Fabio Pianesi, EIT Digital: There is Great Potential in the Balkan Region
Date: December 23rd 2019
“EIT Digital aims to be the ultimate driver of the digital transformation, not only in places where it operates brick-and-mortar representations. Under the ARISE Europe programme, EIT Digital has also teamed up with accelerators and universities in other parts of Europe to help local innovation communities grow and benefit from the EIT Digital network,” states EIT Digital’s webpage. How successful has the programme been and how many startups or individual entrepreneurs has it helped so far? Energetika.NET asked Fabio Pianesi, Head of External Collaboration and member of the management committee of EIT Digital, these, as well as other relevant, questions about the EIT Digital Venture Programme, the EIT Digital Academy, and the startup ecosystem in general. EIT Digital is the main partner of ABC Accelerator’s open day event called ‘Mingle & Jingle’, in which ABC presented its startup opportunities. EIT Digital’s were among them.
Fabio Pianesi received his degree in psychology from the University of Rome (magna cum laude) in 1980, and a specialisation in computer science from the same university in 1986. After working as clinical neuropsychologist, in 1988 he joined FBK-IRST, where he served as head of the TCC (Cognitive and Communication Technologies) division (2003-2008), head of the joint FBK-University of Trento ‘Computational Cognition Laboratory’ (2008-2011) and manager of the Ambient Assisted Living activities of FBK (2008-2011). He served as chairman of the board of directors of CELCT, a spin-off company devoted to the evaluation of language and communication technology (shareholders: FBK and DFKI). Pianesi is currenty Vice-director for Research at Trento RISE and Head of External Collaboration at EIT Digital. During the years, his research interests have covered topics such as Natural Language Processing, Formal and Computational Linguistics, HIC and Multimodal Interaction. He has recently been focusing on ICT for Independent Living, Human Behaviour Analysis and Life Logging, and Social Computing. Fabio Pianesi teaches Cognitive Ergonomics at the University of Trento.
One of EIT Digital’s missions is to help “European entrepreneurs with great tech business ideas to finalise their minimal viable product (MVP) and start their venture”, whereby they are offered up to EUR 15,000 and a six week pre-acceleration programme. How open are entrepreneurs to this programme and what has your experience been to date? Have you witnessed, for example, that entrepreneurs are perhaps slightly too protective of their ideas or are they open to sharing them in exchange for such incentives? How many entrepreneurs and startups have taken part in the EIT Digital Venture Programme so far and what would you say have been the most important ‘take aways’?
The EIT Digital Venture Programme is a major activity that we have been running in the Balkan region with two editions - one targeting the West Balkans (run in cooperation with ABC Accelerator – Ljubljana) and the other targeting the East Balkans (run in cooperation with Found.ation – Athens). The Venture programme targets teams of entrepreneurs. It provides them with cash prizes of up to EUR 15,000, helps them to advance their MVP and to establish their venture via an intensive pre-acceleration phase.
Among the success cases, it is worth mentioning Hotspoter and SOS, which found a partner for a pilot implementation or the first paying customer during execution of the programme, and Worig, which already has a follow up investment. The best teams were also given the opportunity to matchmake with our pan-European network of corporate partners and investors during the EIT Digital Annual Conference in Brussels.
Referring to the first question, would you say that there are huge differences between, let’s say, Balkan entrepreneurs and startups and those in Spain or the Baltics? Can you maybe state which sectors’ or even nations’ entrepreneurs and startups are most willing to learn and educate?
Talent and creativity are equally present across Europe, but the maturity of startup ecosystems varies across countries. Growth of startups is sensitive to the national and regional opportunities for starting and doing business, accessing to finance and to the openness of corporates to collaboration with startups. In the past two years we have analysed the Baltic and SEE startup ecosystems and published reports with our partner Startup Wise Guys and two reports on the SEE startup ecosystem with ABC Accelerator. According to the findings, startups from the Baltic countries benefit from policymakers’ focus on digitalisation and on easing the start of establishment of business, as well as from good connections to close, tech-advanced countries. In addition, startups from the Baltics are more prone to internationalisation from an early stage. The Balkan scene appears somewhat more fragmented, with different levels of development of startup ecosystems and legislation, which don’t always favour the establishment and growth of startups. In terms of sectors, fintech and mobility are predominating in the Baltics, and there are a lot of software development scaleups in the Balkan region. We have noticed great potential in the Balkan region, which the EIT Digital Venture Programme and the EIT Digital Accelerator are committed to transforming into actual opportunities.
So, how do you decide which countries to cover? Start-up teams from Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro participated in your last programme that took place in Slovenia (MORE – only in Slovene).
The Venture Programme is open to all the Balkan countries. Selection takes place through an open and transparent process, which aims to identify the team with the best deep-tech based idea and with the greatest potential to transform it into an actual business.
Turning to education activities, let me ask you what things do entrepreneurs and startups most urgently need to be educated about? What has been your experience of this to date?
