Europe looking for ways to challenge Silicon Valley dominance

The European Commission is looking to challenge the dominance of Silicon Valley by making it easier for start-up technology firms to access vital investment capital in the healthcare market, a leading EC official has confirmed.

Peter Wintlev-Jensen, Deputy Head of Unit at the EC’s Directorate General for Communication Networks, Content & Technology, says the EC is exploring the viability of an ‘accelerator’ that will help connect investors to technology firms looking for funding to grow their businesses.

Wintlev-Jensen – who is responsible for the development of a policy and research strategy for ICT and demographic ageing – says the ‘fragmentation’ of the market across Europe should be addressed to encourage more entrepreneurs to develop their business within the infrastructure of the 28 Member states.

Giving a presentation to an audience in Edinburgh, he said: “Because of the fragmentation of the market, because of the scalability of the business model compared to elsewhere in the world we have a few really good ideas that get drawn to Silicon Valley to set up their business, which is good for them but it doesn’t create a lot of jobs in Europe.

“If we also look at the investment side because if we see a big problem for companies it’s that it’s very hard to get investment if you want to go to the market in Europe and we’re not necessarily getting the kind of solutions that we want to have in Europe, in terms of privacy and openness and other aspects that would be fitting to what we need.”

Wintlev-Jensen said the EC is working on a number of ideas to stimulate economic growth across Europe, including some kind of regional investment vehicle.

He added: “So these are other issues we are working on, can we create another European accelerator that will combine knowledge and awareness of how to invest in European markets that will bring together investors and funders and kinds of funds that can help stimulate the access to growth capital helping to stimulate the economy at the same time and we can get a competitive supply of products and services that will empower the consumers.”

Wintlev-Jensen was delivering a presentation on technology as an enabler for older people to live healthier and more active lives at home.

It was part of a two-day series of talks at RBS’s headquarters in the capital under the umbrella theme of ‘The Long Term Care Revolution’, an event supported by Scotland’s Digital Health & Care Institute.

He said the EC was looking to encourage greater commercialisation of the ‘silver economy’, which largely goes unrecognised but in terms of consumer spend is worth $7trillion-a-year, according to a Merrill Lynch report.

With humans on average gaining three months every year to add to life expectancy, he predicted technology will play an increasingly large part in the design and delivery of products and services to cater for the changing demographic.

As such the EC has launched a scheme for age-friendly advertising to ‘change the perception’ of the market so it’s seen as an attractive prospect for people to invest, he said.

He said the EC is also looking at ‘age-friendly’ housing, where the physical building and technology can coalesce to future proof homes to make them more suitable for older people.

Policymakers could play a role in that by creating the right incentives for people to upgrade their homes – by making them more accessible, for example – such as through tax breaks and interest free loans.

The EC is also working with big industry consortia to create an ‘eco-system’ that can help deliver more services from the same technology platforms, which could ultimately prove to be more cost-effective.

Against the backdrop of technology, the audience was also reminded of the urgent need to bring under control spiralling health and social care costs to support ever older populations. With that in mind the EC has embarked on coordinated partnerships between health, social, regional and industrial policymakers to explore better approaches to the delivery of public services.

Companies interested in exploring European funding sources were encouraged to look up the EC’s Active and Assisted Living Joint Programme (AAL JP). Although the last funding round has now gone past deadline, those interested should sign up to the newsletter and look out for the various funding ‘calls’; there is also an industry forum taking place in Ghent in September. Also follow #AALFORUM on Twitter for more info.

The programme sits within Europe’s ‘Horizon 2020’, which funds research and innovation across a number of different fields. It is the largest ever programme of its kind and will fund €80billion worth of projects in the next five years.