Europe must close the gap between science and business

The Science|Business Academic Enterprise Awards for spin-outs highlight Europe’s innovation potential and underline the need for closer collaboration between industry and academe, says Jerzy Buzek MEP, former president of the European Parliament

Jerzy Buzek, former president and member of the European Parliament

European businesses and academic researchers need to collaborate more closely to create an innovation-driven economy says MEP Jerzy Buzek, former president of the European Parliament. “Innovation is not a policy – it’s a state of mind,” Buzek told delegates at the Science|Business Academic Enterprise (ACES) Awards held in Brussels last month. 
But said Buzek, “In the European continent unfortunately, we differ from our friends on the opposite side of the Atlantic - who think all the time how to make their economy more innovative.” 

As he applauded the talent and vision of the eight ACES entrepreneur finalists, Buzek said more effort is needed. Europe remains too divided as a continent – a patchwork quilt of countries that fail to collaborate on research and the development of new technologies. Buzek, a chemical engineer by training and former prime minister of Poland, noted that patents invented in the EU often are sold and implemented abroad, where production costs are lower. “I feel it everywhere when I move in the EU. We need quite a new approach to this problem because we are in crisis and we should have an exit strategy,” he said.

The EU may be recovering from the financial crisis of 2009-2010 but GDP growth of 0-1 per cent across the region is not enough, said Buzek. “We need an exit strategy that is much stronger. We need growth of 3-5 per cent growth to create jobs.”

How to increase growth

Buzek who is rapporteur for Framework Programme 7 and for the Commission’s Strategic Energy Technology Plan, proposed two ways to increase growth across the EU – a single market in energy to lower costs and boost Europe’s industrial competitiveness, and a more innovation-driven economy. 

Research is a key driver of innovation, and under the Commission’s 2020 strategy, the EU should be investing 3 per cent of GDP in research and development by 2020. “We are far away from that level,” Buzek said. The EU currently invests roughly 2 per cent of GDP in R&D, compared to 2.8 per cent by the US and 4.25 per cent by Israel.
He also called for closer collaboration between researchers and companies to close the gap between science and business. “More funding intended for innovation should be transferred via the business sector,” he said. “Business and industry should formulate the most important topics – and the expectations.”

The ACES awards programme was created in 2008 by the Science|Business Innovation Board to recognise entrepreneurship at academic institutions. Buzek called for more competitions like ACES to be launched across Europe. “You truely are the pioneers of a modern approach to innovation on a big scale. It’s the task of all of us now to export this success Europe-wide,” he said. “Academia and industry is the most important link in innovation.” 

Despite what is widely seen as poor climate for investment, the ACES spin-out finalists all managed to attract funding to capitalise on Europe’s world-ranked research and create promising enterprises. 

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