EIT launches first 'Knowledge and Innovation Communities'

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The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) has unveiled three major new innovation clusters focusing on climate, energy and information technology. Each of the initiatives will bring together academia and industry at several locations across Europe.

The Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) will receive start-up funding of €3 million and will report to the EU's commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth. 

The EIT headquarters in Budapest is expected to be fully up and running by April 2010, but the KICs will be autonomous and will be run "like a business", according to the Institute's chairman, Martin Schuurmans. 

He said the new clusters would be results-driven and their impact will be measured back on concrete outputs. Schuurmans said the winning bids were chosen based on excellence and the promise of strong independent leadership. 

Entrepreneurship will be key to their success, he added. "The KICs will be like small companies, they'll do their own thing. We will give help and advice but they have their own leadership and they'll stand on their own two feet," Schuurmans told a media briefing in Budapest. 

A total of 20 proposals were received by consortia bidding to become one of the first KICs, and the final three were selected from a short-list of six. 

Odile Quintin, the top civil servant at the EU executive's education directorate, said the KICs would deliver clear products and would be more focused on outcomes than previous efforts to build networks of researchers. 

The new groups, she said, would be much more than a forum for discussion or information exchange. "KICs should deliver," said Quintin. 

The KICs will receive 25% funding from the EIT and are expected to be self-sustaining in the medium term. They will be free to attract financial support from private sources, national funding agencies and EU research programmes. 

Innovation geared towards societal challenges 

Leaders of three winning consortia said the focus would be on solving the major issues facing modern European society, including those which have been hotly debated this week in Copenhagen. 

The Climate-KIC will look at water and land use, as well as greening Europe's cities and improving climate forecasting systems. Its aim is to become "the natural place" for companies to locate climate R&D centres and to become a magnet for top students of climate change. 

It will have centres in London, Zürich, Berlin, Paris and Randstad. 

The so-called 'InnoEnergy' consortium is expected to focus on sustainable energy and will have bases in Karlsruhe, Grenoble, Eindhoven/Leuven, Barcelona, Stockholm and Krakow. The Polish centre is the only one to be located in Eastern Europe. 

The final KIC will focus on information and communications technology and links together existing clusters in Berlin, Eindhoven, Helsinki, Paris and Stockholm. 

The EIT signed seven-year contracts with the KICs this week (16 December) but these may be renewed for a further seven-year term. 

The EU executive said the EIT is designed to become a role model for boosting innovation in Europe and contributes to the goals of the future EU 2020 strategy. 

As the KICs were unveiled, the curtain was coming down on the 2009 Euroepan Year of Creativity and Innovation (EYCI) which concluded at an official closing cermony in Stockholm. 

2009 has seen a major focus on innovation policy in Europe, ending with the publication of an innovation manifesto  (EurActiv 10/11/09) and the appointment of Europe's first Commissioner for Innovation (EurActiv 30/11/09). 

Positions: 

José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, called the selection of the KICs "a milestone towards a more innovative Europe". "I am looking forward to the KICs to become innovation hotspots that attract the brightest talents from Europe and beyond. They should develop into the 'places to be' for those students, researchers, and entrepreneurs who want to work together in areas of high relevance for our common future," he said. 

EU Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth Maroš Šefčovič said the KICs will help to bridge the gaps between higher education and industry which hinder effective cooperation "within the knowledge triangle of higher education, research and innovation". 

"I am confident the EIT will help to inspire a change in mindsets, facilitating our readiness for the knowledge society and creating an environment where new ideas can prosper," he said. 

Martin Schuurmans, chairman of the EIT's independent governing board, said he had been impressed by the standard of applications received from interested parties. "The KICs are innovation test-beds and we want them to generate a real impact, notably in terms of new business creation, entrepreneurship education and societal benefit. The foremost task of the EIT is now to get the KICs energised by mid-next year," he added. 

Timeline: 
  • Jan. 2010: KICs will be awarded start-up grants of €3 million. 
  • April 2010: The EIT's offices in Budapest will be fully operational. 
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