An open letter from the ATTRACT Advisory Board of industrial leaders to the EC president
Dear Mr. President,
A consistent theme of your Presidency has been finding innovative ways to leverage Europe’s strengths – financial, technological, industrial or cultural. Your Investment Plan for Europe, which has so far helped more than 200,000 small firms get loans and 100,000 get jobs, is an example. Now, we propose to leverage another European strength for jobs and growth: Our public laboratories.
These research infrastructure – such as synchrotrons, telescopes, sensor networks, and biomedical facilities – are a great asset. There are more than 400 of them, representing an aggregate European investment of more than €100 billion. We all know their scientific value – from mapping the universe to decoding the gene. About 50,000 researchers a year use them to produce 3,000 to 6,000 high-impact research papers annually. Collectively, they have made Europe a beacon of science to the world, generating knowledge and attracting talent.
But these labs also have great economic potential. Their research has already led to new medicines and hospital scanners, better understanding of climate change and environmental damage. The World Wide Web was born at one, CERN. Another, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, has advanced research in gene-editing, embryonic development and new tuberculosis drugs. The economic value of such labs has also been tested internationally: In Australia, work in radio telescopes led to creation of the now-ubiquitous WiFi technology, which has produced more than $200 million a year in license revenues to the government lab behind it.
The problem, however, is that such economic spin-offs are often serendipitous. We propose a new Co-Creation Partnership between European industry, academia and research infrastructure, to make these economic benefits routine.
Such a partnership would create an eco-system for innovation around these labs. New ideas, with economic potential, would be spotted at the labs systematically. Working with industry, small companies and investors, Europe’s brightest students and entrepreneurs would help develop these ideas, and bring them to market. An open innovation environment would help ideas flow easily and quickly at the earliest stages of technology development. Novel financial strategies, of the kind pioneered by the European Fund for Strategic Investment, would permit rapid scale up.
This is the plan of the ATTRACT consortium: a group of six leading European research infrastructure, two entrepreneurial universities, and a growing circle of corporate research managers and investors as advisors. The initiative focuses on a particular area of technology in which the labs have unique expertise: sensors, detectors, imaging and data analytics. These technologies will underpin Europe’s success in the Internet of Things, a prerequisite for smart cities, self-driving cars, environmental preservation, advanced manufacturing, a healthier population and a safer, secure society. We have begun this work already, creating an ideas-incubator, new student programmes and an investor community.
From an initial, pilot public investment of €20 million, we hope to see a major public-private, risk-sharing initiative emerge through the 2020s. It would provide returns at least ten-fold, producing more than 60,000 jobs. And it will ensure Europe’s leadership in a strategic technology sector.
Mr. President, we urge you to adopt and scale up the ATTRACT methodology of co-creation between industry and research infrastructure. It will make a substantial contribution to your recently announced plan to double the size of your Investment Plan for Europe.
The ATTRACT Advisory Board
- John Wood, Chair, ATTRACT Advisory Board; Secretary General, Association of Commonwealth Universities
- Monica Beltrametti, Xerox Chief Services Research Officer; Vice President and Centre Director, Xerox Research Centre Europe
- Sergio Bertolucci, Chair, Independent Scientific Advisory Committee, ATTRACT; Professor, University of Bologna
- Jan van den Biesen, Vice President Public R&D Programs, Philips Research
- Francisco Javier Cáceres, Director General, INEUSTAR (Spanish Association for Scientific Industry)
- Henry Chesbrough, Faculty Director, Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation, University of California-Berkeley; Professor, ESADE Business School
- Carlos Härtel, CTO & Chief Innovation Officer for the Regions, GE Europe
- Candace Johnson, President, EBAN (European Business Angels Network)
- Ric Parker, Former Director, Research & Technology, Rolls-Royce Group