The Austrian Chairmanship concludes with a new Eureka (and a new Head for its Brussels Secretariat)

The Eureka network and an engaged and energetic team at the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) overcame COVID-19-imposed obstacles to secure Eureka a place in the European Innovation Area.

“We began the Chairmanship in July 2020 convinced that the pandemic would soon be over,” says Chairman Ulrich Schuh. “We had lined up a series of meetings and events to give delegates a taste of what our great nation had to offer in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship, and of course, also wonderful landscapes, cities and cuisine, too!”

Turning challenges into opportunities

Unfortunately, their plans had to be adapted. Thanks to Eureka’s flexibility and creativity, the Austrian Chair team were able to convert physical events into online alternatives, in the end increasing exposure and reach to limits far beyond their expectations.

“In March, for example, our 35-year celebration was going to be a prestigious one-day event at Vienna’s Hofburg,” says Schuh. “When it became clear that we could not continue, we switched to a series of filmed addresses from Eureka ministers, the EU Commissioner Gabriel and heads of funding bodies from around the world. We saw there was an opportunity to not only involve more speakers, but that with an online event, anyone and everyone could watch and listen, irrespective of location or time zone.” 

The same flexibility was needed for May 2021’s Global Innovation Summit, scheduled to take place in the city of Graz, capital of Styria. It became a hybrid event, live streamed from Graz, in collaboration with regional partner, the Styrian Business Promotion Agency (SFG). The Summit focused on green transition, digital transformation and post-COVID-19 recovery of economies and international cooperation. It also hosted Eureka Korea Day and many national and international partners (e.g. the Government of Canada, the European Commission, Innovate UK, the International IP SME Helpdesk, the Atlantic International Research Centre, Enterprise Singapore, Eureka Cluster members, etc.) who organised and supported engaging sessions. 

The Summit attracted over 3,700 participants from 90 countries, who were drawn by 217 speakers from the world of innovation and politics. Keynote presentations were given by inspiring speakers like Bertrand Piccard, pioneer and founder of the Solar Impulse Foundation, Gabriel Felbermayr, President of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and Signe Ratso, Deputy Director General for Research and Innovation from the European Commission. In addition, over 750 bilateral meetings were organised with the support of Enterprise Europe Network. 

Another highlight of the Global Innovation Summit 2021 was the signing ceremony for the association of the dynamic island-state Singapore to Eureka, who became the second Asian country in our network (after Korea). Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry, Gan Kim Yong and Austrian Federal Minister for Digital and Economic Affairs, Margarete Schramböck signed the agreement online. 

Innovative SMEs will be aiming even higher with Eurostars-3 

Everyone (but particularly innovative SMEs) is awaiting the launch of the third evolution of the Eurostars programme, which will form part of the EU’s Partnership on Innovative SMEs. Eurostars-3 will see 37 countries from Europe, Asia, North America and Africa join forces to support collaborative R&D projects led by innovative SMEs. 

Building on Eurostars-1 and Eurostars-2, which saw nearly 1.5 billion euro of support directed to thousands of participants, Eurostars-3 will be more accessible than ever. There will be greater post-project support, as we work with the European Innovation Council and others to offer businesses opportunities to access acceleration and support services. As part of the overall package, Innowwide will be renewed. The two-call pilot performed so successfully that it will be adapted to become a multi-annual programme.

Combined, Eurostars-3 and the new Innowwide programme solidify Eureka’s role developing business-driven R&D and innovation cooperation between Europe and other parts of the world. 

The Eureka Clusters Programme (ECP) – an industrial powerhouse 

Initiated by the United Kingdom Chairmanship, and prepared under the Netherlands Chairmanship, the ECP involves cooperation across different Clusters and communities. The new model also gives new communities the opportunity to cooperate with Eureka. The ECP has an ambitious aim, and a strategy of running several joint Cluster calls over the next three years. A first call, to be launched later this year, will focus on sustainable industry. “We are impressed by the great interest and enthusiasm of companies and funding bodies to make the ECP a future Eureka success story,” emphasises Ulrich Schuh. “The Austrian Chair especially welcomes the initiative to form new Cluster communities, including one on artificial intelligence, where Austria will play a prominent role.”

From Kenya and Nigeria to Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Austrian Chairmanship team launched two new initiatives during its tenure. The first focuses on the five Eureka countries in the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia) to enhance the region’s cooperation within the Eureka network. To support this, a synergy with the European Commission and Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) was established. In addition, Austria has supported the full membership process for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina.    

The second initiative, in close cooperation with South Africa (the only Eureka country on the continent), was launched to explore the possibilities of collaborating with other African countries. For both initiatives, Eureka working groups were established and strategy papers and action plans were developed. 

Portugal, as incoming Eureka Chair, will ensure continuity of the actions taken within the working groups, with the main objective being to help generate new collaboration projects by the end of 2021 or early 2022. The planned workshops, webinars and trainings, as well as the visibility-raising actions proposed will support enhanced cooperation and engagement with African countries and the Western Balkans.

New Head of the Eureka Secretariat

Will the arrival of Norwegian Brit Helle as Head of the Eureka Secretariat in Brussels herald a second renaissance for the world’s biggest public network for R&D and innovation? Helle tells us how, with the backing of the Austrian Eureka Chairmanship, she is planning to listen, learn and support the drive and ambition of our organisation. She will continue our work to provide the optimum palette of programmes that best support innovation-hungry organisations and continue the implementation of Eureka’s global outreach strategy.

At the closing network meetings of the Austrian Chairmanship in Vienna, Helle, Director of the Internal Market Division of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) since 2015, announced her move to the Eureka Secretariat in September 2021. Many see her arrival as a smart and strategic move by the Austrian Chairmanship and its Executive Board; Helle is Eureka’s first Scandinavian and first female head.

“It is fair to say that our Chairmanship has been like no other,” concludes Schuh, with a smile. “The pandemic forced us all out of our comfort zone. We were obliged to think outside the box and to be more agile, flexible and pragmatic. In fact, the move to online meetings allowed us to be more inclusive, more consultative and to direct even more resources to other matters, enabling us to achieve even more than we had originally hoped. I am delighted with the outcome and will follow the progress of our Portuguese successors with great interest!”

Posted 17 Jun 21