SPECIAL REPORT / Cutting edge laser technologies were amongst the prize winners and nominees as the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) crowned Europe’s best innovators at a glitzy awards ceremony in Budapest last week (6 May).
The gala – hosted at InnovEIT, the EIT Innovation Forum – has developed from a simpler award into an entrepreneurial gaming process: with nominees pitching to a jury in competition for three awards.
The pitching process is designed to reflect the way start-ups pitch for funding in the real venture capital markets.
An “Innovators Award” went to EOLOS Floating LIDAR Solutions for a laser-based buoy, floated offshore to measure wind levels over long periods of time, a process necessary in the renewable wind energy sector to assess the viability of offshore wind farms.
Another laser-based nominee pipped for an award was Reduse, which uses laser technology to blaze toner from paper in its “unprinter”; an idea designed to create machines that can clear used paper for re-use by offices.
The awards focus on innovations with social ends connected to the Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICS) coordinated by the EIT.
Govinda Upadhyay’s LEDSafari Lamp – a series of cheap components designed to be manufactured into a basic lamp – won the Change Award.
The lamp is targeted at the 1.6 billion people living in developing countries without access to artificial light. The idea is that by assembling the lamp the user learns about the basic electrical unit, and has to design a surrounding frame – which can be done using recycled material, in addition to gaining the finished product.
“This is an excellent tool to learn about solar technology design while reducing the use of fuels like kerosene in developing countries,” said Upadhyay.
Denmark’s Nordic Power Converters won the final category prize – the EIT Venture Award – for its redesign of power converters.
Billions of every day products electricity power converters, but the technology has not developed significantly for 30 years, meaning that the size of converter boxes and battery life remains clumsy.
“Our solution increases the reliability and affordability of these everyday products that we rarely think about,” said winner and co-founder of Nordic Power Converters, Regnar Paaske, adding that his solution could increase the shelf life of such converters fivefold whilst cutting down on size.
“Regnar’s truly innovative project brings together breakthrough tech and a great team with solid finance to attack a huge market for led lighting and converters, while helping all of us to reduce our energy consumption,” juror Richard Pelly, the former executive director of the European Investment Fund, added.
Marco Marinucci an Italian entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley who acted as a juror on the Change award, said that judging the innovations for their potential societal benefits was an additional challenege.
He said that the idea of having the innovators pitch was important since, “Having a start-up means selling to someone, coming from silicon valley the pitching element is a really important part of the entrepreneurial process.”
Martin Kern, the EIT’s Interim Director, said that the range of nominees and winners was closer to market than previously, indicating that the innovations resulting from the award winners.
“They are showing us new ways to innovate and I am proud that the EIT activities have contributed to their success. Europe needs more success stories like these and the EIT can deliver them.”
The centrepiece of the European Commission's efforts to foster research cooperation across the EU is the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, originally modelled on the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The EIT is the brainchild of Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who first pushed the idea in February 2005.
The EIT's aim is to strengthen the European 'knowledge-triangle' of research, education and technology-transfer by providing a world-class model for teaching and research partnerships between academia and business.
In December 2009, the EIT launched its first three innovation clusters – the Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) – focusing on climate change, energy and information technology.
Under the EU's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the EIT’s budget will increase significantly.
The EIT was set to receive €2.7 billion for 2014-2020, 3.5% of the overall EU research and innovation budget. This represents a significant increase from the initial EIT start-up budget, which was around €300 million for 2008 to 2013. But is subject to a cut following the Commission's new investment plan (the Juncker Plan).
European Institute of Innovation & Technology
- INNOVEIT 2015 - EIT Innovation Forum
- News release: EIT plans for 2014 to 2020 adopted by European Parliament (21 Nov. 2013)