Young innovators seek new Erasmus

Lobbyists backed by the European Parliament are seeking Commission endorsement of a new Erasmus-style fund to help young innovators to take their ideas from the drawing board to the boardroom.

Under the scheme, designed by the European Young Innovators Forum (EYIF), young people between the ages of 16 and 36 would simply type an idea into a box on a web site and send it off for consideration for funding.

The proposal has received cross-party support within the European Parliament, where MEPs Damien Abad (France; European People's Party) and Judith Merkies (Netherlands; Socialists & Democrats) amongst other parliamentary supporters are seeking to obtain an explicit endorsement for the project within the Parliament's motion on the EU budget, set to be voted upon later this year.

That would clear the path to a Parliament-funded pilot and subsequently allow the scheme to garner wider institutional support.

The new fund is hoping to back more than 100 Young Innovators to spend time in another member state, where they could develop their ideas at host organisations, including large corporations, SMEs, universities, government agencies or NGOs.

Young innovators differ from entrepreneurs

The idea differs from the existing Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs, which focuses instead on funding fully costed business plans, which need not be explicitly innovative.

Aimed at Europeans aged between 16 and 36, the scheme is designed to bridge a gap in the market for early-stage idea development, to encourage risk-taking by young Europeans, and to stimulate a culture of innovation.

Maria Dantz, project manager of the initiative at the EYIF, said: "The Young Innovators Mobility programme is designed to address the dual priorities of narrowing Europe's innovation gap by changing the mindset and promoting cross-border mobility."

"We envision the costs of each mobility project to be partly funded by the EU, with both the innovators and the host company contributing the rest. Thus the risk of innovation would be shared amongst all three actors," Dantz added.

Idea inspired by new innovation scheme

The idea reflects a new approach to innovation pioneered by IT company Ericsson and rolled out this year. Under Ericsson's scheme, all staff members in the global company are encouraged to send rough innovative ideas to the company's innovation department.

The department then selects the ideas it likes, and asks the relevant department head to relieve the staff member with the idea of duties for two weeks, giving them a credit card with $500 dollars credit. If – after the two weeks – a more tangible idea has evolved, the employee is given more time and money to develop the idea further.

Jeremy Fleming


"Things are never going to be like they were before," according to Judith Merkies, a Dutch socialist MEP and member of the European Parliament's committee on industry, research and energy.

She added: "The other side of the coin of having more freedom and the right to speak up and be active from the bottom up in society is that there will be no more life-long security. We have to accept that we are moving towards a different concept of society."

"We must accept that there is a duty to play our part in the society and influence it on a daily basis through social innovation. You have to innovate in order to participate. The EYIF could be the movement supporting this in the European space," Merkies said.

"The Young Innovators Mobility programme represents a step-change to the way the EU can encourage young Europeans to take risks for innovation, to the benefit of all," said Kumardev Chatterjee, the president of the EYIF.

"We are hopeful that with the strong support of the European Parliament, the Commission and other institutions will support young people to dream big, engage and create new value from scratch and ultimately improve the European outlook for 2020."

“By combining the benefits of mobility, the need to narrow the innovation gap and the necessity to change the mindset to develop entrepreneurship, the proposal for a Young Innovators Mobility pilot project constitutes a concrete action to implement the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs and the ‘Youth on the Move’ initiative in particular,” according to Nicholas Zylberglajt, a co-founder of EYIF and responsible for the Young Innovators Mobility programme.



Innovation has taken centre stage in EU policymaking, with Brussels placing research, education and the Innovation Union flagship at the heart of the 'Europe 2020' plan for growth and job creation.

The European Commission announced plans for an innovation strategy last year. The blueprint was originally drafted by DG Enterprise and had a business focus, but its scope was broadened when Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was appointed commissioner for research, innovation and science.

Patent reform and new sources of finance are at the heart of the EU's new innovation strategy, published on 6 October 2010 by the Commission.

This year the EU announced its first 'Innovation Partnership', dedicated to healthy ageing.


  • September 2011: New innovation funding scheme for youth to be endorsed in parliamentary discussions on budget by cross-party MEPs.

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