Interview Of The Week

Interview Of The Week: Martin Kern, European Institute of Innovation & Technology

Martin Kern is the director of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). He served as the Interim Director and Chief Operating Officer at the EIT from 2014 until his appointment as Director by the EIT Governing Board in 2019. Prior to joining the EIT, he worked at the European Commission for 15 years in a variety of posts, mainly in the area of enlargement policy and with financial assistance to support economic and social development programs. Kern began his career at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva, and has Master’s degrees in Economics and in English from the University of Heidelberg and in European Studies from the University of Reading.

Kern was a speaker on a panel moderated by The Innovator’s Editor-in-Chief at the Deep Tech Entrepreneurship conference in Stockholm June 1. Kern separately spoke to The Innovator about the EIT’s role in trying to position Europe at the forefront of the new wave of deep tech innovation and startups.

Q: Please explain what the EIT is and what it does

MK: The EIT is the only EU body to fully integrate the entire innovation value chain: from student to entrepreneur, from idea to product, from lab to the customer, including the scaling-up of successful start-ups.We have set up nine innovation communities around global challenges: climate change, digitalization, health, sustainable energy, food, raw materials, urban mobility and manufacturing, and culture and creativity. Each of these innovation communities create an economic impact and create jobs. We currently have a budget of €3 billion for seven years to support those innovations to come on the market. The EIT has 3,500 partners across Europe.  We have helped over 5,600 ventures and put 1,600 product and services on the market. As of last summer. EIT-supported start-ups have raised over €6 billion of capital, including seven unicorns that EIT funded at an early stage.

Q: The U.S. through its Inflation Reduction Act and other initiatives is making a big push to attract deep tech companies to America. How can the EU best combat that?

MK: Money and subsidies are a factor when startups and scaleups decide to relocate. On the other hand, most companies would like to grow out of their own market so it is not just the money.  More and more European companies are growing and scaling and becoming global players without relocating. Organizations like the EIT are providing the framework to ensure that our best companies stay here and a talent pool of skilled workers is sustained in Europe

Q: There are about 10 AI global large language models globally and none of them have come out of Europe. Individual countries are spending billions on national AI strategies, but the result is small players that can’t compete globally. How can this be fixed?

MK: Sometimes to reach scale it is more efficient to do things at the pan-European level but first we need to get the regulation right. AI has enormous innovation potential but there are also major risks. The EIT can be part of the solution using AI to address some of our major global challenges. Our institute was created to bridge the innovation divide that exists among Member-States and to support companies at all stages of their growth from big to small players. National strategies are extremely important, but they can only go so far. What really takes companies to the global stage is their potential to scale beyond their domestic market and work together at the European level, exchange experiences across countries and sectors.

The EIT Community already does tremendous work in supporting AI companies that offer real solutions, from using AI to better diagnose cardiac scans, to reducing the energy consumption of buildings, to harnessing new forms of wind, solar, and electrical energy. Seeing the massive potential in emerging deep technologies such as AI to solve global challenges, we are strengthening our services in this field through our Deep Tech Talent Initiative and are offering new targeted support to increase Europe’s position on the global field.

Q: Why did the EIT launch the Deep Tech Talent initiative?

MK: A group of European tech unicorns told us that a critical bottleneck is still people. They cited this as a key reason why they would need to relocate and could not expand in Europe. Business and industry at all levels are also struggling to fill jobs in AI and cybersecurity skills.

Q: How will the initiative try and solve this?

MK: The Deep Tech Talent Initiative is a core element of the European Commission’s New European Innovation Agenda.  Between 2023 and 2025 we will train one million Europeans in the skills they need to enter deep tech fields like AI, quantum computing, semiconductors, and other deep tech areas that will keep Europe at the forefront of innovation. While we have done training before, we have not done so at this scale. As part of the initiative, the EIT Community is offering courses and funding to develop new curricula in deep tech. In addition, the EIT is mobilizing its network of  partners to create a powerful educational platform bringing together training providers, companies, higher education institutions, public authorities, and financing partners. They are all contributing to the objective of the Initiative through the Pledge for Deep Tech Talents  The Pledge unites public and private organizations, industry representatives and champions, academic partners, education providers,  Member States as well as startup and scale-ups.  Some already work with EIT in existing programs. We are also getting strong interest from U.S. tech companies active in Europe such as Intel. The initiative is prioritizing three groups: secondary school students, university-level students, and adult learners at any career stage. This week was the first time that those who have signed the pledge got together.

Q: Why should corporates sign up for the Talent Initiative?

MK: Those that join can help influence the initiative by telling us what type of skills are going to be needed; we can offer companies access to the pool of talent that is being trained; and they can enter into new cooperation agreements with other industry players on skill development and with startups to create new ecosystem alliances. In brief we offer them the opportunity to shape but also access the best deep tech skill development programs available in Europe.

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About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.