The EIT CIT Labs, a pan-European initiative specialized in information and communication technologies, announced yesterday at CeBit in Hannover the launch of the first round of the Idea Challenge, a competition for early-stage startups with European and global ambitions. The EIT ICT Labs defines itself as a pan-European ecosystem fuelled by ideas and talent. It brings together a network of startups, universities, bigger companies and VCs across Europe.
The Idea Challenge takes place in 8 different cities (London, Eindhoven, Rennes, Trento, Berlin, Munich, Helsinki and Stockholm) around 8 topics. The first round, opening today, is dedicated to startups revolutionizing Health & Wellbeing, Smart Spaces, Cyber-Physical Systems, and Future Cloud. Early-stage startups that have a global ambition can submit their project starting from today and the contest lasts until April 20th.
Winners get financial help from €15,000 to €40,000 as well as support from the EIT ICT network: coaching and mentoring from experts, integration in the EIT ICT ecosystem, office space for up to 6 months (in one of the co-location centers of their choice), and integration of the European network. Submissions will be examined by expert business developers from EIT ICT Labs. The 10 best teams will be invited to pitch in front of a jury.
This year, France is welcoming the semi-finale in Rennes, where European startups taking care of the future cloud business will pitch during the Future Cloud Symposium in June. EIT ICT Labs is also active in Paris where they have a co-location place close to Place d’Italie, and another “satellite” in Sofia Antipolis.
They animate their network locally with several partners such as Institut Mines Telecom, Alcatel Lucent, Thales or Cap Digital.
What does “pan-european” mean for startups?
Since there is no startup and innovation cluster comparable to the Silicon Valley in Europe, initiatives (in ICT and other industries) remain focused on countries, even though the market is legally unified.
Willem Jonker, EIT ICT Labs’ CEO declares: “All countries can benefit from doing more together: it’s about connecting the dots. No single country has the ability to match what the Silicon Valley does in ICT industry. But together, you become suddenly an actor.” Hence the actions of the Labs, all Europe-driven: partnerships with all ecosystem stakeholders (startups, bigger companies, universities, funds, institutions etc.) and a pool of startups located everywhere in Europe and all sharing their experiences and contacts etc. There are even cross-countries projects, for instance, an urban life related project handled by Paris, Trento and Milano is to be exposed in Expo 2015 in Milan.
One could argue that the main difference between the Californian and the European ecosystem is the amount of money available and the willingness of investors to fund startups for large amounts. The EIT ICT initiative is tackling this issue by building networks of investors (VCs, business angels, big companies with mergers and acquisition funds…) around their co-location centres around Europe. They also work together with European Investment Fund to support local funds across Europe.
According to Klaus Beetz, Business Director of EIT ICT Labs, “We should no try to copy the Silicon Valley. Silicon valley is driven by money. Culturally, Europe is much more driven by technology.”