"Innovative Enterprise Vienna 2018" focuses on advancing European innovation finance
"Innovative Enterprise Vienna 2018", a joint event of the European Commission and the Austrian EU Council Presidency, took place at the Austria Center Vienna on 21-22 November 2018. "Innovative Enterprise" is the central event format of the European Commission/DG Research and Innovation, with regard to "Access to Risk Finance Activities" for innovative companies. It usually takes place annually or biannually, the preceding events took place in Sofia (June 2018) and Malta (May 2017). On the Austrian side, the event was a joint effort of the Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs (BMDW), the Austrian Promotional Bank (aws) and the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG).
The event was opened by Michael Esterl, Secretary General of the Federal Ministry of Digital and Economyic Affairs (BMDW), on behalf of Federal Minister Margarete Schramböck, together with Patrick Child, Deputy Director General of DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission. Their opening addresses were complemented by Mr Wilhelm Molterer, President of the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), and the Chief Executive Officer of EIF, Mr. Pierluigi Gilibert.
The Austrian "Innovative Enterprise" event took place at a particularly decisive moment in time: The consultations on the successor programme of Horizon 2020 (Horizon Europe and also Invest EU) are currently at a decisive stage, driven by the Austrian EU Council Presidency. The event therefore looked deeply into the EC's plans for a "European Innovation Council" (EIC), which is foreseen to form the third pillar (innovation pillar) of Horizon Europe. The main objective of the EIC will be to enable highly successful international/global market entry for Europe’s most promising breakthrough innovators, by at the same time scaling up these enterprises (mostly SMEs) to a real next level. In financial terms, the Commission intends to provide "blended finance" to these entrepreneurs, i.e. a mix of grants and equity.
In addition to the plans for Horizon Europe (starting in 2021), the European Commission also presented a brand-new concept for an "enhanced EIC pilot", starting in mid-2019), raising much interest amongst the conference participants.
The event put strong emphasis on including real-life experiences of entrepreneurs regarding both the SME-specific instrument of Horizon 2020 as a predecessor of EIC and Eurostars, a transnational funding programme for R&D cooperation projects of highly-innovative SMEs. The Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) showcased its role in supporting these companies in their preparatory phase. The gender gap that still exists in the field of innovation finance was also addressed, with some impressive examples of female entrepreneurs providing a counterpoint. The important role of SMEs for a positive innovation culture was specifically highlighted by Ulrike Rabmer-Koller, President of SMEunited and Vice President of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber.
Beyond this particular EIC-related emphasis, "Innovative Enterprise" events always focus on the broad range of InnovFin Risk Finance measures, as was also the case in Vienna. The positive effects of collaboration between European and national levels in innovative enterprise finance were very well demonstrated by the Austrian aws entering into the next phase of InnovEnterprise SME guarantee finance with an additional guarantee amount of € 96 million. This was celebrated by a signing ceremony between the European Investment Fund (EIF) and aws on the first day of the conference.
The range of InnovFin measures (financially topped up by the Juncker Plan = EFSI) in the current period will be continued by the InvestEU programme form 2021 onwards, as Wilhelm Molterer, Managing Director of EFSI, made very clear. Equity finance for innovation is still a difficult field Austria in some respects. A recent study from Germany was taken as a basis to discuss which further development steps could be taken in Austria. A highly relevant recent InnoFin/EFSI development that was also presented at the conference is the start of the Pan-European Fund-of-Funds intiative (FoF) "Venture EU". Such FoF approaches could be a powerful uplift for European equity-based innovation finance to a real next level. Therefore, the roles of both fund-of-funds solutions in Austria and aws-driven equity activities were discussed intensively.
Novel thematic finance models of the InnovFin range were also presented, such as the particular facilities for Infectious Diseases (IDFF), for Energy Demo Pilots (EDP), and also the new "Thematic Investment Platform" (TIP) model, with the first thematic platform on "Circular Biotechnology" to be launched very soon.
The European "Access4SMEs" network was an important partner for the conference, not only by organising a particular session with regard to the challenges of deeptech, which will also require adequate complementing finance solutions, but also by organising one out of two investment pitching sessions, which took place in parallel to the main conference. These two additional parallel pitching sessions were a real novelty of the Austrian "Innovative Enterprise" event, demonstrating equity finance matching in practice. While the European "Access4SME network" demonstrated such pitching - i.e. matching entrepreneurial ideas with equity investors - by using the French "Euroquity" model on the second day of the conference, the Austrian "Pioneers"- globally renowned for the "Pioneers Festival" - organised a successful pitching session on the first day. Both presented their inspiring winners to the conference.
In his conclusions at the end of the conference, Keith Sequeira, Member of Commissioner Moedas' Cabinet, called "Innovative Enterprise Vienna 2018" a highly inspiring event, at a very decisive moment in time.