The EIT Digital Academy offers a wide-range of blended education programmes. It provides nine master’s programmes, an industrial doctoral programme, and several summer schools, and also extends its reach to professionals via its professional school. In all cases, technical excellence is developed along with a specific emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurial skills.
What do you offer to those that are interested in the EIT Digital Academy and how can they apply? Are there certain preconditions that they have to meet in order to apply?
The EIT Digital Academy provides master and doctoral level programmes and also offers summers schools and professional training. The topics of our educational programmes are aligned with EIT Digital’s focus areas: digital tech, digital industry, digital wellbeing, digital cities, digital finance (MORE).
The master’s school provides nine double degree programs from top 18 universities in nine EU member states. As part of their curriculum, students between the first and second year also participate in one of EIT Digital’s summer schools. All our master courses provide a 30 ECTS Innovation and Entrepreneurship module, empowering graduates with in-depth practical knowledge and soft skills for innovation. At the end of a master’s programme, graduates receive two university degrees and an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate issued by EIT itself (MORE).
The two-week summer schools (MORE) give participants the opportunity to address business challenges provided by corporates, SMEs and startups. In teams they work on how to solve global challenges and how to build up startups in practice. At the end of the school the teams compete with each other to pitch their solution in front of a business case provider. In 2019 we ran the first EIT Digital Summer School in the Balkans, organised by the University of Ljubljana. Sixteen summer schools are planned for 2020.
The six Doctoral Training Centres (DTC) implement EIT Digital’s Industrial Doctoral School. The doctoral students from the beginning of the programme work with one of the DTCs and a relevant company/business partner (MORE).
The Professional School offers professional courses developed by top players in Europe’s digital scene. The courses meet the needs of working professionals through an innovative blended learning format - a combination of online learning and face-to-face masterclasses. The courses translate participants’ educational experience into measures for the advancement of their career and the success of their company (MORE).
What kind of openness have you witnessed when it comes to networks between accelerators, which mainly represent the private sector, and universities, which mainly represent the public sector? Is the ‘bridge’ among them today completely open or can you still see potential for improvement?
There has definitely been notable progress, however, there is still much to be done in a few countries. Much depends on the capacity, resources and open innovation mindset of individual organisations, but it is also strongly dependent on the overall maturity of the ecosystem and on how supportive the environment created by policymakers is. ARISE Europe has always stimulated and supported cooperation between players in innovation and universities, especially in terms of the development of skills and the growth of entrepreneurial talents.
Are you preparing anything new for 2020?
The details of the Venture Programme 2021 are now being laid down and we will start promoting it in the first quarter of 2020 through roadshows in targeted countries, social media, press releases, etc. As was the case in 2018 and 2019, the West and East Balkan countries will be part of our target.
We will strengthen our Virtual Tech Marketplace, which gives corporates the opportunity to scout for new technologies and engage with scaleups from within the international portfolio of the EIT Digital Accelerator consisting of European high-growth and deep-tech companies. The will also be an increased effort to involve Slovenian corporates. In 2020 two brand new master programmes will start on Digital Manufacturing and Fintech. The summer school is expanding to new locations (Braga, 2020). We can confirm that one of our summer schools will be organised in Slovenia by the University of Ljubljana.
EIT Digital currently has a dozen partners across the EU – from Lisbon to Tallinn, while in Slovenia you even have two – ABC Accelerator and the University of Ljubljana.
EIT Digital is a leading European digital innovation and entrepreneurial education organisation that creates an open and innovative setting to enable collaboration among more than 200 corporations, innovative SMEs, startups, universities and research institutions all across Europe. In addition, through the ARISE Europe activities, EIT Digital is active in countries located in CEE, the Baltics, and SEE, where the organisation does not have an office. In Slovenia we work in close cooperation with our partner ABC Accelerator which is helping us to connect the nation to EIT Digital’s innovation ecosystem and bring our programmes closer to Slovenian industry, including corporations, scaleups and startups. Similarly, last year we launched our cooperation with the University of Ljubljana as our partner in education activities and together we have already organised a two-week summer school aimed at developing entrepreneurial skills of tech students. The EIT Digital Schools also contribute to the visibility of the host universities for students coming from other countries.
How can an organisation become an EIT Digital partner and what kind of partners are you looking for? Are you still open for new partners across Europe and maybe even in non-EU countries - especially Balkan countries?
Our partner network is continuously growing, and we are committed to involving various key innovative players, such as corporations, universities, research institutions, innovative SMEs, etc. Partnership is open to any organisation that values open innovation, collaborative work, and has a passion to strengthen Europe’s position in the digital world. In terms of ARISE Europe, we are steadily expanding our collaboration with innovation and education organisations. In 2019 we began collaboration with the Krakow Technology Park in Poland, Techcelerator in Romania, and the Bulgarian Venture Capital Association.
This article is available also in Slovene.
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