This week I’m back in Brussels for the first Innovation Convention. It’s a healthily attended event at around 1200 delegates and has certainly attracted some high profile speakers – Jose Manuel Barroso and Maire Geoghegan-Quinn from the European Commission, Silvia Fendi and Viviane Westwood from the world of fashion, executives from Google, RyanAir, L’Oreal and a brief appearance by German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel by video. Presumably taking time out from her rather busy schedule in France at the moment, she assured us that innovation was central to the strategy for growth for 2020 and wished us all a successful event. If I can drop any more names by the end of the event, I will do!
Barroso, President of the EC launched the event yesterday morning with a call to strengthen the links between research, innovation and education, the three points of the ‘knowledge triangle’. European entrepreneurs need less red tape and solid investment to get the economy back on track. The Innovation Union flagship initiative itself is concentrating on ICT, climate change and sustainable energy, all themes that will be developed further during the event.
Barroso also announced the appointment of Prof Anne Glover as Chief Scientific Advisor to the EC and followed up with the winners of the Women Innovators Prizes – a tough competition won by Gitte Neubauer, founder of Cellzone, a drug discovery company for inflammatory diseases and cancer. In fact, 2 of the 3 prize winners were in the area of health, with the third in clean energy. With this laudable celebration of women’s achievements in innovation, I did wonder why it was necessary to have 3 female hostesses standing immobile on stage next to the trophies – for me, it slightly undermined the empowerment message.
The opening concluded with a discussion on ‘building a global innovation economy’ with executives from Alcatel-Lucent, L’Oreal, Biocom and Fendi, with the VC from Cambridge University. The session was rather skilfully chaired by Ann Mettler of the Lisbon Council. When introducing the speaker from Fendi (designer of the ‘baguette’ bag in case you didn’t know) she mentioned rather wistfully that she didn’t have one yet. I hope one is forthcoming.
All agreed that innovation, often used in the discussion as a synonym for creativity, was a ‘good thing’ in times of crisis – investment rates of 3 to 15% of turnover were bandied about for various industries. Jean-Paul Agon took a more robust line and said that Europe had an attitude problem – we need to invest in young talent, to avoid a ‘lost generation’ of scientists, nurture infrastructure and to be bold. When I asked the panel about the role of grid and cloud computing in the future of innovation, Leszek Borysiewicz of Cambridge University said yes to commercial use of the grid, yes to investment in clouds and watch out for what happens if you don’t pay attention to grid. Hear, hear!
(For a lively overview of the discussions check out Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/search/ic2011gold)