The target market for FET pilots are listed here.

    Also, this morning I saw this from the European Commission… doesn't appear to be the same as the FET program, but provides some broad ideas about where the region may generally be focused:

    As part of a €10.8 billion budget for research and innovation agreed for 2013, the European Commission has announced an €8.1 billion euro package of calls for proposals under the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7). This is the final and largest ever package of FP7 calls, and is an important part of the Commission's commitment to work for growth and jobs in Europe.

    • The budget and work programme are agreed in 2012 and funding will be awarded in 2013 – closing dates for proposals from September 2012.The calls address key concerns faced by Europeans where action at EU level is essential. €4.8 billion will be invested in thematic areas, with specific priorities to preserve oceans and water, better use of raw materials, efficient energy, promote efficiency in the processing of biological resources, develop smart cities and tackle issues such as public sector reform, brain research and anti-microbial resistance.
    • Making Europe a destination for world-class researchers is another key priority. The European Research Council will invest over €1.7 billion in the best researchers and additional €963 million will support mobility through “Marie Curie Actions”.
    • Small and medium-sized enterprises, recognised as vital for innovation, are given special incentives to participate with a total package of €1.2 billion.
  5. bolaji ojo
    July 12, 2012

    Jenn, Which European companies will drive these initiatives? It's one thing for the European Union to chart a plan for the future, it's another for firms to get involved and make sure it happens. Plus, the EU can't do it all. They still need for venture capital to get involved. There are some missing links here and I'll be interested in how the EU plans to address this.

  6. Anna Young
    July 12, 2012

     I think this is a good starting point Jen. An initiative of this sort is what the investors would like to see – I think? 

  7. SunitaT
    July 12, 2012

    I think this is a good starting point Jen. An initiative of this sort is what the investors would like to see

    Anna, true its a good starting point but I am not sure if investors would like to invest in such R&D projects. Because of the slowdown in market most of the investors these days dont believe in risk-taking and thus would like to invest in more safer saving instruments.

  8. Jennifer Baljko
    July 13, 2012

    Bolaji – Agree. I may be wrong because I don't know all of the organizational or structural details, but I think the FP7 is sort of like the U.S. National Science Foundation. The EU FP7 is has a defined work-focus areas, allocated budget for different areas, and will be distributing funds to companies, organizations, instituitions that are working on projects in health; food, agriculture and biotechnology; information and communication technologies; nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies; energy; environment; transport (including aeronautics); socio-economic sciences and humanities; security, and space.

    Here's a breakdown of how the program works and how money is allocated: http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp7/pdf/fp7-factsheets_en.pdf

    And here's a look at the countries participating and featured projects: http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp7/index_en.cfm?pg=country-profiles

    I don't see a list naming specific companies, but I'll keep that in the back of my mind… I know carmaker Volvo is participating; I saw a press release from them and that's how I learned about the FP7.

  9. Jennifer Baljko
    July 13, 2012

    Bolaji, Anna and Tiriapur – Interesting that you mention the venture capital angle. Lately, I've been finding myself participating in various informal conversations about the VC community in Europe and how's it different than the US. And, just yesterday while I was looking up something else for an non-EBN story, I came across this Feb. 2012 study from the European Parliament on this topic: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/fr/studiesdownload.html?languageDocument=EN&file=66851

    I'm still coming to speed on the EU VC dynamics, but what I'm learning is that generally VCs, it seems, get involved in later stages of funding here, as opposed to be the front men for seed money; if memory serves, this is different from the way Silicon Valley grew. And, legally and taxwise, things are different as well. Also, it seems that while their may be high net worth individuals who may want to be angel investors of one variety or another, I've been told that the exit strategies — at least in Spain, I don't know for the rest of Europe – are very different than in the valley. Companies and investors seemed to be tied to longer investment timelines, and it's not the “I give you money now and one or two years when the start-up is sold I make three times my investment.” From the stories I've heard and have not confirmed independently, the idea that you will start a company and sell it two years is still very much a US-centric concept; here – again in Spain – the idea still seems to be that you will start a business and grow this business for some longer-term amount of time. It's a different mindset here… not good or bad, just different than what I took as normal when I lived in San Francisco and drove frequently down to San Jose.

    There have been a number of entrepreneurial types of conferences in the Barcelona-Girona area where experienced local and international business people give hands-on, how-to advice to young people. IMPULSA was one of them. So as times get tougher and a new generation of university and MBA grads hit the street, we might see more necessary creative thinking and new funding models going into new business development plans.

  10. mfbertozzi
    July 13, 2012

    It is a good point Jennifer, I agree with the fact EU programs could act as interesting asset for allowing recovery actions on business and then for people, as consequence. I feel sometimes EU Commission plans are not broadcast enough within the continent. Hope things will change in the future.

  11. Wale Bakare
    July 13, 2012

    A side look at  a smart technology – UK government has had a plan in place to commence replacement of gas and electricity meters and deploying smart meters come year 2014, but some energy suppliers have begun deployment in 2012 though. The 53 Millions home meters replacement is estimated at £11.7billion, so also British telecoms and others are bidding for smart metering infrastructure project worth in range of £7billion – £11billion. Read here

  12. Wale Bakare
    July 13, 2012

    I agree with that. Infact, positive pro-activities should be in pipeline to boost the Europe economic situation.

  13. mfbertozzi
    July 15, 2012

    @WaleB: very good to know, they are big numbers and maybe one of the biggest project, for now, in the sector; I am quite curious in seeing the results by 2014, looking forward for real results and maybe for cloning the projects in other countries.

  14. Eldredge
    July 15, 2012

    I can undersdtand why the VC community would want to invest at a later stage in the development progress – it seems ike that would increae their chances for a successful investment. At the same time, as a general matter, it seems like this apporach would slow down the development process.

  15. Wale Bakare
    July 15, 2012

    Yes, a big project within UK and perhaps the area has started seen opportunities springing up — ranging from ISVs to OEMs. I have recently ran across similar reports on projects of that type embarking upon in Canada and also Norway, most Norwagian leading universities are partnering with energy & oil/gas operators in potential projects in the area.

  16. _hm
    July 15, 2012

    Involvement of University and Space/military organizations is very critical for this. They know future need and unresovled problem.

  17. Daniel
    July 16, 2012

    Jennifer, what's the duration of the project.  If the duration is too short, I don't think they are able to achieve the targets. What made them to think about a similar initative.

  18. Jennifer Baljko
    July 16, 2012

    _hm – Agree… R&D success requires close collaboration with public and private entities and will be interesting to see what kind of cross-EU teams match up on these programs.

  19. Jennifer Baljko
    July 16, 2012

    Eldredge – Does seem to be a bit of a double-edge sword, doesn't it? VCs want better chances of success so invest in something that looks more like a sure thing, but start-ups with great ideas will need seed money to test ideas early.  Have very much on my mind to follow more closely the VC activity here; maybe it will turn up some interesting news…

  20. Eldredge
    July 16, 2012

    @Jennifer – Itwould be interesting to know what their criteria is for investing, and how much competition there is for funds in US versus European markets.

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