The Young Innovators UNconvention: Mobilising business, government, and youth to foster innovation and employment in Europe.
On 26 and 27 June 2012, innovative and entrepreneurial youth from across Europe convened in Brussels for the first Young Innovators UNconvention, organized by the European Young Innovators Forum under the High Patronage of the President of the European Parliament, Martin SCHULZ.
A unique two-day event dedicated to youth innovation, the UNconvention brought together young innovators and leading personalities to guide and support them: entrepreneurs, executives, investors, experts and policy makers, joining forces to inspire innovation and stimulate growth in Europe. The UNconvention featured motivational keynotes by prominent speakers, panel discussions and interactive sessions, informal networking, and opportunities to meet with leaders of innovation and entrepreneurship from Europe and the USA.
The event also hosted the final of EYIF’s InnoPitch competition for the first European Young Innovator of the Year, and the launch of the European Parliament’s Regional Innovation Champions programme. The opening keynote Harry VAN DORENMALEN, chairman of IBM Europe, set the tone by stepping off the dais and engaging with young innovators in the audience.
His message was simple but forceful: “Don’t wait, go do something…make a mistake, but please go do something!” Jan MUEHLFEIT, chairman of Microsoft Europe, stressed the importance of developing people’s strengths and talents: “innovation is not only about the technology…it’s about human development, inspiration, motivation… because competition can copy everything but the people.” He argued that Europe should adopt an Innovation Education model that will truly support young entrepreneurs. Haiyan Zhang, designer and co-founder of OpenIDEO, explained how the open innovation platform can crowdsource human ingenuity by gathering a community of thousands of people to innovate and collaborate on solving major challenges. Professor Burton LEE of Stanford University delivered a sobering, fact-filled assessment of innovation in Europe compared to the U.S.A. and offered specific recommendations for improvement. Laurent PROBST, Regional Innovation Ecosystem Leader at PwC and founder of PwC’s Accelerator in Luxembourg, described the world of investment and the challenges that startups face in raising funds. He emphasized that startups need to accelerate growth and to think global early on. PwC’s Accelerator aims to help fast-growing European companies become global players.
Following a networking lunch, the highlight of the afternoon was the exciting Innopitch final. Six young innovators chosen through an online competition were invited to pitch their innovative idea to a jury of three leading venture capitalists: Carlos ESPINAL, Partner of Seedcamp, Europe’s leading micro-seed investment fund and mentoring program; Anne GLOVER, co-founder and CEO of venture capital firm Amadeus Capital Partners; and Matthias UMMENHOFER, Head of Equity and Risk Finance at the European Investment Fund. The finalists were: Dr. Tamas HAIDEGGER, Hand-in-Scan, Hungary; João ROMÃO, Wishareit, Portugal; Martin VAN AKEN, Sybil, Belgium; Dr. Matteo TANGI, UP-LAB, Italy; Lars SUDMANN, MyTeamBuildr, Germany; and Dr. Josep VIRGILI, RedEddy, Spain. The afternoon keynote speaker was Marne LEVINE, Vice President Global Public Policy of Facebook, who discussed the importance of social media for innovation and the initiatives that Facebook is taking to promote innovation on its platform. The first day of the UNconvention ended on a high note with an inspiring video message from Neelie KROES, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, followed by a powerful speech by Alec ROSS, Senior Advisor on Innovation to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary CLINTON. Alec was then joined by Constantijn VAN ORANJE-NASSAU, Deputy Head of Cabinet of Neelie KROES, for a panel discussion with audience Q&A moderated by Christophe LECLERCQ, founder and publisher of EurActiv. The next morning, Day 2 began with the Innocoffee, an informal breakfast roundtable led by Rohan SILVA, Senior Policy Advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron; Sheila MARCELO, founder and CEO, Care.com and Young Global Leader, World Economic Forum; Carlos ESPINAL of Seedcamp; and Karen WILSON of the OECD’s Structural Policy Division within the Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry.
The afternoon sessions were held at the European Parliament, starting with a distinguished panel of European and U.S. policy makers and experts who debated the direction of EU innovation policy and shared their views on the key challenges and best practices of innovation. The panel included: Alexander ALVARO, Vice-President of the European Parliament; William E. KENNARD, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union; Rohan SILVA; Maria Da Graça CARVALHO, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and Rapporteur for the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation; and Amalia SARTORI, MEP and Chair of the Committee on Industry,Research and Energy. The European Parliament’s Young Innovation Champions initiative was officially launched by Sidonia JEDRZEJEWSKA, MEP, who encouraged her colleagues to become regional champions for young innovators within their constituency and link them with the European Young Innovators Forum.
After 24 hours of suspense, the Innopitch award ceremony was presided by Dr. Anneli PAULI, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Research and Innovation. Tamas HAIDEGGER was named European Young Innovator of the Year 2012 for Hand-In-Scan, a technological innovation to prevent the spread of infections and diseases by promoting better handwashing hygiene, thereby saving up to 50.000 lives per year in Europe alone. The final session of the UNconvention was a panel debate on Women Entrepreneurship. Chaired by Sheila MARCELO, the panel of Dr. Anneli PAULI, Maria Da Graça CARVALHO, and Karen WILSON discussed the gender gap in entrepreneurship (only 30 percent of European entrepreneurs are women) and addressed the gender-specific challenges that women face. The panel concluded with a strong message of encouragement for women to realize their entrepreneurial ambitions.
The President of the European Young Innovators Forum Kumardev CHATTERJEE officially closed the Young Innovators UNconvention, thanking the many speakers, sponsors and participants who contributed to make this first edition a success. In defiance of the deepening economic and financial crisis, of lagging innovation, and of record youth unemployment in Europe, the Young Innovators UNconvention has clearly demonstrated that business and government leaders are prepared to join hands with young innovators in Europe, offering them the inspiration, resources and mentorship to help them turn their talents, energy, enthusiasm, and ideas into innovative, job-creating projects and businesses.