Tackle the pandemic by innovating, says European tech institute

One of the medical ventilators in the intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients at Santa Maria Hospital, in Lisbon, Portugal, 06 April 2020 (Issued 09 April 2020). Portugal is under state of emergency until 17 April 2020. Countries around the world are taking increased measures to stem the widespread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus which causes the COVID-19 disease. [EPA-EFE/MARIO CRUZ]

In the innovation sector “reorientation” is a keyword, as different sectors of society try to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin Kern, director at the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), says that they are not expecting losses in the innovation and technology ecosystem but a reorientation. “Projects will have to be reoriented and there is also an opportunity for new projects”, he said.

In their first response to the crisis, EIT requested an immediate risk assessment from all of their Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KIC) and information about how their activities could be affected. For Kern, it became clear that the risk to these partnerships, that bring together business, research centres and universities, was substantial.

“As an average, at least 30% of them will have quite substantial risks. What we can do, from the EIT side, is to give flexibility to KIC’s to reorient that funding rather than not implementing, delaying or postponing parts of the projects”, Kern said.

“Now, more than ever, we have to work together. We build on each other’s strength, and we have actually seen, in an amazing way across the EIT community, with many positive reactions and attitudes, a constructive cooperation focused on finding solutions”, he added.

At the moment, the EIT Food hub is helping transform fresh surplus vegetables that farmers find more difficult to sell due to the crisis, into soups and food aid.

“The EIT Digital is also has been powering the startups that can make a difference in this time of crisis in the area of remote screening and monitoring of patients with minor symptoms, in order to relieve the health care system”, Kern explained.

In order to support ailing innovators, the EIT has also decided to release €100 million of funding. This release – almost 3 months earlier than previously planned – will help entrepreneurs and innovators powered by the EIT Community with liquidity.

Health innovation during the pandemic

For Jan-Philipp Beck, CEO at EIT Health, “it became rapidly clear to everyone that, in the mid-long term, the focus on pandemics, prevention and future management, will be more important than anybody would have thought three months ago”.

Due to the nature of how European health systems are structured, the immediate response for these kinds of situations come from a national level. Beck contends that critical steps towards a more pan-European approach to these problems should be made in the coming months especially in the field of data.

In the short-term, the main goal from EIT Health has been to make an immediate response to the crisis.

Through their Rapid Response initiative, EIT Health is providing more than €6 million in funding for short-term projects to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. These projects focus on solutions that arm health services with better tools in navigating the pandemic.

“We want to support activities that can make an impact in 2020. It is critical to maintain a portfolio project that can complement the projects that were originally there”, said Beck.

EIT Health has also provided support for young companies whose very existence may be threatened by the pandemic. Their Headstart programme, which accelerates the market launch of selected healthcare start-ups through grants as well as networking support and planning, has opened a COVID-19 call for European start-ups to apply for grants of €50,000.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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