European Innovation Council

Jean-David MALO
Director for Open Innovation and Open Science
European Commission – Directorate General for Research and Innovation

Jean-David MALO

Director for Open Innovation and Open Science, European Commission – Directorate General for Research and Innovation


"In recent years, the EU has made significant progress to reinforce its global position in basic science, including in fields that are critical for our future economy, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), bioscience and novel materials. In particular the European Research Council (ERC) has established itself as a beacon attracting excellent scientists from across the EU and internationally. Europe has also caught up with the US and other regions in terms of the number of startups. The Investment Plan initiated by President Juncker has also substantially increased the availability of finance for innovative projects and SMEs, including through the recent launch of the Venture EU initiative initiated by Commissioner Moedas in its Open Innovation stand to create larger, trans-national venture capital funds of funds.

However, while Europe was the world leader in technology at the start of the 20th century, at the beginning of the 21st century, it is far from this position. Europe remains in a weak position in terms of transferring research excellence into innovation (e.g. the EU is a world leader in AI research, but far behind other regions on AI commercialisation), and for the scale up phase of innovative startups (e.g. the EU is home to only a handful of €1 billion startups (“unicorns”)) relative to the US and Asia (to be noted also for example that none of the 20 global internet companies by market valuation are from the EU (11 from the US (including the top 5), 9 from China)).

Over the coming decade, large parts of the economy and more globally of the society itself will be reinvented due to the emergence of technologies, such as AI, quantum, robotics, etc. A deep-tech (heavily relying on science and engineering) revolution is coming. Europe has the talent, motivation and resources to lead the world in the next generation of breakthrough / market creating and disruptive innovations. But smart public policy and relevant funding means are urgently needed to maximise the opportunities and tackle the existing barriers (fragmented VC market; risk aversion for disruptive science and innovation; market scale).

Here is the purpose and the vision of the European Innovation Council (EIC) initiated and shaped by Commissioner Carlos Moedas and supported by the European Council in its conclusions of June 28, 2018.  The EIC, which is proposed to be at the heart of the Innovation pillar of the forthcoming Horizon Europe – the EU Framework for Research and Innovation (2021-2027), will therefore focus on detecting, nurturing, supporting and scaling-up breakthrough market-creating and disruptive innovation, from the idea (“Pathfinder” scheme) down to market deployment and scale-up (“Accelerator” scheme).

While the Pathfinder will provide grants to high-risk cutting-edge projects implemented by consortia exploring new territories aiming at developing radical and innovative technologies, the Accelerator will provide single start-ups or SMEs carrying out disruptive innovation, which are still too risky to attract private investments with the necessary means to scale up through a mix a grant and finance (notably equity support) with the ultimate objective to incentivise and attract subsequently private investments.

Building on the visionary recommendations of a High-Level Group of Innovators chaired by Hermann Hauser (F.A.S.T.), the EIC will be the unique place where inventors meet innovators, and investors. It will operate on an innovator-centric basis: whilst specific objectives may be identified and implemented via top-down calls (“challenges”), a continuously open bottom-up competitive call will allow any innovation in any area or field to be proposed.

Its two main instruments (Pathfinder and Accelerator) will be interconnected, as to provide a seamless support to innovators along the whole chain, but also connected to the other Pillars of Horizon Europe and, subject to a pilot phase, also to national / regional programmes for advanced research. Last but not least, EIC projects will benefit from the steer of Programme Managers who will bring them additional added value through their visionary thinking, leadership, sense of financial/budgetary responsibility, technical expertise and communication skills.

The EIC is not for tomorrow. It is in fact already starting because time is running and we cannot wait to act. After a first pilot launched at the end of 2017 using various instruments under Horizon 2020, an Enhanced EIC Pilot will be launched in 2019 at the request of the European Council: with more than €1 billion budget over the last 2 years of Horizon 2020 (2019-2020), pilots of both the EIC Pathfinder and Accelerator will be tested paving the ground to an even more ambitious programme of €10 billion under Horizon Europe.

With the EIC, an important and promising step change in the impact of European support to innovators is raising! Europe is acting F.A.S.T.! Europe is back!"