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Dra. Montserrat Vendrell

CEO of Biocat


On October 18, the EU published the 2011 R&D Scoreboard, which analyzes R&D investment in 1,400 companies —400 European businesses and one thousand from the rest of the world. The results are hopeful, at first glance, because R&D investment has shown significant recovery on a global level, up 4% versus the 1.9% drop seen in 2009. The indicators are even better for Europe, where investment grew 6.1% in 2010, when the previous year saw a 2.6% drop. The downside is revealed, however, when comparing European figures with those for the United States, where recovery in R&D investment is happening at an even faster rate, up 10% in the past year.

In school language, we could say that Europe is showing adequate progress in innovation but hasn’t done its homework in competitiveness.

For some time now, political and technical leadership in the European Union have been aware of this unresolved matter. As a result, the EU’s 2020 Strategy aims for R&D investment to reach 3% of the GDP, with the goal of overtaking the USA (2.76% of the GDP in 2008) and closing the gap with Asian competitors like Japan (3.44% of the GDP in 2008). R&D investment in China isn’t as high (1.52% of the GDP in 2008) but with annual GDP growth at more than 10%, by simply maintaining their investment levels, they are a force to be reckoned with.

At the different technical levels seen in EU countries, there is also a consensus on the need to commit to innovation and competitiveness, and there is extensive support for the instruments chosen to do so. This has been demonstrated throughout 2011 in the consultation process carried out by the European Commission to evaluate the strategic orientation and steps taken so far by the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT).

More than 180 European organizations —including Biocat— have participated in this consultation, which has validated the work model the EIT represents and whose main value added is the unique integration of higher education, entrepreneurship, research and innovation. Participating bodies believe that the EIT is destined to play a key role in the 2020 Strategy and there is ample consensus on the importance the educational mission established by this institute must be given. Creative thinking and entrepreneurship must be, according to the experts, the key elements of this training, which must also promote new models for sharing knowledge and foster open innovation.

Both the open consultation and the various external evaluations carried out by the EIT in 2011 give a passing grade to the model based on KICs (Knowledge and Innovation Communities), which allow different countries to work as a network on issues related to a strategic topic, bringing together companies, research entities and higher education centers in each co-location center. The consolidation of the three existing KICs —which focus on climate change, clean energy and the information society, respectively— is considered a key priority in the current stage of the EIT, which is just as important as selecting the areas the new KICs, which are expected to start up in early 2014, will focus on. 

The consultation process has also served to fuel the proposed Strategic Innovation Agenda that the EIT created for the European Commission, and which points to topics that could be the focus of new calls for KICs: Human Life and Health; Human Learning and Learning Environments; Food for Future; Manufacturing by and for Creative Human Beings; Security and Safety; and Mobility and Smart Cities. The final decision will be guided by the estimated social and economic impact of each topic, their complementarity with existing EU funds and programs, the competitive advantage achieved through the KIC-EIT model and, above all, the availability of scientific and technical competences —in fields like ours, biotechnology— that will allow us to take significant steps forward in innovation and world leadership through the focalization of efforts that EIT support enables.

The good news is that the BioRegion of Catalonia is well positioned to be able to contribute research, training and business assets in a number of these topics, as well as taking on a noteworthy place in the European innovation landscape. The work Biocat has done over the past two years to lay the foundation for a winning bid for a KIC in health gives us a competitive advantage we must make the most of. The EIT model —in which European funds (25%) are used, mostly, to leverage other public and private investment (75%) for knowledge-based projects that have a clear market focus— requires a dynamic attitude, effort and creativity from the very beginning, but it is an opportunity we can’t let pass us by.

An innovative Europe must be a horizon to help us move forward; and not just to mirror what is done by other leading countries, like Germany, but to be an active part, a key element, of this collective drive for competitiveness.

Europe is committed to innovation and so is Biocat.

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