The first Think NEXUS Workshop took place in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center , Washington D.C. on 10th July 2019, in parallel with the GCTC Expo. During the Workshop the 3 Expert Groups had their first round of face-to-face discussions, which were focused on fostering next EU-US collaboration over NGI thematic areas.
During the first Innovation & Entrepreneurship Expert Group discussion, the experts were incentivized to participate actively, being able to provide their point on view freely, being encouraged to address friction points in terms of bilateral collaboration. Some of the most relevant aspects that were considered during the round table are:
- Concept of innovation. Definitions matter; it’s hard to have effective understanding and build on concepts without them. One of the basic discussions that took place was about the vision of ‘innovation’ itself, and the role that private and public sectors should play in it, which slightly differs in each ecosystem – Innovation of the market versus technological innovation. Innovation in the USA has a clear go-to-market implication.
- Role of public administration. Public agencies struggle to manage a landscape where technology changes at so rapid pace that is not realistic to consider the government as a thought leader in innovation. However, there are 2 potential aspects where policy can have a significant role: 1) allow innovation to happen, as regulation can get in the way of disruption; 2) identify how to bring society into the equation, highlighting the social issues and making them relevant. Technology sector may face the risk to lose the trust from the citizens if cases like privacy breaches and unauthorised exploitation of personal data continue. Policy should be adapted to a local vision. In the case of Europe, the EC has a much stronger influence over the innovation ecosystem as a consequence of the weighty public funding instruments, such as H2020 – near EUR 80 Billion investment programme in research and innovation, and its regulatory strategy (e.g. the General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR). A few experts consider this should not be the way to go as this top-down approach may create inefficiencies in the system and leaks in terms of resources.
- Future of Work. Europe and the USA often have a different interpretation of the achievements/KPIs when it comes to the market impact of innovation. One good example is the discussion around the ‘Future of Work’ – creating new and better employment opportunities and jobs should be a top priority when adopting new technologies, or it is efficiency what matters the most?
- Single Market. While the US already works as a unified market removing key differences between online and offline worlds, breaking down the barriers to cross-border online activity, the readiness of the European ‘Digital Single Market’ vision still lags behind. Up until now, EU citizens and businesses have often faced barriers when using online tools and services. These barriers mean that consumers have restricted access to some goods and services, businesses cannot reap all benefits from digitisation, and governments and citizens cannot fully benefit from this digital transformation.
- Cultural gaps. Regardless the multiple efforts towards a EU-US collaboration, there is a cultural divide that prevent an effective and stronger Transatlantic partnership. Europe has already achieved a mature level of collaboration among its member countries, often facilitated by common frameworks. However, when it comes to working with US partners, there are a number of significant differences in terms of culture, such as:
Semantics: as already mentioned with the concept of innovation, there are misalignments in terminology between regions. Key actors often use different vocabulary and some relevant US-born concepts are not yet mature enough in Europe – one good example of it is the concept of ‘unicorns’, i.e. privately held startup companies valued at over $1 billion.
Communication: the ways in which Europeans and American drive communication is different – especially through email and remote conference calls. US partners tend to be more straightforward and keep a more active exchange after an initial meeting, while European are slower movers, with a tendency to longer messages and meetings.
Entrepreneurship in universities: the culture of entrepreneurship in universities still lags behind in Europe compared to the USA. The exploitation of knowledge from research to market in the form of spin-offs and new startups is something that is gaining traction more and more in Europe, while it is a mature practice in the USA, which goes even further and looks at STEM education in high schools – educating students in four specific disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.
Culture of failure: One of the defining differences between entrepreneurial cultures in the United States and Europe is their respective approach to “failure”. Europe has an attitude problem towards entrepreneurship because of its high potential for failure. By contrast, celebrating failure has achieved cult status in Silicon Valley – “fail often, fail fast”.
Partners in both ecosystems interested in fostering a bilateral collaboration must understand this cultural divide and make efforts to adapt to each other to meet halfway. One of the proposals suggested was to educate US partners into the European mind-set.
- Joint narrative. The USA and Europe’s continued leadership in technology and innovation risk falling behind China, Russia and emerging economies in the mid-term if we are not able to develop an Atlantic narrative. It is crucial to identify shared ‘pains’ and propose strategic plans that will allow us to target priorities and objectives towards the Digital Economy and the evolution of Internet. It is important to recognize — and then reinforce — the fundamental principles and programmes that can underpin like-minded cooperation and global competitiveness in Focus Areas such as 5G and Artificial Intelligence around privacy, openness, trust and diversity.
- Collaboration scheme. One of the main conclusions of the Expert Group was the lack of a proper and agile platform for collaboration between regions around technology innovation. A balanced instrument -not 100% sponsored by public or private funds, as this approach does not fully fit neither region- that could support and drive non-partisan leadership on forward-looking Transatlantic partnerships around innovation and entrepreneurship. Current efforts in EU-US collaboration are polarised in two streams: 1) frameworks for applied research and infrastructure, where the Next Generation Internet has great allies in the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); 2) think tanks with in-depth focus on policy-making and economics, such as the Atlantic Council, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), among others.
Stay tuned to know more about the outcomes of the Expert Group discussions!