90 years ago my grandparents fled Poland to France and then to Uruguay looking for a better future and to heal the wounds from World War II. Fast forward to 2015 and I will visit Poland for the first time, returning to my roots to launch the Youth Innovation Week. On 26th June I will arrive to Warsaw to talk about the European future we can build together alongside those who have a major role in rebuilding a continent thus far and who have lost confidence in recent years: the young innovators and entrepreneurs.
Since its foundation in 2010, the European Young Innovators Forum (EYIF) has been working with all the key actors in the European tech and innovation ecosystems with one clear vision summed up in three words: ‘think-do-change’. The inaugural Youth Innovation Week is the beginning of the realisation of the final stage – change.
In the last 5 years, we have indeed seen a boom in innovation and entrepreneurship across Europe. It´s not only about London-Paris-Berlin, but also Stockholm, Helsinki, Barcelona, Madrid, Amsterdam, not to mention the emerging Central and Eastern European ecosystems like Warsaw, Kracòw or Tallinn. Investment in early-stage companies has increased by 600% in the past half-decade. Europe has never seen so many “unicorns” (billion dollar companies) as in the last year.
“StartUp” is the word on everyone’s lips. European leaders are looking for ways to nurture entrepreneurial spirit and big companies are promoting startup engagement as a simple means to access innovation. Initiatives such as French Tech, Tech Nation or StartUp Delta, or the hundreds of StartUp competitions we see all across the Member States indicate the eagerness to ride the startup wave. However, none of this engagement is happening at the European level. The European Commission is propping up the movement with the Digital Single Market strategy and it’s StartUp Europe initiative, but it cannot be the leading voice.
Leading from the front in the European startup ecosystem is what EYIF has done in its campaign #DisruptEuropeYear, for which the Youth Innovation Week is the flagship event. From 26th – 30th June, Europe will witness 5 events in 5 European cities over the course of 5 days, focusing on developments and trends in youth innovation relevant to the local ecosystems. With these activities, we will draw attention to what is needed on both a local and European level to encourage the development of European startups and foster growth and youth innovation. Beginning in Warsaw and visiting Cluj, Nicosia and Barcelona before finishing in London, we will set the stage for the annual gathering of startups and innovators in Brussels — Unconvention 2015 (1st – 3rd July) — which, this year focuses on “Game Changers: Growth Hacking and Scaling-Up”.
In the coming week, Brussels will be revolutionised by the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship bred into the city by young entrepreneurs from across the continent. From panel discussions with top startups, experts and mentors, to the first new images from the Philae comet and the award of the ‘European Young Innovator of the Year’, for three days Brussels will be the capital of Europe´s innovative spirit. 90 years later, it is no longer the Europe that my grandparents knew, but a Europe that we young entrepreneurs and innovators are changing for the better.
Nicholas Zylberglajt, Co-Founder and Vice President