Emerging Europe’s Innovation Pathway

Creating an Environment in which Start-ups Can Thrive

8 December 2020

How can start-ups with a good idea and the technology base develop into successful businesses while escaping the ‘valley of death’? EIT Jumpstarter is an example of a pre-accelerator programme that is determined to close the skills gap in the region.

Dóra Marosvölgyi is an EIT Health expert in the field of early-stage start-ups, and she runs and develops one of the flagship European programmes called EIT Jumpstarter.

We are interested in the subject of what you’re working on generally, but also because our organisation runs New Europe 100, which showcases talent from across the region, and we’re always looking for success stories, and the projects and teams behind them that were already fruitful in various ways in the digital age, so it fits well with your programme. What exactly is EIT Jumpstarter?

Dóra Marosvölgyi

Dóra Marosvölgyi: EIT Jumpstarter, which I manage, is a pre-accelerator programme of the EU. Basically, our aim with the programme is to close the skills gap in the various emerging regions of Europe, from the Central and Eastern parts to Southern Europe.

Here, we have a goldmine of talent at our disposal but, at the same time, fewer innovations reach the market from this region, in comparison to Western Europe, the US or Israel. This is why this programme is run within this region to really close the skills gap and make the best of the talent pool here.

Initially, we look for research teams from emerging Europe to enter the programme. During the programme, we provide them with business training, mentoring, and we connect them with potential customers in order to validate their solutions.

Next, we also try to change their mindset. By bringing in business skills and knowledge in order to really support these talented individuals and teams in order to allow their innovations to reach the market in an expedited manner.

We also have very early-stage investor contacts. So, if a team decides to really start their venture, then we are also able to connect them with venture capitalists.

EIT Jumpstarter is a joint programme meaning that we cover six thematic areas, all addressing social issues crucial to EU citizens. These areas include health care, agri-food, raw materials, urban mobility, energy and manufacturing.

Tell us more about the European Institute of Technology. Why has it developed this programme? What is its driving mission? What does it hope to achieve through the Jumpstarter?

The working model of the EIT is to connect the key players in our innovation ecosystem, comprising corporations, research institutes and universities all across Europe.

We want to create an environment in which innovation can thrive and reach the market.

It boils down to the innovation pathway, it targets the innovators with ideas to those who want to create the business.

This is the part of the journey when innovators have the idea and the technology base only, but it still needs validation from the technical point of view as well as confirmation whether it meets customers’ needs.

So it is not only about supporting technology to push for innovation, but really for meeting the demands of the market, and determining who has the potential to create a positive impact on society.

This early stage is always very risky; risky for investors because ideas can fail many times.

With Jumpstarter, we help to bridge the so-called ‘valley of death’. By pushing for validation, we mitigate some of the risks.

For how many years has it been operating this programme?

The first edition started in 2017, and since then, we have grown the programme quite significantly.

In 2017, it only covered half of the area of the industries such as health and raw materials. The programme has grown dynamically, taking on board also challenges from other economic sectors such as agri-foods and energy, manufacturing and urban mobility. In general, we have managed to double the participating teams in the programme.

Can you say something more about the numbers? Start-ups often fail, something like 90 per cent or even more fail; so how many success stories have you coached?

So far, we have already trained and upscaled more than three hundred innovators in this region. In 2020, we selected 129 teams out of around 350 applicants. They have all received training, then the most promising ideas were filtered, and a90 teams will stay with the programme, while only 6 teams gained victory during the Finals that took place in November.

I can say that today, in this edition, six start-ups have already been created, and we know that six more had the intention of doing so in the coming months, which is a quite significant number, especially considering that in this early stage, together with all the risks.

I can say that today, in this edition, six start-ups have already been created, and we know that six more had the intention of doing so in the coming months, which is a quite significant number, especially considering that in this is an early stage of developing ideas into budding businesses.

Of course, this phase is risky for many different reasons. For instance, the idea fails during the validation phase.

The other issue can be that they find out that the innovator’s mindset is not compatible with an entrepreneurial outlook. Some of them, in the end, decide to stay in the lab. Nevertheless, within the EIT Jumpstarter, we set up and optional networking opportunity for scientists to meet young entrepreneurs and join forces with them to create their own start-ups.

However, it is also an acceptable outcome of the programme that the innovators hand over the research project to those who want to bring it to the market, and then they stay in the lab and do the research.

So these projects are predominantly technology-based. One would not say they are traditional because they’re innovative, but in a sense, they’re not digital or digitally-driven. They are from the areas that you mentioned earlier, but what do you see as booming sectors?

2020 is a special year when the healthcare industry mobilised forces through international networks to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is worth to mention that not only the health tech innovators worked on the case.

We are witnessing some cross-sector areas, for example, innovations from the agri-food business or the manufacturing industry, which also respond to the COVID-19 challenge.

Perhaps not too surprising is the boom in the health care field, beyond those solutions targeting the detection of viruses or treatment there are some ideas targeting television and also mindful solutions using virtual reality that are also connected to treating the longer-term effects of the isolation due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. All exciting ideas for the future.

 

 

This is an interview with Dóra Marosvölgyi (Project Manager EIT Health) conducted by Wojciech Przybylski, Editor-in-Chief of Visegrad Insight, and edited by Galan Dall, Editor-at-Large of Visegrad Insight. Find out more about the upcoming New Europe 100 Forum, future activities and our partners here. For updates, follow @NewEurope100.

The interview is part of a project supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

 

 

 

 

Galan Dall

Managing Editor of Visegrad Insight

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