They say that to achieve great things we must to work together. And this is the aim of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), the first European initiative to foster European leadership and competitiveness in innovation. To do so, starting in 2007, they have been setting up knowledge and innovation communities (KIC) in various arenas, including EIT Health. Marco Pugliese will lead the Spanish node of this project, EIT Health Spain, based at the Barcelona Science Park (PCB).
What is EIT Health?
EIT Health is a European association under the EIT umbrella that aims to promote wellbeing in health, foster new practices and favor healthy ageing for all European citizens. It’s a group of approximately 180 partners from different countries.
Which countries are participating?
Spain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Ireland, Germany, and Sweden are the main nodes of EIT Health. Then there are also what are known as Innostar nodes (Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Wales). Each one of the nodes features institutions from three different sectors that make up a knowledge triangle in which EIT Health will act.
So, EIT Health will focus on three sectors: which ones?
The main pillars are business creation, innovation and education. In the first, the project will act as an accelerator, encompassing everything associated with starting up businesses, search for funding, support for technology-based SMEs, etc. The innovation pillar will promote projects companies propose for the market, but also those that arise from the needs of the market and society itself. Finally, the education pillar seeks to train (bio)entrepreneurs in health, combining technological expertise and best pedagogical practices.
Ambitious goals. How will they be achieved?
To start with, in 2016 we expect to set in motion 90 interrelated activities, executed by the nodes, create 19 new products on the market, incubate more than 70 new business ideas, train more than 700 healthcare professionals and have more than 150,000 people participate in online activities and training courses.
It must be difficult to get 180 partners on board with these joint goals…
Each node must have a balance of partners in each of the three areas to promote collaboration among them. The idea is that they work together, not as separate areas. The Spanish node has 18 partners, from the purely academic to those associated with business education, to the pharmaceutical industry, to public research centers and foundations. This diversity makes collaboration possible. And this requirement must also apply to interaction among nodes to create networks and cross collaboration.
And this is where the role of the directors of each node comes into play, in your case for Spain…
Exactly. I think the node directors should be facilitators to improve communication between EIT headquarters and the partners and among the partners themselves. We want everything to be very transparent and for information to flow quickly because we can only create synergies if members know what the other partners are doing.
How do members benefit from being part of EIT Health?
It has direct and indirect benefits. On one hand, it allows members to get funding for their projects and activities. On the other, it increases their network of contacts and networking opportunities. The fact that a partner doesn’t have funding for a project or activity doesn’t exclude them from contacting stakeholders they may end up collaborating with actively, whether they are members of EIT Health or not. Powerful strategic alliances will be built, and this is the most important indirect benefit.
Will these alliances ensure Europe is more competitive against world powers like the United States and Japan?
We aren’t going anywhere on our own. Companies may be successful, yes, but innovation is only possible when we reach a critical mass, whether in economic or scientific terms. This is taken for granted in the United States. With more than 100 quality partners in each node, we have a greater chance of success. We want to create a true European consortium in health with the best stakeholders out there.
Is it a good opportunity for Spanish companies?
Without a doubt. I think EIT Health is an incredible opportunity to forge contacts with cutting-edge European centers. We’ve got privileged seats on this train.
Let’s talk figures. What funding does EIT Health have?
Between the activities funded by partners and those with funding from EIT Health, we’re talking about a general budget of roughly €140 millions for 2016 alone. 25% of the budget comes from the EIT and the partners contribute the rest.
How are these resources distributed?
It depends on the activities. There’s no specific budget for each node: on an operational level the nodes are funded through contributions from their partners and only have a budget assigned for activities to fuel networking and collaboration with other nodes.
Members are seeking return on investment. When can we start talking about results?
Our strategic agenda is set for 2022 because we need time to develop and invest. In healthcare, we see results in the middle or long term and parameters for success aren’t always easily quantifiable. We’ll know how many spin-offs have been created or how many training courses have been done, but most of the parameters can't be measured, like the impact on society’s wellbeing. We need to transmit this idea beyond the consortium so that people understand why we’re different from other collaborative projects.
What should the message be?
We have to tell people what we are doing so they understand why health is so important, but public institutions as well. We want lasting political support in Europe and locally that will allow us the time we need to see results. It can’t be tied to specific political legislatures.
Are the middle/long-term goals of the plan achievable?
They’re ambitious but realistic. The partners involved are very powerful both in terms of education and of innovation and industry. I find this very hopeful and optimistic.
You need to be optimistic to face a challenge like this…
My commitment and desire is to meet the goals set and help the Spanish node get to 2022 having done as many activities as possible and being one of the most active stakeholders. It’s a personal challenge, undoubtedly, but it’s also one for the association as a whole. EIT Health started this way because someone had to lay the first stone. If we can truly forge connections among partners and unite their individual capacities, I think the project can be a great success that won’t end in 2022 but continue on with new stakeholders.