For over thirty year, Eureka has supported the internationalization of European businesses with innovative ideas. With a publicly funded, intergovernmental network covering over 40 countries, their aim is to enhance European competitiveness.
Leaders League. What are the main challenges Europe faces in remaining innovative in the global market, and what role does Eureka play ensuring this?
Francisco Marín. Europe is still the global leader in knowledge generation despite a deceleration in the past few years. Nevertheless, this knowledge hasn’t translated efficiently into the international market, a phenomenon many call “the European paradox.” The challenge is then pretty clear: to reorient initiatives which have been traditionally focused on research and knowledge production toward more market-focused programs; it’s clear this trend has been developing over the past number of years. For me, knowledge production and market application enjoy peaceful co-existence and interdependence, far from the conflictual relationship one might be led to believe exists between them. That’s why Eureka – as an intergovernmental platform that creates a connection between industrial actors – is the backdoor that leads to the market. We create the bridges between talent and market, knowledge and application. We have been successful in doing so in the past, by encouraging international cooperation with non-European actors such as Canada, South Korea, South Africa and, in the near future, Chile as an associate actor, whose involvement Spain encourages.
Leaders League. What does Eureka look for in potential projects?
Francisco Marín. Eureka, as the link between countries and innovators, does not manage the budget of any project, which makes the whole process more transparent and efficient. Eureka works as a certificate of quality that tells a country which projects are potentially interesting so that their government can fund them directly. Once the project has been approved by us, this certificate opens the door to a variety of public funding advantages, which in Spain are managed by the CDTI (Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology). The evaluation of projects is done by each country, with the exception of Eurostars, which uses a group of external analysts. Eurostars candidates go through a rigorous selection process with only excellent projects meeting the criteria. They must provide effective cooperation between the parties involved and the project must end with the creation of a product, process or innovative service that can be commercialized in the short to medium term. In other words, we help fund projects which are close to the market irrespective of the industry they concern.
Leaders League. How does Eureka manage to persuade teams worldwide to work on a project?
Francisco Marín. Our role in innovation resembles that of a matchmaker. First, we have a network of national project coordinators (NPCs) who are responsible for marketing in each country. Basically they work as a catalyst in the market they participate in, looking for new actors to participate through Eureka. In this way, the NPCs will always be the first point of contact for projects. For example, if a Spanish innovator wants to participate in a Russian project, the first contact will be between the Spanish and Russian NPCs. We have a stable network of highly motivated people that lay the foundations on which the projects themselves are built. Once the link between the companies has been established, we consider our part done, although we do hold periodical follow-up meetings. Second, we organize an event called Innovation Week, where companies meet in person. This year it is being held in Barcelona and is expected to have around 1,000 participants, among them several non-Europeans, including fifty South Korean companies and twenty from Chile.